Gospel Story of the Week
Jesus is Raised from the Dead (Matthew 28:1-10)
“‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.’” (Matthew 28:5-6)
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary’s experience of the resurrection and their encounter with the Risen Christ leave them profoundly changed. That experience is a defining moment, dividing their lives into “before” and “after.” The resurrection forces them to change their views of life and death and their beliefs about how God is present. Easter turns their lives upside down in some wonderful ways, including the discovery that Jesus is alive. Yet it also calls them beyond themselves to a frightening mission.
As we reflect on the story of Jesus’ resurrection, we are invited to explore the defining moments in our own lives – those experiences that called us to transformation. As we do so, we join the women in their struggle to let go of fear and trust the resurrection. With them we discover the God of the resurrection who turns our sorrow into joy and transforms our deaths into new life.
Easter urges us to move beyond our fear and trust new life. There is no doubt that Easter frightens the women at the tomb. Both the angel and the Risen Christ try to reassure them with the same words: “Do not be afraid.” Like the women, our experience of the Easter transformation begins with fear.
My friend Nancy, an artist, once described her struggle with moving from fear to trust. She was taking a class to learn how to make printing plates. The process involves engraving a negative image into a metal plate with a sharp tool. When the finished plate is inked, it prints a positive image on paper. Nancy was in the studio working under the supervision of her teacher. She had been working on her plate for many hours, and she was trying to finish some of the intricate detail in the design. She had so much time invested in the plate that she was being very careful not to make a mistake. The teacher observed her tentative movements and said, “Nancy, you have to use great force on the plate or you’ll never finish it.” Instinctively, Nancy rebelled, explaining: “But, if I make a mistake, all my work will be ruined!” The teacher responded, “You have to trust that even if you make a mistake, you can rework the flaw into the beauty of a new design.”
Easter calls us to trust a life-from-death God who helps us rework our flaws into the beauty of a new design. That God urges us to leave the tombs and closets of our fears behind and surrender to transformation. Easter urges us to embark on a journey to become our best and truest selves confident that the God of the resurrection is with us no matter what comes.
Easter turns sorrow to joy. The women left the tomb filled with “great joy.” The story reveals that joy is a defining characteristic of Easter people. As we reflect on the story of Jesus’ resurrection, it invites us to consider the measure of joy in our own lives.
As I consider the emotions that color my life, I am forced to admit that there are times my score on the “joy meter” comes up short. To be more candid about it, sometimes my attitude stinks. I have some positive traits, such as being generous. On the other side of the ledger, however, are my tendencies to be over-responsible and over-committed. As a result, all too often I go too far and begin to lug around the weight of the world. Thinking that I’m air traffic control for the universe, I get myself worked up and walk around stoop-shouldered and grim-faced. If you’ve seen the cartoon of Ziggy walking around with a storm cloud over his head, you get the idea.
There is more to Easter joy than some kind of magical mood swing from sad to happy. The joy of Easter is compelling because it is deeper than a “smiley-face” view of life that fails to grasp the way life is unfair, tragic and violent. Easter joy is not born in the shallow avoidance of life’s dark places or the naïve inability to grasp the reality of evil. It is born in suffering, yet rooted in the conviction that death is not final. It dispels the notion that despair is our birthright by declaring that evil will not prevail. Easter joy is born at the tomb on the morning when the one who endured terrible suffering and a violent death rose victorious with coattails long enough to take all of us with him. Christian joy doesn’t avoid what is painful and tragic. It endures it all, passes through and rises on the other side victorious.
Easter brings new life out of death. We experience death in the loss of a job, the ending of a relationship, the failure to reach a lifelong goal or the passing of a loved one. As we reflect on the passage from death to life, we search our experience of death to discover the God of life.
One Thanksgiving, I experienced a painful inner death. At the time my stepchildren were teenagers. Carla and I wanted to make the family’s meal prayer more meaningful, so we decided to encourage each person at the table to give thanks for something specific. Carla and I agreed that I would explain the prayer and then begin the litany of thanks. I had led similar prayers on any number of occasions but never with my family.
Something in the intimacy of that experience triggered unexpected emotions. Before I could get half a sentence out, the words stuck in my throat. I became totally incoherent, and I felt extremely vulnerable. My eyes filled with tears, and I couldn’t continue. I sat there in a terrible silence, struggling to regain my composure. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I was forced to give up. I motioned to the person sitting next to me to continue and I slumped down in my chair completely humiliated.
As I sat there dying, something amazing happened. Each person at the table began to share prayers of gratitude. Soon the litany of thanks to God and to each other was flowing freely. One of my stepdaughters had been fighting with her mother and me for several days. She concluded her prayer by thanking God for “semi-reasonable parents.” I was stunned. The God of the resurrection brought new life out of death. Something in me had died, but something wonderful rose from the ashes to transform those of us gathered at table.
There are many ways to pass from death to life. We experience the Easter transformation whenever we extend ourselves on behalf of someone else. We experience it when we keep our own egos in check to make room for the growth and change that love requires. We experience it whenever we devote ourselves to something greater than we are – whether we pour ourselves out a little bit each day for years or give ourselves once and for all in a moment of total sacrifice. In all those deaths, the God of the resurrection is with us as surely as the day that I was struck dumb to clear the way for new life.
Questions to Ponder
- In what way is Easter urging you to move beyond your fear and trust the resurrection?
- To what extent is your life characterized by Easter joy?
- What experiences in your life have helped you discover new life in places of death?
Invitation to Prayer
Life-giving God of Easter, transform my fear into trust. You know the ways that fear dominates me, triggering my defenses and causing knee jerk reactions. Open my heart to the Easter message: “Do not be afraid.” Help me to trust that you are with me, bringing life out of death and reworking my flaws into the beauty of a new design. Give me the courage to embark on the journey of trust to become my best and truest self. Give me a deep and abiding confidence that you are with me no matter what comes. Alleluia!
Life-giving God of Easter, turn my sorrow into joy. You know every emotion and mood that colors my life. You know when I have a bad attitude and when my life is characterized by joy. When I walk around grim-faced and stoop-shouldered, remind me that Easter has the power to weave sunshine out of rain. Let the pain and suffering that I endure give way to the joy of Easter. Let it seize my heart and overflow onto all those I meet. Alleluia!
Life-giving God of Easter, bring new life out of my experience of death. You know how fiercely I resist dying and cling instead to my selfish attempts to get my own way. Give me the courage to surrender to the power of Easter. Help me trust you are with me – bringing new life out of the ways I die to myself every day. Prepare me for the day that you will call me through the dark tunnel of death so that I may be ready to embrace the light of Christ. Alleluia!