text :: Matthew 28: 1 - 15
theme verse :: “And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.” (Mt 28:15b)
“How long does Easter last?” It’s a common and natural question. Like many things, we have culturally made Easter one festive occasion: new clothes, worship with grandma, and a lunch with ‘heavenly eggs’ instead of the deviled variety. However, as we live in this Eastertide season, we are reminded that Easter is more lifestyle than event. Is it still Easter? How we live each day may very well be our answer to that question.
opening :: 'I Will Not Forget You' (Waterdeep) - The Rising Band; Isaac Herbert, music leader
reading :: Doc Shannon
preaching :: Rev Mark Briley
anthem :: 'Now the Green Blade Riseth' (arr. K McChesney) - Handbell Choir; Andrew Dugan, director
Still. Adjective. She went looking for the still body of her Lord. Motionless, unmoving, immobile, still. Still. Noun. In the still of the night. Quiet, hush, silence, still. Still. Adverb. He still lives in his parent’s basement. Up to this time, until now, still. Those are just a few meanings of the word, still. I don’t know how you use the word but you’re familiar with it I bet. “Sit still, would you?” is a phrase you’ve probably been on the giving or receiving end of. Or maybe you get stuck in that redundant conversation with someone about politics or church or Judge Judy – “Are we still talking about that?” Resurrection. Noun. The action or act of resurrecting or being resurrected. See Easter. Are we still talking about that? Oh my, yes. Yes, we are. We always talk about resurrection here. That’s why we keep coming back. On one occasion, Jesus had finished some hard teaching – big crowd, hard esoteric teaching about how he was bread from heaven and such. The people were looking for a message with three easy points and a closing feel good article Jesus had read on his Face Book feed that week. Instead, he gave them all of this hard teaching and they were like – “Man, is he still talking about bread? The Baptists have been eating at Bread and Butter for at least thirty minutes by now. John’s account says, “Many of them left.” So, Jesus turns to the twelve disciples and says, “You out too?” Peter says, “No way. You are the one with the resurrection words. Where else can we go?” Resurrection. Still? Absolutely.
Matthew’s account of the occasion this morning. The Mary’s are back in full force. Mary Magdalene is the only woman mentioned consistently in all four resurrection accounts. Everyone is clear that she’s a major player in this whole resurrection movement. The other Mary is included here too. Nobody likes to be the other one. “This is Daryl and my other brother, Daryl.” Or you’re talking about work trying to remember who was involved in some ordeal and you say, “Well, I know Mary was there… and then that other one. Was her name Mary too?” Whatever the case, I’m glad the other Mary is there. She may not be completely identified but you better believe her role matters in the movement. Such is still true today. Some of the most important ministry that happens around here isn’t attached to any name. On any given week, I see someone with a tool belt fixing a partition in the men’s restroom, another de-weeding the flower beds, and someone else taking time in the parking lot to listen to the struggle someone else is carrying these days. Their name doesn’t get plastered in the bulletin or on the church sign but our impact would be greatly diminished if not for their contribution to the mission and vision of this church. Thank God for the other Mary!
While as a journalist, Matthew might lose some points for naming people only by their first name, he scores major points in the flare department! “There was a great earthquake!” Matthew wants us to know when heaven is storming earth, there’s going to be a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on. Same is true when Jesus died. The synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, all have the curtain in the temple being torn at the point of Jesus’ death – very symbolic, but Matthew is the only one who drops a good earthquake there too. He wants us to know how major these events are in the ongoing story of salvation. This is earthshaking news – and so how better to convey the enormity of it all than an earthquake. You’re writing about the greatest thing that has ever happened to you. How can I say how it felt? EARTHQUAKE! So, this is big time stuff. And an angel shows up which makes the soldiers guarding the tomb pass right out. The women are tougher than that, I suppose. They don’t pass out. The two Mary’s stand there like the corner pins of a 6-10 split – just a pile of guards. Then, the angel, like Chip and JoAnna Gaines, says, “Are you ready to see your Fixer Upper?” He leads them into the tomb and the before and after is stunning. Quite the open floor plan with not a lot of furniture. Jesus isn’t there. He is risen as he said. The angel says to the women as he looks at his smart phone, “Looks like Jesus dropped a pin in Galilee. Check your phones so you’ll know where to find him there. And, yep, I guess that’s it. My work here is done.” He ends that way; by saying, “That’s my message for you.” So, they surely take a selfie with the angel, because, you know, how often does that happen, and they head off to spread the good news.
