God of terror and joy, you arise to shake the earth. Open our graves and give us back the past; so that all that has been buried may be freed and forgiven, and our lives may return to you through the risen Christ. Amen.
In some ways, there has never been a better time, a Sunday better placed, on which to announce resurrection. The two Marys, keeping within their 2 km limit, make their way to the tomb. Just to see it. Just to make themselves face what they know it will confirm.
Instead, they walk into an earthquake. And still trembling, they are told: The One you are seeking is not here.
And we also, if we had been able to do so, within the same 2 km limit, might have made our way out of habit to our church building. Only to find it empty, our own routine expectations also shattered. The ones we are seeking are not here.
It’s a perfect Easter parable. For the good news of the resurrection is at the heart of our Easter faith, and yet we miss it every time. Even in Matthew’s account, which is the only one in which we actually watch the tomb being opened. It makes for great public drama, with the earthquake and all, but still, in the end, there is nothing to see. All we do see are the reactions of those who have just seen the stone roll.
And first up are the guards, who faint. The upholders of the status quo, the defenders of the powers that be; they faint, and uselessly fall to the ground. The women, on the other hand, are struggling, but remain upright. They are more practiced in knowing how to roll with what they did not expect. They already know that the sudden unravelling of the familiar, the habitual, is the condition of new life.
That’s why Matthew tells the story in the exaggerated way he does, with the earthquake and the lightning and the snow and the physically robust, stone-rolling angel. They are all just loud visual pointers. Normal service has been suspended. Christ has been raised! And the lives we have had until now have not yet become the lives God ferociously claims and defends for us in raising Jesus from the dead.
On this strange, Covid-marked Easter day, this is something we are perhaps in a good position to grasp. For the announcement of resurrection always presents us with a stumbling block. After any trauma, part of us wants to go back to the life we had, the life which was familiar to us, workable, even good. And yet, all the while, deep down, part of us knows that the life we had is no longer the life we are sure we want, or can settle for.
Already, the tomb has been opened wide, and found not to contain the last word. But now we have been opened too. Unprotected, our immunity to life is low. And we are now just as vulnerable to the contagion of resurrection life as we were once susceptible to the inertia of a life that longed only for things to return to normal.
The two Marys, 2 km from home, are about to be told that all restrictions have been lifted, and they will soon be on their way to Galilee. We, on the other hand, have a bit longer to wait. But the message we bear away as the sun rises high into the sky will be the same. The empty tomb does not hold the last word. And we are finally, all of us, defenceless against resurrection. And to God alone be the glory.
Gather together a variety of items that are significant to the Holy Week and Easter story – for example, nails, bread, money, purple cloth, a small cross, a stone, thorns etc. Place these items on a table and give everyone a short time to memorise them. Cover them with a cloth, and ask all but one person to close their eyes. The person whose eyes are open takes then takes one or two items away, and hides them. Invite everyone else to open their eyes and try to recall what is missing. When the missing item has been identified and returned, talk together for a few moments about the place of the item in the story. If you are a household of one, place a small number of items on the table, and before each meal, use one of the items for a moment of reflection and prayer.