HOLY SATURDAY – EASTER EVE
Gospel Matthew 28:1-10
We are living in ‘in-between times’; this time between Jesus’ dreadful crucifixion and murder, as we wait for the Sabbath to be over so we might visit the tomb, to mourn and pray on the first day of the new week.
All the other disciples have left and abandoned Jesus, fearful and broken. Only a few faithful women stayed at the foot of the cross, following Jesus on his final journey from the cross, his battered body carried to the burial garden on the same hillside where he was crucified, and saw it wrapped in white linen and put into the empty tomb.
Now these women have come back again as dawn arrives for the first day of the new week. The in-between times are nearly over.
In Genesis 2:1-3 we are reminded God completed creation on the sixth day, and on the seventh, God rested.
Matthew reminds us it is now the start of the new week and instead of simply another week, we see the beginning of a new creation, on this, the eighth day.
As women are present at our dying and death, waiting patiently, weeping and praying, so are women present at our birthing.
And the women are waiting and mourning.
All Christians are called to be witnesses in the world and to the world, standing in solidarity, taking these women as their example, not giving into fear and running away, but remaining and being present.
Jesus said, ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted’ (Matthew 5:4).
It is one of the great services we can give as Christians, to answer the call to stand in solidarity with, and as witnesses to, the grief and brokenness of the world and to be present, not separate from those whom God loves; not separate from those for whom God gave God’s only Son.
God loves us so much Jesus was not prepared to desert us, deny God’s love or give in to temptation to live in the way of the world and use the world’s imperfect answers to our prayers, but to die for us all, so all might live in a new creation.
As Jesus hung on the cross between two thieves, the Gospels tell us about the mockery and taunts levelled at him from the soldiers and onlookers. It is in Luke 23:39-43 we hear one of the thieves saying ‘you say you are the Messiah, can’t you save yourself and us?’ and the other thief replies ‘we’re being punished justly for our deeds, this man is innocent’.
And for a moment, we find ourselves in this in-between time, like the other disciples who fled the scene, wondering who we might be?
Are we the thief blaming Jesus, disbelieving, angry, resentful and wondering why Jesus isn’t sorting our lives out now, immediately, using his power to make it right?
Or are we the other thief, saying, ‘I am a sinner, I have said and done things I shouldn’t have done, I have chosen not to be helpful. I have not questioned my selfish motives too closely, I have stuck to the letter of the law and not been what God has invited me to be…’ and grieving at our choices.
As thieves, we steal all the time; and there are always times we want to steal Jesus to make him be and do what we want.
These in-between times are a very hard place to be: like Jesus, in-between.
And the women are waiting for the birthing.
An earthquake shakes the ground.
It serves as a reminder, a metaphor for the story about these women and men, the first followers of Jesus, that their world is about to be rocked and will never be the same again.
So, my friends are you sitting a little too comfortably?
There is lightning before dawn, Caesar’s finest are shaking in their leather sandals, and we stand at the edge of a new day on the precipice of something wonderful, although confusing and badly shaken, a new world is being born.
Our birthing is underway.
‘Come and see’ is the angel’s invitation, beckoning the women to come and look.
We are all being invited to come closer, look and see, see what the world has failed to notice.
The women are the first to be invited; to ‘come, look deeply into the darkness, and see the wonder God has worked among us’.
The earth is being shaken, a badly damaged creation is being restored, God is doing away with our sin and death, but not without some serious disturbance.
The angel gives the women a three-point sermon (somewhat shorter than mine): ‘Do not be afraid. You just missed Jesus, who is already on his way to Galilee. Go and tell the men hiding back in Jerusalem, who fled the crucifixion, that the story between us and God is not ending, it is instead, beginning!’
But when confronted with the testimony from the women, the disciples as told in Luke 24.11, attempt to defend themselves by crying out in unison, ‘these women are unbelievable’.
As we sit in our pews I wonder how much we fear similar disruption in our lives. How much are we shielding our eyes from the blinding truth of the resurrection? How many of us are still back in Jerusalem, hiding away from God and from the choice facing us? How many of us are choosing to remain in these in-between times?
Dare we believe there is a power loose in the world, more powerful than our empires and idols of money, belongings, power, status and reputation, more powerful than our sin and death?
Those who are inclined to think of religion as the glue of social stability, cultural conformity and order will have difficulty believing in Easter. Is it possible God is already on the way to the edges of our society, as the risen Jesus is heading to Galilee rather than Jerusalem?
This Jesus who loved the poor, the marginalised, the broken, the alien and stranger, the orphan and dispossessed. Who lived at the edges and not in the centre. Who spurned power, reputation, status and wealth. Who loved us all even to death so that he might bring us to life.
The women, who are bearing such disruptive news, determined to give their testimony to the resurrection to hesitant and disbelieving disciples, are models for us all today.
When I think about these in-between times, people everywhere are weary, frightened, anxious about the future, worried about their own problems, work, family, poverty, illness and death. They are living in these in-between times.
We come to church looking for an answer.
We look for immediate solutions that block our ability to live the way God intended.
Like the thief on the cross we want to be saved now! We want our loved one cured, we want the job secured. We want money to solve our debts. We want the wars to stop, the children to live, the bad leaders imprisoned, the refugees to go home.
We come to church to be prepared for the week ahead, to get back on the path, to put God’s creation back on the right track, to get the other sinners saved. We want certainty in the message and in our lives so the world can go back to being comfortable and safe for us.
We constantly struggle to live in a way that recognises the only answer is to trust God, the risen Lord as instead we choose the in-between time.
We haven’t yet seen we are living in a new creation. The old norms are no longer critical. Its not that our concerns are not important. But, God has now raised Jesus from the dead. God promises this for all and has made a way, when we thought there was no way.
What could be more important than this?
So, do we dare to come to church in the darkness and peer with the women into so great and inexplicable a wonder?
Can we dare to look and not look away?
The women leave the tomb with fear and great joy.
The angel instructs them to go and tell the disciples the good news and so, they become the first post-resurrection evangelists.
Jesus meets them on the way and gives them the Great Commissioning and the women become the prime witnesses and first among the apostles of the resurrected Lord.
Together, we as women and men are now waiting, in these in-between times for the dawning of the eight day, the start of the new creation. Do you dare to accept the invitation and step into it?
Any time when we engage with this story, we leave church with a mix of emotions: joy at God’s great vindication of crucified Jesus and fear at the earthshaking implications of God’s great disruptive shaking of the world by resurrection. Brothers and Sisters, come and see! And do not be afraid.
The Lord be with you.