The grief and disappointment that John’s Gospel portrays of Mary’s move to the tomb that Easter morning is missing here in Matthew’s account. This is not to say the two Mary’s weren’t grieving or disappointed with all that had transpired in the last few days but I tend to think we focus on our disappointments more than we should. If our own experience of this isn’t true, some research would suggest it is. Dr. Brene Brown was put on the map for her Ted Talk on vulnerability a few years back. She’s got a lot of good ideas out there for our consideration. She is one who notes that so many people choose disappointment as a lifestyle. She did a study inviting hundreds of folks to gather at a theater and watch a high-quality film. She gave everyone a clipboard, a piece of paper and something to write with. She sat them down and told them they were going to watch part of film, a scene of a movie, and when the scene stops, they were to write on their paper what they think happens next. Simple instructions. And so the clip begins rolling. It’s a family riding in a car at night. Mom and dad are sitting in the front. There’s a little boy and a little girl sitting in the back seat. They are all festively dressed in a way that makes it clear they are going to some sort of Christmas gathering. There is snow softly falling outside. A child from the back seat with great excitement says, “I can’t wait to get to grandma’s!” The mom smiles and responds, “It won’t be long!” Dad turns on the radio and the song “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” is playing. The whole family starts singing along. At that moment, the scene is paused and Dr. Brown asks the audience, “What happens next?” And what do you think people said? Car crash. 60% of people said the next thing that happened was a car wreck of some kind. 60%. Another 15% of people offered some sort of crazy, terrible thing. One person wrote, “As the car pulls into grandma’s house, a serial killer lurks in the woods.” Who thinks like that? Brene Brown says, “We do.” 75% of people are choosing disappointment as a lifestyle. I know we feel like this sometimes. And that’s normal. We get stuck. Some unanticipated matter totally wrecks our plans. But Easter invites us to another prevailing thought. Hope. Possibility. Easter works its way out of disappointment. Maybe you’re here this morning, mustering up just enough courage to show up today, hoping to work out of the funk you’re in… hoping you catch a glimpse of the something more your soul is seeking. Rob Bell says, “If you feel stuck in your life, like it’s passing you by, like there’s something way better for you somewhere out there and you’re missing it, try this – try throwing yourself into the small things and repeating to yourself: “This is where I start.” That’s Easter. And Easter is still in season.
So often, we don’t move on from here with Easter on the mind, however. We spend more time in cover up mode. How are we going to fix this mess or that problem? How am I going to win the next political debate with my neighbor who is good at arguing but flat wrong on how to solve our national debt problem. Do you ever get lost in those things? We don’t tend to live our lives forward when we think like that. We re-live what has been and wonder how to cover up the sins of our past. Matthew’s telling of the resurrection story is the only one who writes in a cover-up story. You remember the guards who passed out when the earth shook and the angel floated down? The religious leaders, according to Matthew’s telling, pass the hat and pull in some cash to give to the guards that they might offer some alternative facts to what happened at the tomb. They had passed out anyway – what was it to them – for all they knew such was the way it happened. So they took the money and then this one line – the only place it is told in any account – “And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.” Still. There’s that word again.
