We come to Easter worship expecting the ringing of bells, the scent of lilies, the sound of brass and organ and choir, bright banners and joyful music – and we are not disappointed. It is a celebration! And it isn’t just at church. At home there might be colored eggs and chocolate bunnies and perhaps a special brunch or dinner planned for later today. It is still early in the year but spring did arrive officially on Thursday and you can feel the promise of new life – bulbs popping up, more hours of daylight, robins returning. We rejoice, and it seems that even the earth itself joins in. Our Easter is a joyful occasion and that is why we come this morning – to celebrate that joy. That is what we expect.
But in truth, Easter defies any ordinary expectations. Certainly the first Easter did. The women came to the tomb expecting it to be sealed, expecting to express their grief in the place where Jesus had been buried. They did not expect an earthquake, they did not expect the stone to be rolled away, they certainly did not expect an angel saying, “He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.”
They probably should have expected this, though, shouldn’t they? After all, as the holy messenger reminded them, Jesus himself had told them it would happen. And probably even before the angel instructed them to “Go and tell,” they were on their way -- hurrying, running, stumbling. They were terrified by what had happened and, at the same time, they were overjoyed by the possibility of what might yet be.
And then, the thing they least expected – they met Jesus himself. And his words spoke directly to their fear and their joy. “Greetings,” he said – although a more accurate translation of the Greek might be Rejoice! “Rejoice,” he said, and then he added: “Do not be afraid.”
Rather than being paralyzed by their fear, they were to go and tell. And this would be possible because he would be going ahead of them. He was sending them all to Galilee. Instead of remaining in Jerusalem where it all seemed to end, they were to go back to Galilee where it all began. They were to go there and pick up where he left off – that is what he expected of them. They were to go to the place where he taught and touched and healed, where he showed the power of God’s love, where he pushed the limits of conventional religion until it stretched so wide that everyone was included. They were to go back to Galilee and take up that same work – preaching, teaching, healing, touching, loving, including – inviting everyone into this new way of life that he had lived among them.
It would not be easy. They knew full well what had happened to him – these women who had remained at the cross, who had stood by him to the end – or at least what had seemed like the end. They must have known how hard it would be to do what he said. But there he was, right in front of them, giving them a set of new commandments, telling them what he expected of them: “Rejoice, do not be afraid. Go and tell, and I am going ahead of you.” And suddenly all of their expectations were transformed and everything was possible again. They could change the world, because he had changed everything.
Well. That was then and this is now. And how about you? What is it that you expect, really expect? Do you expect to change the world? Have you come here excepting to meet the risen Christ?
If not, take comfort that those women in Jerusalem didn’t expect that either, at least not at first. But there he was, alive somehow, and calling them into a new life, too. There he was, God’s eternal “yes” spoken to the “no” that the world tried to say at the cross.
And the world is still trying to say “no” to God’s power and life-giving love. But God will not be silenced; God is still speaking an eternal, resurrection “yes.” It is still happening, because Christ is alive! We sing it; we say it; let us believe it and live it, too.
And what would it be like to meet him these days? Where would you expect to find him? He himself has told us: he is the hungry and homeless one with no warm jacket to wear on a cold spring day; he is the one who is thirsty for love, a stranger who is lonely and far from home; he is sick or in prison and scared (Matthew 25:35-36). He still wears the face of humankind.
And just as he did then, he is sending us to Galilee, our Galilee, to the place of ministry and service. We are to engage in the same work he did – preaching, teaching, healing, touching, loving, including – inviting everyone into a new way of life.
And what he expects of us is that we embrace joy. He expects us to live without fear even in the midst of a dangerous and uncertain world. He expects us to go and tell, to speak a word of faith, to speak God’s word of “yes,” with our very lives.
That is what he expects of us, and here is what we can expect of him. Wherever we go, wherever we are called, whatever we do in faith, he has gone ahead of us and he is there, waiting to walk with us in our own discipleship.
So remember his Easter commandment: Rejoice and do not be afraid. Be joyful; as the poet has said, be joyful, even though you have considered all the facts (Wendell Berry, Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front). Live without fear and expect to meet Jesus in the midst of our weary and wounded world. Because that is where he is, and he is waiting for us to join him. He is expecting us.
Rejoice and do not be afraid. Go and tell! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! He lives! And remember this: he is with us always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28.20b).
(c) Martha C. Highsmith