A single cross on a hillside.

Extravagant Hope

ESPERANZA LUTHERAN CHURCH https://myesperanza.org

Easter A2023
Matthew 28:1-10

Peter, James, and John, Matthew, Simon, and Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, and Thomas, James son of Alphaeus and Thaddaeus all desert Jesus and flee at his arrest. Judas, of course, betrays Jesus. The festival crowd gathered in Jerusalem the next day, when given a choice to release Jesus, demurs and cries: Crucify him! The soldiers, those who pass by Golgotha, and even the criminals crucified on Jesus’ left and right deride him. The chief priests, scribes, and elders mock him. At the last, Jesus cries: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

In the story of Christ’s passion according to the gospel of Matthew, nearly everyone abandons Jesus. But, Matthew tells us, many women are also at the cross, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. Among them are Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

When Joseph of Arimathea asks for Jesus’ body and it is removed from the cross, wrapped in a clean linen cloth, and placed in a new tomb, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph are there again, sitting opposite the tomb.

So it only makes sense that, on the morning after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week is dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary go to see the tomb. Contrary to the resurrection accounts in Mark and Luke, the women are not carrying spices to anoint Jesus. They do not go to prepare a dead body. They go to see the tomb. They are witnesses of Jesus’ ministry and disciples in their own right for they too had followed Jesus from Galilee. They had seen Jesus heal and exorcise, walk on water and still a storm. They had seen Jesus feed more than 5,000 people with a few fish and loaves of bread. They had seen Jesus challenge Pharisees and bless little children. They had heard Jesus preach and teach about the kingdom of God, forgiveness, and love for God and neighbor. Three times, they had heard Jesus speak not only of his impending suffering and death but of his rising on the third day too.

Now, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary go to see the tomb even though soldiers guard the tomb, even though Jesus is a convicted criminal, even though it is still dark. They go maybe because they had listened to Jesus, maybe because they expect something other than a dead body in a tomb. What they see upon their arrival brings fear and great joy: a great earthquake, an angel descending from heaven, the rolling back of the stone from the tomb, the news of Jesus’ resurrection, and suddenly, Jesus himself. Note that, though these extraordinary events frighten them, they are not surprised. Even when they meet Jesus on the road, they do not stand back incredulous. They take hold of his feet and worship him.

Prior to arriving at Esperanza, I served Grace Lutheran Church in downtown Phoenix for twelve years. With a building constructed in 1928, we all groaned every time an air conditioner went out, the plumbing backed up, and the elevator from the handicap entrance to the sanctuary quit…again. Or when the congregational partner scheduled to serve the Sunday morning pancake breakfast on particular Sunday just never showed up. Or when fights broke out in the fellowship hall among homeless members of the congregation. Or when many other (many other) unsavory, challenging, or ironically not-appropriate-for-church circumstances arose. Every staff member of Grace and several key lay leaders who served during my time there eventually ended up sitting at the table in my office beside themselves and about to quit. I thought of them as my “on the edge” talks—staff and leaders finding themselves on the edge of despair and me pulling them back from the edge. I listened to their worries, to their complaints, to their wonderings about God and God’s work. And then, I would tell them what I had learned from God and God’s people at Grace. I would tell them: God will work. Actually, no foolin’, God will work. Because God always does. Because that’s what God has promised. So we can trust God in this big, extravagent way, the way the women trusted God when they set out for the empty tomb on Easter morning.

Easter proclaims this good news: God will work. Whatever edge we might be on today, whatever challenges or problems, whatever frustrations or impossibilities we are facing, God will work. It could be illness or grief, worries about our children or grandchildren. It could be a sense of meaninglessness or despair or the violence and injustice of this world. I don’t know what God will do necessarily. I can’t tell you how God will do it. I only know that, when all hope seemed to be lost, when Jesus’ body laid in a tomb, when the disciples were locked up in fear, God worked. God did a new thing.

Easter is, fundamentally, a glorious mystery. One we cannot fully explain. One we cannot tease apart. But it is a mystery that reveals the way of God. In death, new life. In despair, hope. Through no way, a way. On Easter, Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! And actually, no foolin’, whether it’s Easter or any other day, God will work. Thanks be to God! Amen.