Rev. Megan L. Castellan
April 12, 2020
Easter Day, Year A
I am not a person who has ever been deeply shaken by revelations of biblical scholarship. I consider myself pretty unflappable. In college, I relished when I learned about how the gospel writers copied from each other, how not all of Pauls’ letters were written by Paul. I thought I was a very cool and logical person.
Then, I was literally driving along one day, listening to NPR like a stereotypical Episcopalian, when I heard a discussion between the host and a quantum scientist. And the scientist was discussing the outcomes of the Hadron supercollider. “Basically,” he said, “not only does it appear that reality folds in on itself, but that super-charged particles can skip between layers of time/space. And thus, Newton’s Third Law may not actually be true.”
I nearly wrecked the car. I couldn’t not deal with this. I was BESIDE myself. Look, there are certain things in life I rely on—one of which is that matter can neither be created nor destroyed. That’s how gravity works. That’s how everything works.
HOW CAN THAT NOT BE TRUE ANYMORE.
Matthew’s gospel doesn’t spotlight it as much as Mark’s, but one common theme in the resurrection stories is that the initial witnesses were scared out of their minds. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, the other Mary—they were happy, yes. But they were also petrified. They were confounded. They had no idea what this meant.
You and I, we have had the cushion of 2,000 of theologians telling us exactly what the resurrection means. All the women had was a scary-looking shiny man appearing out of nowhere and telling them that their beloved friend was not dead; so go deal with it. Ok, no more questions.
And with a single word, everything has been flipped upside down. Everything. Three days after the crucifixion, the sharp blade of surprise has begun to wear down a bit, and you can imagine the disciples starting to come out of their stunned fear. Start to think, OK—we have to figure out what to do now, if this world-without-Jesus is the new normal. And just as suddenly, that world is gone again.
But not just that. With the announcement of the resurrection, everything the disciples thought they knew has been overturned. Because the truly unnerving part of Christ’s resurrection is that it shows just how impotent and fragile everything else in the world is. The Roman Empire sure seemed like it was the mightiest power in the universe, and it invested a lot of energy and substance convincing the whole world of that. It had armies, it had governors, it had a lot of forces on its side.
But now, Jesus, whom Rome had put to death, was alive again, and so Rome didn’t seem so threatening.
So the disciples now had to reconsider—what else had they been wrong about? If Rome wasn’t worth their fear, if this mighty pillar that seemed to hold up the world wasn’t actually in control of their very lives—how did the world make sense? It wasn’t that they liked Rome—it was just that Rome was familiar. Rome was predictable. And they didn’t know how to live in a world where Rome just didn’t matter.
That’s really destabilizing—even if they were overjoyed to have their friend back.
We build our lives around empires, big and small, in countless ways. We assume that these empires will always be there, and will operate the same way forever. EVEN AS we realize that the empires we rely on don’t seek our good. They’re still so present that we build our lives around them. They’re here, they’re tangible, and well, everyone else is doing it.
But the promise of Christ’s resurrection is that these empires don’t last. The scary part of Christ’s resurrection is that these empires don’t last. And so we are required, we who seek a Risen Christ, to always remember that we cannot trust in empires to save us. We can only trust in the God who brought Jesus Christ from the dead.
Because just as frightening as it is to realize that God alone is the mightiest power in the universe—or multiverse—and that God really has some preferences in the way this all goes down—it is reassuring to know that God is on the side of life, and life abundant when the empires around us seem only capable of distributing death and sacrifice.
Our God does not demand from us human sacrifice to appease an almighty wrath. Our God instead comes to us in love, to teach us to love better. Our God enters into the brokenness of the human heart and suffers with us, shattering forever the bonds of sin and death which plague us. God does that. Only God does that.
So when the empires and institutions of the world claim to provide safety, stability, and the only path to life, remember the empty tomb. Remember the joyful panic of those first women. And remember who our God is. Our God gives us life willingly and freely, in the face of every empire that would set limits before us.
Because Christ is risen. Alleluia!
—Resurrection brings new life out of death. But it also shows us the impotence of our old ways of being which is downright terrifying.
—everyone is terrified, because even within the hope, they will have to go back and reconsider EVERYTHING.
—Jesus’s resurrection isn’t just unambiguous good news. It is, but it is news so good that it reveals the frailty and paleness of everything else our lives depend on.
-It casts into doubt the other pillars we build our lives on. It reveals the other powers in our lives as idols.
—And that is freaking scary.