My question is, “What story is still being told?” The bribe? Some say Matthew adds this piece to make sure blame is assigned. And we know, throughout history, that we’re always looking for someone to blame. To point the finger – to remove any suspicion from ourselves as having any role in the downfall of anything. We all play into the violence of the world, the betrayal of truth, the oppression of another person, another group, another story – knowingly or unknowingly. It never seems overly productive to wash our hands of blame. I imagine we’ve all been in conversations with people who were angry and desperately trying to win the blame game. As much as we want another to own their stuff, apologize, and make new choices, the end reality always remains: we cannot control another, we can only control ourselves. What are we going to do? That may be more fruitful for us to consider. Instead of getting lost in the debate of who’s still to blame, maybe we focus in on what story we are still telling to this day. What story do we go from this place telling with our lives? That’s what Easter wants from us, I think. Easter wants us to move forward without being preoccupied with further inspection of death’s tomb. It’s catching up life! Catching up with Jesus in Galilee – on the home front – in the workplace – in the partnership with another seeking to live like Jesus. Wouldn’t that be the best ‘still’ story people could tell about you? He’s still trying to live like Jesus. She’s still living like today’s Easter. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
Mike Yaconelli, in his book Dangerous Wonder, writes, “I want a lifetime of holy moments. Every day I want to be in dangerous proximity to Jesus. I long for a life that explodes with meaning and is filled with adventure, wonder, risk, and danger. I long for a faith that is gloriously treacherous. I want to be with Jesus, not knowing whether to cry or laugh.” And to be with Jesus in this way starts in this moment. You drop a pin, like a location on your smart phone, of where Jesus is… you map the steps to that place and you get going. This is where I start. This is it. Whatever has led you to this point is all behind you now. Easter is ahead of you. You’ve just got to step in Easter’s direction from here.
Some of you know I’ve been “training” for my first half-marathon. The big race is about five weeks from now. Honestly, I’ve disappointed myself in most of my efforts thus far. I had the excuse of a full Lenten season – but Jesus scoffed at that saying, “Tell me about it.” The kids have had a lot going on – and parents of young children everywhere scoffed at that saying, “Tell us about it.” There’s always something, right? We make choices to this end too. Anyway – I’m not setting any training records, okay? And, it’s no secret that I battle my weight. I’ve always struggled with my weight and body image I suppose. Always have – except maybe those early toddler years. Okay, maybe always.
On Good Friday, with all of the weight of the world we seem to carry, I took off on a ten-mile run. I’ve been trying a longer run once a week even though I’ve been missing all of the shorter ones in between. I’d never run ten miles at once in my entire life. It took me a long time. I actually missed the first service on Easter Sunday. “On the third day, while it was still dark… I was still running.” It’s scary when you haven’t reached a mile yet and you’re like, “I don’t know if I’ll make it.” Life is often hard coming out of the starting blocks of anything we’re striving towards. But, after a bit you settle in. I listened to some sermons as I ran. About the time I’d get tired or anxious, I’d hear about God’s forgiveness and I’d rally for another mile. I listened to some music. Mile seven or eight I was struggling but a song would come on that I have some history with a friend and I’d rally again for another mile… or at least through the end of that song. There were moments of euphoria where I felt like I could run forever. I’d raise my hands in worship of God in those moments – I’m not overly emotive in my worship but all of the endorphins and such get your hands raising before you know it. Sometimes I’d argue with myself, “Toughen up, Briley! If Jesus could manage the cross, surely you can manage ten miles.” It was Good Friday, remember. I just kept telling myself, “You start from here… you start from here… you start from here…” and here was new every single step of the way. 2 miles. You start from here. 4 miles. You start from here. 6, 9, 9.1, 9.15 – you start to count differently you know. I told you before but I’ll say it again. The half I’m running is in the Grand Tetons and it has this marvelous tag line in its advertisements: “I don’t know how long it will take me, but I’m going somewhere beautiful!”
That’s the Easter promise. Starting from where we are — looking for signs of Jesus at work even still in Galilee, in Tulsa, in our hearts, in our lives. It may take us some time to get there, but something beautiful is ahead. Are we still talking about resurrection? I think we should. I think we are. Resurrection. Noun. The action or act of resurrecting or being resurrected. We start from that. We start from here… even now… even still.
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 A quote from Rob Bell’s most recent book, “How to Be Here.” https://robbell.com/portfolio/howtobehere/.
 From Yaconelli’s work, “Dangerous Wonder”. Tyndale House. 1998.