“Who Are We Looking For?”
Matthew 28:1-10 (28:5-7) – April 12, 2020
Are you living in the midst of uncertainty? Not sure of what is happening from day to day? Sometimes, not even sure of which day it is? I talked with my sister yesterday, and she admitted she lost track of the days of the week a few days ago. I know for many, the “right-now-time” throws many people into a tailspin, and knocks them down. The “right-now-time” of quarantine is an uncertain, uncomfortable time. A time of not-knowing!
That is what it was like for the followers for the Rabbi Jesus, immediately after the crucifixion. They were in a tailspin, knocked down and uncertain what was coming next.
Their Rabbi, their leader and guide had just been killed in a particularly gruesome fashion on Friday afternoon. Joseph of Arimathea had gotten the body of Jesus released to him late Friday, and they quickly put Him in the tomb before night fell. It was the Sabbath night, too, so they had great reason for the big hurry. Friday night and Saturday day were—and are—the Jewish day of rest, especially made holy because of the Passover observance.
At such an uncertain, uncomfortable time, what do you think the disciples did on that Saturday, on that Sabbath day? Some may have cowered in fear, afraid that the Roman soldiers would come after Jesus’s close associates, too. Some may have been too grief-stricken even to move, to eat. Some may have gotten angry—angry at the Roman overlords, and angry at the Jewish authorities, but felt impotent to do anything about their anger.
What about us? What are we doing in the midst of this quarantine period, this “right-now-time” of the pandemic? Some today may also be afraid, fearful, anxious about ourselves and our loved ones. Some—whose lives have already been intimately touched by this virus—are grieving and mourning because of loved ones who are very sick or have already died. And then, there are those who are downright angry! Angry with an invisible virus, angry at the various responses to the pandemic, but feel personally impotent to do much about their anger.
Our Gospel writer, Matthew, tells us of the two women disciples who come to the tomb early Sunday morning. They come where they laid Jesus’s body on that desperate Friday afternoon. They grieve and mourn, and have spices to anoint the body properly, since on Friday there hadn’t been enough time for a proper burial. Except—Jesus is not in the tomb!
Can you see the two women, thunderstruck, as they stand in front of the empty tomb? The stone has been rolled away, showing the hole in the rock. Plus, on top of the stone sits a miraculous sight in its own right. An angel, dressed in bright, shining white, waits to speak with the women. Can you imagine their surprise, shock, even fear at the angel’s appearance? The angel says, “Don’t be afraid!” I can just see the shining figure, hand outstretched, comforting words calming their fears and anxiety.
Here we are in 2020, in the midst of the “right-now-time” of the pandemic, and we need an angel to come and reassure us! Some today have even forgotten what the presence of God feels like. We badly need comforting words to calm our fears, anxiety, anger and confusion.
The angel did exactly that. The angel tells the women disciples not to be afraid, and repeats the words of Jesus—“He is not here, just as He said!” And then, “Quickly, go tell the other disciples Jesus is risen!”
Those women had their fear, grieving and uncertainty disappear in a moment! Alas, it won’t be quite that miraculous or quite that sudden for a recovery from this pandemic.
My journalist husband makes memes from time to time, and they sometimes have biting social commentary. He recently made a meme with a grandfatherly-type man reading to two young children, with a snarky comment about “the before-time.” But, what about the “right-now-time?” That tense time between the diagnosis and the treatment? Or that worried time when others have lost the job that provides income for their household? Or, that anxious time when we fear for loved ones who are essential workers? Or, that waiting time when some cannot even sit next to an ICU bed in the hospital because of COVID-19?
We are living through tumultuous times, indeed. I suspect, when people look back on the year 2020, there will be a clear line of demarcation between the “before-time,” the “right-now-time” in the midst of the pandemic, and whatever comes after. We hope, we pray that this next time may be known as the “recovery-time.”
As the angel told the women and men disciples, Jesus is no longer in the tomb! Jesus is risen! Yes, those were desperate, anxious times for the disciples, and yet Jesus said He would be with them. There have been fearful, anxious times throughout history, yet Jesus has conquered death. Disasters, famines, floods, and yes, pandemics have come upon great numbers of people at times—yet Jesus tells us, urges us “Don’t be afraid!”
Yes, the women were afraid, yet full of joy! We can take heart that Jesus gives us the assurance that He is alive!
“God is not finished yet. We might recall that, indeed, God’s favorite thing to do is to show up where we least expect God to be and to surprise those who have given up on God.”  Jesus has promised; He will be with us! And, His peace can never be taken away from us, no matter what. That is Good News, indeed. Amen, alleluia!
(I would like to thank Rev. Dr. David Lose. For this sermon, I have borrowed several ideas from his commentary on Holy Saturday, from his online article http://www.davidlose.net/2020/04/the-forgotten-day/ )