Sudden Sunday Surprise

He is not here

Sermon preached at the Easter Sunrise Service, Central Christian Church, Enid, Oklahoma.

Matthew 28:1-10 NRSV

There is no doubt that the surprising events which took place on Friday had left the disciples in a state of shock and disbelief.  The King of the Jews, the Son of God, the one who would finally bring them liberation from the Romans was crucified like a common criminal.  They were all taken off guard as all of their hopes, all of their dreams suddenly vanished.

They found themselves in the same state of mind you and I find ourselves when our lives are often surprised by evil.  When the telephone rings in the middle of the night.  And it is not the wrong number.  When we hear words from our employers like “cutting back, laying off, letting go,” or words from our doctors like “cancer, inoperable, terminal.”

 “No, it can’t be!”  “I don’t believe it!”  “This is not happening!”

Then as Sunday morning was dawning, maybe not part of the original twelve because of the sexism that has been so apparent in the history of humankind, but two of Jesus’ disciples nonetheless, Mary Magdalene and another Mary went to see the tomb, trying to comprehend what had happened, still trying desperately to believe it and somehow accept it.

And then it all seemed to happen again.  For that is how evil works in our world. When evil surprises us it does it in clusters. Some people say that it always comes in three’s. Other say, “when it rains pours.”

And suddenly, suddenly a word which always denotes surprise, shock and awe: there was a great earthquake.

“Not again!”  ‘Please no more.  There is just so much we can stand.”

But then in the midst of their confusion, shock, and bewilderment, an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  It so surprised the guards at the tomb, that they fell down on the ground like dead men.

But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that 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.  This is my message for you.”

“So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy.”  There’s a paradox, isn’t?  Fear and joy. It lets us know that the women are still somewhat shocked. For they have been saturated with surprise!

Then, “Suddenly,” (there’s our surprising word again).  “Suddenly, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!”  Surprise of all surprises!  “And they came to him,” and did the only thing they could do, “They took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.”  Then Jesus said, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Hold on!  I thought the women were in Galilee. For that is what the angel had said, “He is going ahead of you to Galilee, there you will see him.” The angel even bolsters these instructions by saying, “This is my message to you.” But where do they see Jesus?

They see Jesus somewhere along to road to Galilee.  The angel was wrong.  For the women did not have to wait to see Jesus.

I believe this is even more good news for us on this early Easter morning.

If angels do not know exactly when or where Jesus will appear with a presence and with words that compel us to take a hold of his feet and worship him, how can any of us presume to know?

Therefore, we should never be despairing, that is, we should never believe that things have gotten so bad Jesus will not come.

The wonderful truth is that when our lives are suddenly surprised by evil, Christ will always come, perhaps when we least expect it, maybe when we are least aware of it, and surprise us with words of love, words or peace, words of grace, words of assurance and words of salvation.

If we keep our eyes peeled to it and our hearts open to it, Christ will suddenly catch us off guard with his wonderful, hopeful, life-giving presence.

And we must never forget that since we are his followers, since we are called to be the Body of Christ in this world, we are commissioned to surprise all those who need surprising with the astounding love and amazing grace of God.

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