After the last week we’ve shared together, forget ‘normal’. Life will never be the same again! We are encountering the risen Lord. I even wondered if I should ask you to wear hard hats and running shoes for those of you brave enough to come to church today. The world will never be the same again!
Martin Luther King Jr spoke in a sermon ‘Our God is Marching On’, after being approached by local church leaders to ease up on his agitation for civil rights. In it, King rejected the desire of white moderates for a return to a more comfortable and ordered world. He replied: ‘No, we will not allow Alabama to return to normalcy’.
For King and his people, a world in which racial segregation made sense had ended. King rejected ‘normal’, not as a political strategy, but rather, because of his Christian faith: after God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, forget ‘normal’.
The world as the disciples knew it, ended on Friday. Today was now the first day of week. After a violent ending to the last week, the disciples are in hiding, their group dispersed, fear over potential retribution from the religious and civil authorities was pervasive. I can imagine chaos, speculation, rumours and ridicule being rife in the community.
Nothing is normal. We are told about two women go to pay their respects at the tomb. (Matthew 28:1) Women?! Where were the men? Who begins an important story with marginalised women? What is happening to the world?
An angel impudently perches on the stone sealing the tomb, supposed to keep Jesus locked in, but it has been rolled back, the tomb is wide open. (Matthew 28:1-10) Lightning strikes, blinding light, the earth shaking, and the guards stilled and silenced. The women are present and hold their nerve. They are invited to peer into the darkness of the open tomb, to see the wonder God has worked among us. The angel says: don’t be afraid, you’ve just missed seeing Jesus, he’s on his way to Galilee, go and tell the men, who are conspicuously absent, the story hasn’t ended, it is just beginning! Who said anything about ‘normal’?
Those hard hats I spoke about before? Are you a people wanting to keep the status quo? Are you weary of disruption? Are you shielding your eyes from the light? If you think faith and religion are the cement of social stability and our relationships here in God’s house, if you want cultural conformity and sameness, if you like order and certainty, you may find Easter difficult and complicated and you may find you want to leave. Could it be God is on the move, not settled, powerfully disturbing our peace, asking us to follow God to the margins, to the excluded and forgotten? This invitation is to everyone who has their walking boots on, ready to join the pilgrimage. The Risen Christ is on his way to Galilee, not to Jerusalem, to the margins, not to the centres of power.
Women are bringing disruptive news, [doesn’t that ring true], determined to bear witness to the resurrection, to the hesitant, disbelieving disciples, whether they want to hear it or not!
As a preacher, the temptation is to tell you what you want to hear and keep everyone happy. We could offer a view of God who is peaceful, quiet, doesn’t make waves and keeps everything ‘normal’. In Luke’s telling of the story, when the women went to tell the disciples the good news about Jesus rising from the dead, the disciples attempted to defend themselves by refusing to listen and decided the women were speaking nonsense. They were clearly nuts! Not normal!
The women become the first post resurrection evangelists. They are not without fear, but they also have great joy. On the way to pass on the news confirming nothing is ‘normal’, they are met by Jesus. They worship him. There is nothing else they could do. In talking to the women, Jesus calls his disciples ‘brothers’, and in that one word, shows his forgiveness for their abandonment (v.10). With this direct commissioning from Jesus, the women in Matthew become ‘prime witnesses and apostles’ of the resurrected Lord. This is not ‘normal’ – even after 2,000 years – yet.
In the new world God has created, death has not won and God is on the move everywhere. This story is not about us, about what we think and feel about the news, about who wins or loses; it is about God’s love for us. God’s love is active, taking on our battles with sin and death and doing for us what we’re not able to do for ourselves.
Petty, humanistic moralising always gives way before devouring death. Now, God has shown there is something stronger than death; stronger than armies waging war, stronger than the unkindness of bullying and frightening others, stronger than the abuser and the terrorist, stronger than dispossession, oppressive corruption and slavery, stronger than despair without hope. This is a story about a God who raises from the dead, who makes a way for us when we thought there was no way, who seeks out the lost and the broken and brings them home with love.
This is the new ‘normal’.
You have dared to come to church this morning. I hope you are peering with the women into the inexplicably empty tomb, listening to the angel, no longer looking in darkness, now seeing light, feeling the earth shaking, and all you had once believed is now tipped on its head with nothing left that is ‘normal’, and instead, we are hearing about God, who is risen today!
He is risen indeed! Allelujah!
Jarvis, C.E., Johnson, E.E. [Gen. Eds]. 2013. Feasting on the Gospels Matthew, Vol. 2 Chapters 14-28. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.