An Easter with fear and great joy

Easter Day
Matthew 28:1-10

In the name of Christ.  Alleluia!

As the women came near the tomb, the earth shook.  In their fear, the guards shook and fell over as if they had died.  But the women, even in their fear, stood firm.  And they heard the message of the angel: “I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here; for he has been raised…”  It was an earth-shattering moment.  Whenever that line between heaven and earth is breached, the earth is shaken.

I’ve never felt the earth shake.  There’s a quarry near here, and sometimes, when they’re blasting, the house and the office will shake.  But I’ve never been through an actual earthquake.  Even when that one in Washington, DC happened a few years ago, and it was felt up in this part of the world – I missed it, because I was down in Tennessee visiting my parents.

The little part of me that is sort of thrill-seeking kind of wishes I could experience something like that.  So long as I could be sure that no one would get hurt, I think it could be exciting to feel the earth move.  But that’s the rub, really, isn’t it?  When the earth starts shaking, we can’t be sure we’ll be safe.  We can’t be sure we’ll survive, or that the people we love and hold dear will come through okay.

While I’ve never lived through an earthquake, part of me feels like we all are, a little bit right now – at least in a sort of social, and spiritual way.  Our world is shaking right now.  And even though our feet are planted firmly on the ground, everything feels a little bit unstable.  We don’t know what’s coming.  We don’t know if we’re safe, or if our loved ones will be.  It’s a scary time.

But when the earth starts shaking, it’s time to start looking for God.  Because whenever that thin line between heaven and earth is breached, things are upended.  The world is shaken inside and out.

Even now, even in the midst of the suffering and sadness that is all around, even right now – God is in this moment.  The world feels unstable, and many of us are afraid, but even now, God is with us.  The challenge of Easter – and not just today but in all of our lives as Easter people – the challenge is to look for God.  The challenge is to look for life, and to look for love.  Because even in the worst that the world can throw at us, there is life and love.  There is God.  Even when pain and suffering and mourning seem to be all there is, there is God.

In my own life I’ve seen signs of God that I didn’t expect over the past few weeks.  I’ve seen God in the ways that people have stepped up to help each other.  I’ve seen God in the ways that we have come together even when there were so many barriers between us.  Among my circle of friends, we’ve been using technology to spend even more time with each other than we ever did before – even when we were all living near each other.  We’ve been getting together on web conferences playing games, and watching live concerts together.  We’ve been reaching out to each other more through electronic messages.

And I’ve seen it in the church, too.  A few months ago people talked about how members of this congregation weren’t tech savvy enough to do remote meetings.  I actually had conversations about using technology more in worship to make it more accessible for people who couldn’t be here, and I was told that it would never work here.  But you know what?  It has.  We’re coming together for worship, and for pastoral care, and for business meetings, and for social events in ways that we never thought we could.

While the suffering of this season in our life together is very real, so is our creativity for dealing with it.  The world is holding us apart, but we keep finding new ways to be together, even when we can’t be together in the same room.  And that’s a sign of God.  Because God, our creator, is always living where creativity and love thrive.  Creativity and love are God’s favorite ways to interact with us.

The first words the women heard after their world was turned upside-down was, “Do not be afraid.”  Now, that’s often the first thing scripture reports that we’ll hear when we’re about to encounter God in a new way.  I suspect it’s sort of like when someone tells you, “Don’t be mad, but…”  That’s almost always a preface to getting mad.  We can’t dictate our feelings, and we certainly can’t dictate anyone else’s feelings.  But if we try, we can sometimes dictate what we’ll do with our experiences and emotions.

The women of that first Easter morning didn’t let their fear define their experience of the Resurrection.  And even though the angel told them not to be afraid, they were.  How could they not be?  But the story tells us that even so, they went forth with “fear and great joy.”  And you know what?  Here’s the most beautiful part of this story: it was in that “fear and great joy” that they met Christ.

Their world had been turned upside down, but still, in their fear and great joy, they met Christ.

It’s okay if we’re afraid.  It’s okay if we’re sad.  It’s okay if we don’t feel Easter as acutely today as we have in years gone by – years when we were warmed by each other’s smiles and hugs, and years when we could smell the sweet flowers around the altar.  Because Easter is here.  Christ is risen.  The question instead is: what will we do with that fear?  What will we do with the anxiety and the sadness and the uncertainty and the longing for the better days of memory?  Will we let those things shake us, so that we fall over like dead men?  Or will we answer the call of the angels to keep going forward with fear and great joy?

Falling over means we’re stuck.  But going forward is where we will meet Christ.  Each new step is an act of creativity and a gesture of faith.  Particularly when those steps are hardest, each new step brings us closer to God.  Amen.