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 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."
Today’s text, in addition to its more prominent function of announcing the resurrection, tells the story of the first Christian sermon—there can be no Christian preaching until Christ is raised from the dead. We might say, then, as our sermon title suggests, that the task at hand for us is not so much to preach resurrection as it is to preach preaching resurrection. After all, we are not newcomers to this story—we have already come, and we have seen, and we have heard. But the command given to the women on Easter morning, both by the angel of the Lord, and by Jesus himself, while it includes the invitation to come and to see, is ultimately a commissioning … to Go ... And Tell ...
It is not a commission, though, that is given first to the people we expect ... it is not first given to the holder of the keys of the kingdom, or to the ones who argued about who is the greatest, or who will get to sit where. Instead, this commissioning to preach is given to a woman whose name is preceded by the somewhat dismissive title “the other,” and to a kind of newbie, freshman in the gospel narrative.
Mary Magdalene, whose name is so well known through the historical rumor mill, doesn’t show up in Matthew’s gospel until chapter 27, where we are told only that her sins, which were many, had been forgiven by Jesus, whom she is now following. She has no lines. As she and “the other Mary” will be at the cross,” so here in her very late appearance on the scene, Mary Magdalene is silent. But she is faithful.
We do not know if these silent, faithful women were commissioned because they came to the tomb, or if they were brought to the tomb so that they might be commissioned, chosen by God for this specific task. We only know that so far they have been silent ... and that they display great faithfulness to Jesus by coming “to see the tomb,” as the text says.
This is a familiar ritual. As a matter of fact, there are almost certainly some among us who this very morning have, or will visit the burial site of a beloved departed “to see the tomb.” What we mean by “see the tomb” is visit the person ... Remember the person ... Continue in relationship with the person.
In this way, when we make a point to see the tomb, we remain faithful to our relationships, even through death, and in this way, these women are remaining faithful to Jesus, even in the shadow of the cross.
They are the silent faithful ... And here in our text they are being asked, or rather, commanded to speak ...
A few years back, while being trained for ministry, I served as a hospital chaplain alongside 6 or 7 other students, most of whom I not previously met. It was a program required by my denomination, called Clinical Pastoral Education, and for the first few weeks I was legitimately suspicious that the program had hired actors to blend in with the students just to be as absurd and create as much drama as possible ... That didn’t turn out to be true, but regardless, when you put seven random people in a room together who all believe that they are called to serve Jesus as a profession, the relational dynamics get weird real fast! Some people would get territorial with patient visits; an older woman in the group, who had children about my age, treated everyone like she was our mother, to which different people responded with varied expressions of annoyance; one person had previously been employed as a social worker, and had all kinds of diagnoses for people who didn’t realize or appreciate that they were being diagnosed ... and I was nearly convinced that I couldn’t possibly be called to pastoral ministry because my thoughts were just too mean ... And sometimes when I was really tired, they’d slip out ... We were a loud and fickle group.
... And then there was Matthew.
Matthew was a Roman Catholic seminarian from rural Louisiana who was part of our group. He is the youngest of seven brothers and sisters. Early on, Matthew’s oldest brother, who had suffered from a developmental disability, and who he looked up to as a beloved friend and role model, died of his illness. Matthew didn’t know if that particular experience of trauma was the source of it or not, but he grew up, among all the noise of five loud siblings, as the quiet one. He told us about meal time in his family; how he was rarely able to get a word in at the dinner table, and so he just stopped trying. Silenced by trauma... Silenced, just because everyone else was louder.
When I met Matthew, he mostly stood out to me as the quiet one. I often worried, as conversations seemed to roll him over; people were weeping and gnashing teeth while Matthew simply sat quietly and observed. For a while, the group didn’t ask because we didn’t need him to participate. Even if we found it curious that he chose not to, the rest of us could analyze and speculate and fight and complain on our own, and we were mostly very willing ... and confident ... and loud about it.
It seems not all that uncommon that young minister types, such as we were, ooze with these characteristics when we are in churchy situations. I might be confident, but when it actually comes to being a faithful practitioner of the gospel that Jesus talked about using terms like “peace,” “love,” and “compassion,” ... the gospel that we might rightly speak of as non-competitive and liberating ... Well then, I am just kind of loud and fickle. That summer it didn’t take long to realize that the loud and fickle actually have profound need of the silent faithful.
As we got to know Matthew and his story, it became clear that, in pretty stark contrast to the rest of the group, Matthew was not just quiet; he was, along with the Marys in our story, the silent faithful. As it turned out, prior to coming to college, Matthew’s parents flew him to Atlanta to spend a summer exploring monastic life at the monastery of the Holy Spirit. He ended up staying twice that long, and after leaving eventually came back for another year, and joined the community as its youngest member by nearly 30 years. Matthew was at the bedside with many of the older monks as they died. It is the monastery where he recalls learning and developing his faithful commitment to a life of prayer, so difficult for so many Christian people. It is also in the monastery where Matthew tells of hearing God’s call on his life, to the parish ... out of his silence and into a life where he would have to speak into all of the noise and hopeless with nothing but an absurd message that death has lost its sting and only his own understated and unheard voice with which to carry it.
Today, Matthew can be found standing in the pulpit, and by the hospital bed delivering that message. He is running with both fear and great joy ... The silent faithful, empowered by the gracious call of the resurrected Jesus to speak.
But what of we who are the loud and fickle? What of the disciples, who should have been at the tomb, but weren’t ... Who should have been at the cross, but weren’t ... What of those of us who sometimes get a little too empowered and entitled, forgetting that we were fishermen, tax-collectors, and slaves in Egypt ... Before we were disciples of a Lord with whom we have never been able to go to the cross ...
Jesus’ words to the women are “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galillee. There they will see me.” ... You kind of have to wonder if these women, who have remained faithful even through death, are thinking to themselves, “BROTHERS?!? I don’t know if you remember this, Jesus, but those guys hit the road as soon as they heard the word crucify ... the people you used to call your brothers all abandoned and betrayed you... So ... I’m not so sure you want to call them your brothers anymore...”
If they thought it they didn’t say it ... They just went, faithfully, carrying an absurd message to a bunch of people who had lost hope in their Lord with nothing but their understated, unheard voices.
The loud and fickle indeed have profound need of the silent faithful. For it is precisely the silent faithful whom God has chosen to proclaim that the silencing power of death has been cancelled ... That the cross isn’t terrifying ... It is freeing ... And that if you missed it the first time, or the second or third time, that its ok, because Christ has laid before us a table called calvary… it is a table whose invitation to eat and drink to live and die and live again with Christ is never worn out. It is a table that includes us in the great story of God’s salvation and empowers us to go and tell the tale: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again!
To these silenced, faithful women, as to my friend Matthew; to the loud and fickle disciples; to you who have been silenced, and to we who have been unwilling to die to ourselves ... Jesus not only gives a seat at his table, but a voice and a mission.
Friends, we have come and seen … In just a moment, we will take Christ’s life—body and blood—into our own life. It would be easy to keep all of this a private event, celebratory inside the walls of the church, and silent out in the world. But for we who call this risen Jesus ‘Lord,’ the good news of Easter is not private, even though it is deeply personal. That the crucified One defies sin and death by the power of God is good news for all creation. May it send us out with the command of Jesus: go and tell your brothers and sisters. Christ is Risen. Alleluia.