A Surprise Meeting (Easter Sunday)
Readings Isaiah 25:6-9 and Matthew 28:1-10
At Easter it is a common to say Jesus was abandoned by all his friends and followers. But there is a group of women who stay. They stay through the entire, gruelling, devastating crucifixion. They stay through the chill of that sorrowful night, as Jesus’ body is buried. And they return, as soon as the Sabbath is fulfilled. Matthew does not include any details about why the women are going to the tomb. As with their silent vigils across the Friday - they just show up. And I think they stay and they show up for the same reason - it appears that, unlike the other disciples, they have taken Jesus at his word.
Jesus has again and again predicted his death and announced that he will rise. At almost every occasion this is met (by the male disciples) with confusion, objection, or disbelief. These women on the other hand, responded with action. The first act was the anointing at Bethany. Jesus commends the unnamed woman for her act of preparing him for burial with a most lavish display of reverence and affection, saying the gesture will be held forever in the memory of the church. The second act is the solidarity of the silent vigil these women held while watching their friend, their messiah, their hope, slowly extinguish on the cross. Last week we noted that in the psalm Jesus prays on the cross, he laments the fact that he is completely alone, but the women stand in solidarity with him - ensuring that even if he feels completely alone, they are keeping watch. The third act is here, on the day of the resurrection, when the women show up – perhaps in expectation that God will vindicate and raise their friend, their messiah, their hope from the depths of the tomb.
And so it is! The earth shakes, the stone rolls away, and the angel of the Lord appears with the good news - fear not! He is not here, he has been raised, he is on his way to Galilee - just as he said - go now, and tell the others. Just as he said… the women’s trust and action has been vindicated. Who better to bestow the first Easter proclamation to than these women who took Jesus at his word, and kept showing up? These women, who continued to demonstrate their trust and are now entrusted with the most important words of all - Christ is Risen!
At this moment the narrative takes a funny turn. The Angel of the Lord tells them to go, preach the good news to the disciples, and then meet Jesus in Galilee. The women run off, in fear and great joy but then Suddenly (what a word!) Suddenly Jesus met them.
Why didn’t Jesus wait? The women were doing what they were commanded, and Jesus doesn’t add any information. So why this interlude? Why this cameo?
We cannot know for certain, but today I want to suggest it happened because they expected it to happen; they had shown up for Jesus, so Jesus shows up for them. Jesus continually promises to be present (when two or three gather, when you knock and seek, when we remember him at the table) and these women came to the tomb, gathered in his name, seeking his face, remembering his promises - and Jesus responds earnestly. Out of lavish grace and generosity he is moved by their faith and becomes present to them.
I also want to suggest, that Jesus just couldn’t wait to see them! The resurrected Christ is still the fully human Jesus of Nazareth - who made friends, shared meals with his followers, and invited them into in his relationship with God. One of the most important truths of Christianity is that the resurrection can never be detached from the crucifixion - Jesus, though resurrected is still marked by the experience of the cross - as John records, he still bears its scars. Perhaps Jesus felt gratitude to these women who prepared him for this most humiliating and painful of experiences, felt gratitude and love for these women who kept watch over him as he died, who stood by him when so many others turned away, who stayed to watch him be laid in a tomb and who showed up again at that tomb as soon as they could. I mean if you had friends like that, how would you feel?
Jesus just couldn’t wait to see them and so - suddenly - he appeared to greet them. This moment is an overflow of grace, and love, and affection from Jesus the crucified and risen one, for his friends and followers.
It is the same for us today. Out of an abundance of affection, Jesus longs to meet us. Wants to appear suddenly on the road. Jesus wants to fill our hearts with jubilation and thanksgiving. When we gather together and when we go, Jesus bursts forth to meet us. And not just those who, like these women, have never faltered in their trust; Jesus shows up for all his disciples, even those who fled and denied, and enfolds them all back into the new family he has created.
Whether we show up expecting a miracle, or whether we have lost all hope, or whether we never thought to look for the living amongst the dead - Jesus is showing up, often quite suddenly, and he stays with us. In this Jesus reminds us that whenever we want, we can meet him in Galilee and join him in the good work of the Kingdom of God - work which brings hope where there was despair, justice where there was oppression, community where there was brokenness, life where there was death!
Image credit The Resurrection, Donald Jackson, in the Saint John’s Bible
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