Shock and Awe in Jerusalem

a sermon for the Easter Vigil

Very early one Sunday morning, three Jewish women woke up in their homes and got out of bed.  They probably did the normal things we all do when we wake up – they washed their faces, they put on their clothes, maybe they had a little breakfast.  Then the three of them met and began walking out of town.  The women had one more job to do for their friend – one more task of faithful service for their teacher and master.  Women have always had to do the hardest labor.  “A man’s work is sun to sun, but a woman’s work is never done.”  That’s just the way life is.  That’s the way of the world.


Very early one Sunday morning, three Jewish women woke up in their homes and got out of bed. They probably did the normal things we all do when we wake up – they washed their faces, they put on their clothes, maybe they had a little breakfast. Then the three of them met and began walking out of town. The women had one more job to do for their friend – one more task of faithful service for their teacher and master. Women have always had to do the hardest labor. “A man’s work is sun to sun, but a woman’s work is never done.” That’s just the way life is. That’s the way it’s always been. That’s just the way of the world.

As they walked, they talked about what had happened just before sabbath – how he was arrested; about the show trial the authorities held to convict him on trumped up charges; about his crucifixion. They talked about how nothing ever changes for the poor and powerless people of the world. It was always the same. The rich get richer and the poor get …. crucified. The powers that be will always have the upper hand. The strongest and most powerful will always win. That’s just the way life is. That’s the way it’s always been. That’s just the way of the world.

Such a waste – he was such a good man. He was so idealistic, so young and enthusiastic, so filled with love for everyone. He was bound to fail, of course. It was only a matter of time. The way he was going – the way he had so many people following him – it was only a matter of time before the authorities smacked him down. That’s just the way life is. That’s the way it’s always been. That’s just the way of the world.

“Who will roll away the stone,” they wondered. “How will we get in to anoint his dead body?” They didn’t have time to prepare his body for a proper burial. It was the afternoon before the sabbath when he died, and they had to rush home before sun down in order to prepare for Shabbat. They had to rush home and prepare for their families. They had too much work to do for the living to worry about the dead. No matter. He wasn’t going anywhere. He could wait until later. That’s just the way life is. That’s the way it’s always been. That’s just the way of the world.

But when they got to there, they found that the stone had already been rolled away. The boulder, which had to be large enough to seal the tomb, was no longer a problem. It was already done. Who did it?

If the stories we just heard by our very gifted storytellers – the Creation, the Flood, the Parting of the Red Sea, the Valley of Dry Bones – if these stories tell us anything, they tell us that God has acted, does act and will act in our lives. It is by the grace and power of God, and not by anything the women did, that the boulder was rolled away. And it is by the grace and power of God, acting in our lives today through Jesus Christ, that our own boulders are removed.

How often do we struggle by ourselves with boulders that lock us inside dark places? They may be boulders of addiction, or of caring for someone we love. Or perhaps boulders of illness, or feelings of inadequacy or failure. How often to we struggle to move those boulders ourselves – boulders so high, so wide, so deep that they seem insurmountable – only to find that Christ has already moved them out of our way? The light comes streaming into our lives, the burden is lifted, our hearts are lifted and we rejoice!

And also to wonder and ponder on what we have seen and heard.

“You seek Jesus, who was crucified,” the angel said. “He has been raised. He is going ahead of you to Galilee… Go and tell the disciples.” And in that instant, everything changed: for the women, for the disciples, and for us sitting here tonight.

He has been raised – Suddenly, everything we thought we knew about “the way of the world” has changed. Everything we have been programmed to see and to hear and to believe is no longer true. When the women woke up, they were living in a world where men did men’s work and women did women’s work, where power and money were what mattered, where life was hard for the poor, and harder still for poor women. They woke up in a world where no matter how good a person was, you could be gone in a instant if you crossed the wrong person. Most of all, they woke up in a world were the dead stayed dead. But God changed all that. Suddenly, death is no longer the end of life – Resurrection is!

He is going ahead of you to Galilee – Jesus is on the move. He is not standing still to be worshipped like some long dead Roman idol. He is alive and vital and acting in our lives today. And he is leading us back to the beginning of the story, to where he first met his disciples and where he first performed his ministry. Our task as his disciples is to follow him there, not stay here at the tomb mourning and grieving a lifeless Christ, but to be active and engaged in his ministry for the world.

Go and tell the disciples – This is the most important part of the story, that they go and tell the others. For if they had not, we wouldn’t be here tonight. And if we do not, the story dies with us. Go and tell means to give witness, and our witness to the world comes in many forms. It may be a few words of encouragement to a friend. It may be feeding and clothing the homeless. We are called to witness that Christ is alive and living in each and every one of us “not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to Christ’s service.”

The women were filled with shock and awe at what they heard and saw that morning. The whole world had changed and they didn’t know what to say, at first. But after a while, the thoughts began to form. Tonight, God rolls away the boulders that would otherwise entomb us – just like that. Our thoughts become whispers, our whispers become words, our words become shouts.

Jesus has been raised! He is going ahead of you! Go and tell his disciples!

ALLELUIA, CHRIST IS RISEN!

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