Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018 — Rev. Paula Norbert
Matthew 28: 1-10
Happy, Happy Easter! We gather this morning to remember that first Easter so long ago, and yet, in the history of our planet, not so very long ago. We come to rejoice in the fact that God’s ways are not our ways, that God’s love is beyond all imagining, and that even in the midst of the darkest of times, even in the midst of the coldest, longest winters, new life awakens us at sunrise with every possibility of new beginnings. Let us pray, O God, we give thanks for the gift of this Easter morning and the hope of the resurrection. May we be inspired by the Good News of the risen Christ and may we live this out by sharing new life with one another.
In one week, we have moved through this important drama in the life of Jesus, from his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, to the last supper he shared with his dearest friends, to his death on a cross, to the day of waiting until on the first day of the week, the women venture forth before dawn to visit the tomb with ointments and spices. It happens quickly, and in our own lives, we may still find ourselves stuck in Lent, burdened or weighed down by sorrow and fear much like the followers of Jesus experienced on the day of his crucifixion. Despite what Jesus shared with them, they really could not have imagined what was to come. Jesus is dead and their great hopes are buried with him.
Last year, a new show opened on Broadway called “Come From Away.” It tells the beautiful and inspiring story of the small community in Gander, Newfoundland that, in the days following 9/11, welcomed nearly 7000 people to their community with open arms. For those of you old enough to remember that tragic day, we know that as the horror unfolded, all airplanes were ordered to land in order to clear the US airspace. A tiny airport to the north of us in Canada opened its runways to 38 wide body airplanes carrying nearly 7000 people from 100 different countries. Surely, there were many both on the ground and on the planes who themselves were feeling overwhelmed, perhaps paralyzed with fear in the aftermath of the profound tragedy that had occurred. And yet, the people of this small town knew that there were not enough motels in the area to accommodate their visitors and so they set out to provide extraordinary hospitality to their guests. They welcomed them into their homes and they opened churches and schools and community centers and filled them with cots. They organized to provide meals for people and they even found a way to care for the 17 dogs, cats and two great apes on board the planes.
In the days following 9/11 when the world was nearly paralyzed by the sorrow and evil that had taken place, the people of this small town bore witness to our human capacity for kindness and generosity and love. They opened their arms to these weary travelers and said to them, “don’t be afraid.” We are in this together. Love is stronger than death. Love is stronger than the worst that people may do to one another. In their small and grand acts of kindness, they brought hope and hospitality to their visitors and in so doing, demonstrated that even in the wake of death and destruction, new life is possible. Both they and their guests would find renewed faith and hope as they worked together as a community.
It’s such a powerful story of that first Easter morning. We know that many of Jesus’ closest friends were very afraid and locked in an upper room, worried that they would share the same fate as their teacher, and yet, Matthew writes so beautifully of the visit by the women who could not stay away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary draw near to the tomb and “there was a great earthquake”; this momentous event has taken place such that the very earth quakes in response, and then, much like the announcement of Jesus’ birth, we hear that an Angel of the Lord appears to them and in very similar language says, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised. Come and see the place where he lay.” And they went away quickly, fearful yet overjoyed, and as they run to announce this to the disciples, Jesus met them on their way and says again, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee and there they will see me.”
The story of Easter reminds us of important lessons in our own lives. First, Easter reminds us not to judge things in our own lives too quickly, especially the times when we feel weighed down by sorrow and discouragement and we imagine that we are stuck in this place of despair. God alone has the last word on our lives and on this world that God created. Easter also affirms that life is stronger than death and that eternal life is firmly rooted in the lives we are living right now; the Easter Gospel is calling us to live fully in each day, and not only to live fully, but to do our best to live fully despite whatever it is that may weigh us down. And the story of Easter shows us that life dedicated to great and holy things, to kindness and love and generosity, will always overcome sin and the worst that humanity can do to one another.
After the crucifixion, we know that the many followers of Jesus were terribly afraid and disheartened. Yet, the women moved beyond that fear to visit the tomb of the one whom they loved, the one who had shared a glimpse of a world where love and peace will reign. So too, the residents of Gander, Newfoundland, who like so many of us felt the grip of fear and horror from 9/11 and yet found new life by opening their homes, their community, their tables to the weary travelers who had landed among them.
The story of Easter is the story of life triumphing over death, of love being stronger than hate. We are encouraged to celebrate new life and to open our very selves to the new life that God invites us to. And the secret of course, is that in sharing our very own lives, in being Christ to one another, we too will find new life once again.