Fear and amazement, then and now.

The week begins as the Friday story ended – in fear.

The women have come to the tomb at first light of a new day; a new week;

ready to return to something familiar.

Their unbelievable experience with Jesus –

the roller-coaster ride

under the guidance of this radical teacher, their compassionate friend,

has come to an end with his death at the hands of the authorities.

It is not to be forgotten.  Their time spent with Jesus was incredible –

a time of hope and promise; a time of new ideas and fresh energy.

They watched as over and over again the impossible became common-place:

Broken people were made whole; the outcast were made welcome;

the promises of the God of Abraham

were lifted off the page and brought to life in spectacular fashion by Jesus.

They could almost imagine that the righteous kingdom had arrived…

The events in Jerusalem brought all that crashing down.

Human reality has pushed aside Divine possibility.

Jesus was dead, thanks to the combined efforts of civic and religious authorities.

The revolution of compassion and real righteousness

has been ruthlessly laid to rest.

So the women, in the early light of dawn, return to what they know.

Gathering spices, they go to honour the body of their friend and teacher.

They go to mourn in the custom of their community,

hoping that attention to the rituals of death might put them back on familiar ground.  They can’t forget their experiences with Jesus,

but they long to find safety and stability again –

to ‘go back’ to patterns and habits that had been their refuge.

But they have met, in Jesus, something unique – something ‘other’ – 

and there is no going back.

For starters, the stone has been moved; the grave is already open.

Alarmingly, a young man meets them in the tomb;

radiant and confident, the essence of life and hope.

The women are met with astonishing news:

“Don’t be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.

HE HAS BEEN RAISED; HE IS NOT HERE.”

Consider this, for a moment.

These courageous women,

looking only to honour their dead friend and express their deep grief,

are expecting something normal –

some hint that the world hasn’t gone completely mad.

They already know what we know:  everything that lives will die.

They know that the powerful will stop at nothing to maintain their power.

The status quo is not always what we want, but it is familiar;

we prefer (as a species) known chaos to unknown chaos.

What they find at Jesus’ tomb is the announcement of the death of ‘status quo’.

The bright stranger who surprises them at the tomb

tries to take the edge off their surprise.

He reminds them that Jesus told them this was coming.

All his kingdom-talk – this compassionate revolution

with a thirst for the things of God,

was going to change the way of the world and upset the status quo.

But they had not understood this while Jesus lived,

and their fear makes it impossible for them to hear it now, in this place.

The fear that the gospel captures is understandable.

New things are frightening things –

especially when they defy our expectations as an empty tomb does.

It’s not hard to imagine that terror might be a typical reaction to resurrection,

but fear and amazement is, in fact, an appropriate response

to a radical departure from our expectations.

And our expectations are what keep us from understanding

the significance of this day.

Two thousand years of celebration have taken the edge off of Easter.

The resurrection of Jesus no longer inspires fear and amazement as it should, because we have reduced it to just another sign of spring

– a festival of new life –

without a real appreciation for what this new life might be.

Easter is the reminder of God’s desire for grace and life,

set against the things we have settled for –

the things that we assume are normal and ordinary,

and which cannot (in our imaginations) ever be changed.

The world spins on, and humanity follows a destructive path.

We are content to be consumers of creation

and our competition for those things that God called good

lead us to evil choices.

In such a world as ours,

where dangerous radical thinkers wreak havoc on ordinary citizens,

it seems as though we can only watch and mourn.

In a world based on our expectations, we are left to conclude that our only hope

is to grasp a little glory for ourselves –

to leave our mark and hope we are remembered well.

This is only part of our modern reality,

because we also inhabit a world

that has witnessed the real power of God in the resurrection of Jesus,

and that means we cannot be complacent, and we are no longer powerless;

in the face of great evil, or in anything else.

Our Easter celebrations should arouse the fear in us;

fear that comes when we recognize that he world is not always as we imagine it.

Our response to the news that Jesus is risen should move us to amazement,

for the empty tomb is proof that God is still at work

seeking peace and showing mercy and offering grace.

Our status quo has been torn apart, and today is our annual reminder

that although new things are difficult, and often dangerous,

God is still at work, renewing and refreshing all things

through this one mighty act of defiance.

Easter is nothing less than God’s defiance of our expectations;

The empty tomb is God’s answer to our certainty that nothing can be changed, because in the moment when grief and (acceptance) turns to fear and amazement,

anything is possible – joy is possible – life is possible.

Thanks be to God that Jesus is Risen – he is risen indeed!

Hallelujah!  Amen!

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