Early in the new year, a certain writer of self-published romance novels made her return to the land of the living. Her death had been, if not announced, then heavily implied and allowed to lie, as it were, in the imaginations of her fans and followers for more than two years. Now, in the third year, she announced her re-emergence from the shadowlands.
It made a lot of people very angry, which she found hurtful, which made them angrier still.
We are not always good at life and death, still less resurrection, which at times seems beyond us; but here we are, nevertheless, on Easter morning: because Christ is risen, and life will never be the same again.
[According to Matthew] Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, the women slipped like ghosts through the city toward the tomb. You will remember that Pilate had allowed a guard to be set upon it, as though Jesus might escape the prison of death, or more cynically, that his disciples might steal his body and pretend that he had returned to the living. What the women planned to say to the soldiers, how they trembled as they practised their lines, all of that was lost in the earthquake that greeted their arrival.
The guards fell down as though dead; although what had they expected from this graveyard assignment?
The women beheld the angel, sitting with their feet up on the rolled rock, smug with their secret: “He is not here! He has been raised already.”
With great joy and with fear, the women started back when suddenly, there he was, Jesus, their Lord and their great love, and they fell down at his feet.
Resurrection is a funny thing. It doesn’t undo what has gone before. Jesus returned from his descent into hell with his wounds intact, his hands and feet barely beginning to scab over, wearing his heart virtually on his sleeve by way of his wounded side. Nothing about coming back from all of that makes the Cross, the torture, the mock trial, the sheer injustice of it all – nothing about the resurrection makes that death, his judicial murder, right. We are not excused.
On the contrary, by taking on our worst impulses, to crucify our enemies, sometimes even our friends, Jesus took them to hell, where they belong, and buried them there.
The life with which he returned was one transformed. We are not excused, but we are forgiven.
We go through this cycle every spring, don’t we? The crowd, the anger, the crucifixion, the horror, the agony, the harrowing of hell, the empty tomb, while daffodils do their best demonstration of how bulbs buried in the earth can return to blooming life, and birds are going wild with ecstasy, feathering their nests, anticipating new life.
But the resurrection of Jesus is not a cyclical thing. It is the thing that interrupts the cycle of sin, if we will let it transform us. Once was enough for us to know that God is with us, Emmanuel, and that even though death and life’s worst impulses do their best to intervene, God is yet with us, and will not abandon us, even for the grave.
There are two things that I noticed anew this time around the story. We know, we believe, or are given to understand that by the time the rock is rolled away from the tomb, Jesus has already risen and left. We do not know how or when. But the implication is or might be (and this is the first thing I noticed new this spring) that the earthquake did not signify the moment of his resurrection, but rather heralded the arrival of the first disciples come to find him, come in fear and faith and love to witness the empty tomb.
The second is like it. The insouciant angel gave its instructions, and the women hastened to follow, to go home and pack and get the heck on the road to Galilee – but Jesus couldn’t wait. Jesus could not wait to see them. While they were still dizzy from the movement of the earth and the dazzling brightness of the angel and the confusion and hope of the empty tomb, he came to them, greeted them, embraced them.
I know some of you think I’m a broken record, but this is a love story.
What if no one had gone back to the tomb? What if all of the disciples, the rich men who had enough influence with the priests and Pilate to demand the body, the poor men who wondered whether they still had nets at home with which to fish, the women who watched them all and wondered at their practical concerns at this, the most impractical time, when time should stand still, and observe a moment of silence in the presence of grief – what if all of them had stayed away, out of fear or despair, the anger of disappointment, the guilt of grief? What if none of them had gone to the tomb? Would the earthquake still have happened?
What if no one had heard the message of the angel, that he was risen, still Emmanuel, God with us: would they have found him on the road, or at Galilee, or would they have seen someone like him, and turned away; no, it couldn’t be?
But that isn’t what happen, because this is a love story.
It isn’t like a self-published romance, except that it sort of is, because it was written by the Author of everything, the Creator of love.
It isn’t romantic, in that there is no happily ever after – spoiler alert, many of the disciples went on to become martyrs in the footsteps of their Lord – except that there sort of is, because no matter what life comes up with in the way of injustice, betrayal, crucifixion, we know that God is with us, and we know that life with God is better, more hopeful, more loving than any kind of life we could imagine without Them.
It isn’t like any love story we could conjure up, because it is true, a true story: Jesus lived among us, the Son of God was crucified, descended to the dead, and on the third day rose again, and he could not wait to greet his beloved disciples on the road, could not wait to see their shining, astonished faces; he could not wait to love them back.
And so here we are, once again, caught up in the web of God’s love for us. Christ is risen, and we have come to meet him in the road, because with him, life (even death) will never be the same again.