(1) After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. (2) And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. (3) His appearance was white like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. (4) For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. (5) But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. (6) He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. (7) Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” (8) So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. (9) Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. (10) Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:1-10)
The sun is peeking over the horizon as the two Mary’s approach the tomb where their friend, their teacher, the one who had healed them, was buried. They had come to prepare his body for burial, having been prevented from doing so earlier because of the Sabbath.
Suddenly, the earth shakes beneath their feet. The great stone covering the tomb rolls back. A bright figure, with clothes as white as snow sits on the stone. They are afraid. The Roman guards posted to catch any potential body snatchers are frozen with fear, like dead men.
The angel atop the stone speaks to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.”
The Marys, having come on a mission of mercy, suddenly find themselves in the midst of a miracle, the first witnesses to discover the Risen Christ.
Strange as it seems, we are often better prepared to deal with death than with new life. The Marys know how to grieve, how to go through the motions of preparing the body, comforting one another in their loss, finding solace in quiet memories privately shared. But new life? What do you do when God brings someone, something, a relationship or a reality to life, that you had written off as dead.
I’ll give you an example. My first experience in ministry was as a student chaplain in an institution for persons with severe and profound mental and physical handicaps. In my time there I met a young man named Robbie Heckel. Robbie had smooth dark hair. He was a bit small for his age. His most noticeable feature, however, was an extremely enlarged head. He had been born with hydrocephalus, and was not expected to live out the year. While I was there, he turned 11.
For most of his first 10 years, Robbie was left in bed to stare at blank walls, curtains pulled. The only voices he heard were those of attendants talking about him or about their lives which had very little to do with him.
One day however, an older woman from a nearby church appeared and became Robbie’s adopted grandmother. She spent 8 hours a day, 5 days a week sitting beside him, reading to him, telling him Bible stories, brushing his hair, sharing with him the love of Christ. She brightened up the room with decorations.
She encouraged staff members to linger and talk with Robbie instead of about him. She even recruited a physical therapist to give him foot messages. I was there when, for the first time Robbie’s face came to life, more animated with emotion and feeling than anyone had ever witnessed.
What an amazing thing to see new life come to someone given up for dead.
The challenge for each of us this day is to receive the Spirit of new life God offers in the Risen Christ.
As the two Marys found out, you never know what God will do next. You never know when God will bring back to life something (or Someone) we’ve written off as dead.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!