Our God is an unexpected God. Or perhaps a God of things unexpected, whichever way sits better with you. In the first century there were a lot of people who expected God to show up and do something radical. They’ve been expecting this for some time. When God turned up to do this radical thing, it was not in the way they expected nor was the thing that God did what they expected God would be doing.
Nobody thought God was going to show up the way we remember at Christmas: In the form of a small crying human baby born to unwed parents of no particular social status. When they envisioned the sorts of things that God might do, it was to kick out the Romans and restore the kingdom of Israel to what it was meant to be. To take care of all of these problems of corrupt government and to free the oppressed people. And it would be through the sort of might and power that had been used to take the kingdom and oppress the people in the first place.
So God shows up and starts wandering the countryside, preaching and teaching and doing healing miracles. Not what anyone expected. As the plan progresses and this Jesus character is getting more and more attention and we’re pretty sure it’s building to the climax. Those who believe that Jesus is the Messiah, that this is the one we’ve been waiting for, as we build to that climax we’re sure it’s all going to happen. The thunder and lightning is going to show up, the angels will appear, and it’ll all get better!
And we end up with Jesus dead on a cross.
Not what anyone expected. I can’t imagine what the disciples felt. The pain and grief of the women who go to the tomb in the morning, all of the followers who had invested of themselves, their hearts, their beliefs, and their work. All invested in the teachings of this man who ended up dead in a tomb. That wasn’t what was supposed to happen.
It wasn’t what we thought he said was going to happen, either. He talked about suffering and dying but there was victory involved. After Good Friday and Holy Saturday it doesn’t feel much like victory. Then, to come to the tomb, to confront the body again would be crushing. And to find it missing, the final blow. Because now you can’t even take care of your deceased friend the way that you want to. Can’t even care for his body. He’s not just dead, he’s gone.
Suddenly, two guys in long white robes show up from nowhere to tell you that he’s not really dead. In fact, he’s alive and somewhere else! To their credit, the women at the tomb understand something is up. In the midst of all the grief and the upset they see the two men and realize that something extraordinary has happened. This isn’t a grave robbing. This is, in fact, God at work.
Off they head to tell the others that, not only does victory seem to be on its way, but it’s coming in a more spectacular way than any of us thought possible. Of course, God being a God of unexpected things, God gives the message to a group of women. Women, who when they tell a group of men the news are told that they are mistaken. It’s early in the morning and they didn’t sleep well. They should probably have some breakfast and a nap. Obviously they don’t know what they’re talking about because what they’re saying is nonsense.
At this moment in the story, Peter thinks maybe someone should check this out. I don’t know how you feel about Peter; I’m sort of 50-50 on this point. If you’re a little suspicious of him, Peter probably thinks that someone more reliable should go check and see what’s going on. If you’re a fan of Peter, then he probably actually thinks there’s something to what the women have said and wants to see what’s up. In either case, the Holy Spirit is moving, so off he goes.
The confusion and grief and the denial of the news that women bring is really important. Joy and love are two of our most vulnerable emotions. I once read that telling someone that you love them is like giving them a loaded shotgun aimed at your heart and trusting them not to pull the trigger. It’s the state you put yourself in by loving, and I think joy is often similar. When we are rejoicing and we are happy about something in that really deep and profound way, it is so easy to have it knocked down. The fall from that height is so far and so crushing.
I can only imagine what the gathered people who heard this news must have felt. “Jesus isn’t dead he’s alive and well! Angels told us he has come back from the dead! He has been resurrected!” I can only imagine, after having spent three days in sorrow, how terrifying the prospect of believing that news would have been. Because to believe that means to rejoice that your friend has been returned to life and to stand the chance of having it all taken away again.
It’s terrifying, the vulnerability required to believe what the white-robed men said and what the women told. Eventually the story that gets shared around the world and every time, the vulnerability that it requires to say “Yes, I think that this is true,” is immense and frightening.
When people thought about God coming to earth to set things to right, they were thinking about the things that we had put wrong. Corrupt governments, unworthy people in power, oppressed folks. And addressing those problems is certainly part of God’s word. But rather than treat symptoms, God goes straight to the source and removes the power of sin and death once and for all. God will cut the thing off at the root and be done with it. In the death and resurrection and ascension of Christ, God says “I love humanity enough, I am willing to make myself vulnerable enough to endure all of this on your behalf. I will do this that you may be set free to live the lives that I desire for you when I make you.”
That’s what today is about. We are invited to join this life with God and to participate in the overwhelming joy and love of God for all of creation, especially for us. We do this through the things that God has done for us. This is our chance to participate in love and joy without the fear of the vulnerability required because God takes that burden on for us. God has endured the pain that comes from having the joy and love stripped away and rebuked and refused. God has done that for us and now all that’s left for us—for every one of us—is to say “Yes. I want to be a part of God’s great love and joy.”
That’s what Easter is about. It’s for everyone, whether you have been in this church every Sunday for decades, whether it’s your first time in this church, or whether you were out for a Sunday morning walk, heard the bell ringing, and decided to fall in the door and you’ve never even been to a church before (and now you probably have lots of questions about what these people are doing.) Easter is for you. The celebration is for you. God’s love and joy are for you, just as they were for the women at the tomb whose grief was turned to joy.
I hope that you will accept God’s invitation to participate in all of it this morning.
Originally preached at Holy Trinity Church, Winnipeg.