Faithful Resilience

Matthew 28:1-10

28 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.”

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Faithful Resilience

Happy first week of Easter! We have entered the 50 day season in the church calendar of celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, contemplating what that means for us today, and practicing new life. Our reading this evening is from Matthew’s account of what happened that Sunday morning following Jesus’ execution. The first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary”— presumably not Jesus’ mother, but Mary the mother of James (a different James from Jesus’ brother) *I come from a family with a grandfather Bob, father Bob, and brother Bob, and this feels similar*—the two Mary’s go to see the tomb. There are several details of this morning that are unique to Matthew’s retelling. First, the Marys are not going to anoint Jesus because there are guards and they wouldn’t be able to get into the tomb. They go instead to just see it, to be there. Second, there is an earthquake. There is fear, like the other Gospels, but it is much more visceral. The earth shakes, the stone rolls, the guards pass out, an angel appears.

Matthew invites us into an Easter story that is not just flowers and joyful music. It is confusing, unsettling, and, at times, frightening. It fits in the story since Thursday evening— since the unjust arrest of Jesus, the teacher and healer and possible Messiah, since his trial, since the chanting of the crowds against him, since his public shaming, since his brutal beating at the hands of Roman soldiers, since his execution—humiliated and killed on the cross. There is an earthquake then, too, according to Matthew. Jesus died and the earth violently shook— breaking open tombs and spitting the curtain in the temple in two. Jesus is buried before the Sabbath, and we get no glimpse into that Saturday— only silence.

We could imagine that Sunday morning doesn’t feel much different than Saturday. The despair, the fear, the confusion, the anger all would remain. The disciples are in hiding. Yet, these two women show up at the tomb. The come to see it, to be there, even as soldiers stand guard, as if the real threats are these poor, Palestinian Jewish women, and not the Roman guard itself. Perhaps the two Marys come to stand vigil. To do something in the midst of an uncontrollable, uncontainable tragedy. Or, perhaps even more likely, they come with a glimmer of hope, knowing that Jesus said again and again that he would die and be raised on the third day. Might it be true? Might hope exist in the midst of this despair?

It can be easy to paint the women at the tomb as naive, even gullible. In the rare case they have been talked about, what I have heard emphasized and internalized is their blind faith. That they believed when all evidence pointed to the contrary. If that is the case, the reaction of the disciples, holed up somewhere in hiding is the reasonable response. But it’s untrue that there was no evidence, no reason for hope. Jesus had told them. Jesus had tried again and again to speak of his coming Kingdom, to embody in his ministry a new Reign that could not be founded in a triumphant march into Jerusalem or a paramilitary operation in Rome. The women were not showing blind faith on Sunday morning— they were showing faithful resilience. They understood and trusted in a way the other disciples did not.

At the Pub Talk two weeks ago, Leeann Younger commented on her predominantly young, white congregation, and their desire to end injustice. The way that they approach systemic racism and violence with a, “Not on my watch,” mentality. That defiance, that spark of resistance to injustice, is a good thing— yet it is not sustainable in the face of disappointment and failure. It is not sustainable when up against the powers and principalities of this world. I see this in myself, I see it in many of the people around me, in some who gather here— the creeping of despair as things just feel futile.

This is Peter’s story early on Friday morning. When the soldiers and religious leaders come to arrest Jesus, Peter pulls out his sword to stop it. He retaliates against the clear injustice. He tries to keep the pain of Good Friday from happening on his watch. And he fails. He goes against the nonviolent teachings of Jesus and is rebuked. And, ultimately, he is left powerless and fleeing as his Messiah is led away to a sham trial. Peter spends the rest of Good Friday in fear and despair—lying about knowing Jesus to protect himself and hiding out in a place of relative safety. Peter could not see a way forward outside of stopping Good Friday from happening. And once it did, he could do nothing but sink into hopelessness.

Things seem increasingly hopeless. From the individual pains of isolation and lack of community, dealing with mental health issues, increasing stress, financial burdens, struggles of identity, addiction and lack of support to the ever-present societal realities of oppression in its many forms, police brutality, injustice in our justice system, terrorism, climate change, war, nationalism…this list could go on and on. We all know Good Friday. We know Holy Saturday. And we know what it is for them to happen on our watch.

The resurrection does not erase the betrayal, the unjust arrest, the jeering of the crowd, the brutality of the soldiers and religious leaders, the violence of the cross, the state execution, the shame and humiliation, or the silence that followed. Yet, when we turn our attention from Peter and the other disciples, overwhelmed by fear and despair to the women early on Sunday morning, we see the promise of the resurrection. Friday will never be the end of the story. The women who showed up at the tomb understood and trusted Jesus when he said his way of love, of nonviolence, of prophetic resistance, of all he embodied and taught would bring about a new Kingdom. One that not even sin and death could overthrow. Jesus taught his disciples, including the women, what faithful resilience looked like. He taught them in parables and in sermons and in action, and ultimately, he taught them in the resurrection. Yes, injustice and violence and sin and death had seemingly won the day— but that was not the end. God was still present. God is still present. And until the way of love overcomes the way of hate, the story is not over.

Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James were faithfully resilient that Sunday morning. They could not stop the worst from happening, yet they still continued to trust in Jesus and showed up at the tomb with hope. And they were the ones to bear witness to the resurrection. They carried the Good News for all of us.

We are now in a similar position. We have been promised that God has not forsaken us in this in-between time. We have been promised the fullness of the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. Yet, we know it is not here, yet. Do we choose like (pre-resurrection) Peter to retaliate until despair forces us into hiding? Believing that history, in the words of Walter Benjamin, is “one single catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top of rubble.” Or do we cultivate faithful resilience in the way of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Mary mother of James? For the sake of ourselves, our neighbors, and the earth— trusting in the resurrection hope that God is with us, the story is not over, and bearing witness to the Kingdom as it comes.

That is the invitation of Resurrection Sunday and Monday and Tuesday…until the Kingdom is fully realized. Faithful resilience. I want that to be our mantra as we practice resurrection in the presence of the tomb.