The Gospel of Matthew tells two stories that juxtapose the responses of those who look upon the death of Jesus and those who will see the resurrected Christ.
The Roman guards are terrified twice over: at Christ’s death and at the angel’s announcement of Christ’s resurrection.
Indeed, the local Roman authorities do everything to silence Jesus before and after his death. They install the stone in front of the tomb.
In contrast, the women look on (“they see”) at the cross and at the empty tomb alike.
The announcement of the angel is a radical word: “Do not be afraid; I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised, as he said. Come; see the place where he lay. 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.'”
Years ago, I traveled to Savannah, Georgia, for yet another Baptist meeting. Spreadsheets, memorandums and documents to read, meetings to sit through and then the dreaded conference hotel meal – “chicken ala something” for lunch or dinner (and occasionally breakfast).
However, at this meeting, I felt an earthquake.
Toward the end of the meeting, our committees boarded chartered buses and toured the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum.
Recounting the history of segregation and the crucible of birthing civil rights in Savannah, the museum displayed many historical reminders of the era before and after the mid-20th century.
Amid these exhibits was a collage of various signs created by protestors during the 1950s and 1960s. One sign stopped me in my tracks. The sign said, “We sacrificed Easter.”
For years, downtown Savannah practiced segregationist ways: No African-Americans could sit at the food counter, but their commerce was depended upon by the local merchants.
They still sold to the African-American community, especially at Easter time, when the demand for “Easter best” clothes was high. Businesses made a bundle, but Jim Crow still ruled without question.
That is, until black church leaders called for a boycott of stores at Easter. Soon, the businesses discovered that they faced either changing the rules or boarding up their stores from the loss of business.
The witness of a group of disciples willing to speak truth to power made a lasting change possible in their town.
I wonder what would happen if we stepped back from the overly familiar way of thinking many congregants have about Easter (positively, the “fluffy fun” of Easter bonnets, baskets and bunnies and negatively of the lament, “our pews are not as full as Easters long ago”).
Instead, could we read this text and ask ourselves, “What does this story tell us we need to be seeing as we live out and share the gospel in this community?” Could we let go and experience this text as a story powerful enough to shake the ground beneath our feet?
Easter is not just this one Sunday.
Easter is the beginning and the end: the end of our world in its sinful and broken ways and the beginning of a gathering of disciples who do not fear but move forward in the confidence of a faith that summons us not to familiarity and indifference.
Rather, we are told “go forth” as a community that can move forth, even though the earth be shaking, even though Caesar would rather have us not being the radical and contrary types that Jesus’ followers are called to be, and speak and live as if Easter is always upon us.