Homily for Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017 By: the Rev. Stephanie Shepard

Matthew 28:1-10

See, and Go”

I had been called to the hospital bed of an elderly woman whom I had visited before.  She was frail and forgetful but now there were major health problems, and her family was concerned that she might not have too much longer.  Upon arrival, I went up to the nursing station and asked for her room number.  When I got to the ward and looked in, my heart sank a little.  The bed she had been assigned was empty and stripped of sheets.  I knew she had not been scheduled for any tests.  It looked like I had gotten to the hospital too late, and she had died in the night.  I was just about to turn around and head back home when I heard a sound of a toilet flushing. The door to the washroom opened, and out she came on her own two feet.  Rumours of her demise were overstated.

Like you, sometimes I make assumptions about what I am seeing.  We see what we expect, not what might be.  And usually our projections are more negative than positive: bound up in our own fears and experiences.  Our hearts are weighted down by the attention that is paid to terrible events in our world.  The news media is full of stories of war and wounding, of scandal and strife.  For the outlets, good news is not that which affirms life; it is what grabs viewers and creates an audience for selling products.  We have to work hard to achieve another focus, a long view that goes beyond the headlines and the twitter feeds to see good news at work.

We tell the story of the resurrection at Easter to proclaim that God’s love is stronger than death, and hope is more powerful than any of the world’s controls.   But Easter is more than a story.  Today is an invitation to come and see for yourself what God has done.  And it is a call to go out and live it in the world that desperately needs to hear good news.  In Matthew’s gospel, one of four biblical witnesses to this truth, you hear again and again the words “see” and “go” used in the text.  They build up in the narrative so that we, like the characters in the text, are torn between fear and joy as we meet the risen Lord.

Jesus had been crucified and died on Friday, and his body taken down and entombed before the Jewish Sabbath began on the Friday evening.  This had ended on Saturday evening, but by then it was too dark to travel, so the women have waited until Sunday morning to come and see the tomb.  Unlike the other accounts, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary did not bring spices or cloths for the body, so why do they come to see?  Is it to mourn?  To pay their last respects?  To get closure by seeing his corpse, or at least the place where it was laid (after all, it was Joseph of Arimathea who claimed the body in Matthew’s version, and placed it in what was to be his own resting place).  Or is there the hope that Jesus has actually died and come to life again, as he prophesied?  We don’t know.  But they come to see.  For the women, the story is not yet over.

There are met at the site with a great earthquake and an angel, who descends and rolls away the stone so that they can see.  There are guards present at the tomb, ordered there to make sure that no one steals Jesus’ body and plays a trick on the authorities.  The trick’s on them, however, as the agents of earthly power become like dead men and the tomb is revealed to be already empty by God’s messenger.  The women have to overcome their fear to see the place where Jesus lay.  But this is no time to hang around and enjoy the moment.  The angel tells them to “go”.  The first apostles to the resurrection are sent on a mission to tell the other followers of Jesus that he is alive and is going ahead to Galilee.  The good news doesn’t tolerate stasis; the response to seeing is doing.

The women leave with both fear and great joy.  There is always a mix when we set off on a new path into the unknown.  But it is because they have bravely taken the first steps on their mission that Jesus meets them on the road.  And his word to them dispels the fear within their souls.  It sounds pretty bland in most of our English translations: “Greetings!”  What Jesus actually shouts is “Chairete!” which means “Rejoice!”, or “Be glad” in all other occurrences in the Bible.  It is not just a suggestion, either.  Jesus is saying to them, “Take joy from this time forward”.  “Do not fear any longer”, he continues, “but go and tell my brothers and sisters to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

So when we are open to seeing that their might be good news for us, God will show us where to look.  And when we respond to his command to go, and take a step in faith, God moves towards us.  When we are willing to respond, even in our fear, God meets us and makes joy stronger within us.  But what does Galilee have to do with our lives today, thousands of years and kilometres from where the risen Lord first appeared?

Galilee was where it all started for the first disciples.  It was the place of their everyday lives, from which they were called out to follow.  First encounter, baptism, and discipleship: all had their roots there.  Galilee is the code for returning to the beginning of the story, for them and for us.    In the musical Joseph and His Technicolour Dreamcoat, Joseph looks back on his journey and realizes that he knew far less of God’s plans than he thought he did.

“I closed my eyes, drew back the curtain
To see for certain what I thought I knew
Far far away, someone was weeping
But the world was sleeping
Any dream will do.

May I return to the beginning
The light is dimming, and the dream is too
The world and I, we are still waiting
Still hesitating
Any dream will do.”

But it is not that “any dream will do”, as he sings.  Joseph is still waiting for God’s truth, God’s dream to come true, in God’s time.  We are all still waiting for the fulfilment of God’s dream for the world.  But this Easter morning, the affirmation is that God’s purpose is alive and well.  We are able to see God in the risen Christ Jesus, not just hidden in the pages of our Scriptures, but in the continued unfolding of good around us.  Every life-giving opportunity, every green and growing thing, every creative idea, every loving offering is a mirror in which we can catch glimpses of God.

For each of us modern day hearers of this sacred story, we are invited in to this action:  to see, to go, to do the work of God in the world.  We began the journey, most of us, at our own baptism.  We were each claimed as a child of Christ in this community of faith we call the Church.  We made a covenant with God that confirmed who we are and how we want to live.  And this morning, with the resurrection, we rise again to affirm that we not only see but are willing to go and share this joy with others.

This morning, we reaffirm this good news in our baptismal covenant.  And so, I ask you:

Do you believe in God the Father?

People I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?

People I believe in Jesus Christ,his only Son, our Lord.He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.He suffered under Pontius Pilate,was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead.On the third day he rose again.He ascended into heaven,and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come againto judge the living and the dead.

Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?

People I believe in God the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins,the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the

prayers?

People I will, with God’ s help.

Will you persevere in resisting evil and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

People I will, with God’ s help.

Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?

People I will, with God’ s help.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself?

People I will, with God’ s help.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human

being?

People I will, with God’ s help.

Will you strive to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation, and respect, sustain and renew the life of the Earth?

People I will, with God’s help.

Then remember your baptism.  See, and go.  Amen.