I want to believe in the resurrection, I really do, but Matthew’s Gospel just does not help me with that. I know that’s a terrible admission for a Pastor to make, but of all the Gospel accounts, I find Matthew’s least helpful, although I have a feeling that Hollywood would love it!
You have all these dramatic elements tightly packed into a few short lines. There is a rolling earthquake, a powerful Angel that swoops in to man-handle the stone out of the way.
You have swooning Roman soldiers who faint dead away at the sight of the angel.
You have these terrified women, who don’t faint but who rather listen to what the Angel has to say as he seems to sit there nonchalantly on top of the stone after all of his exertion.
Oh yes, Hollywood could make quite a scene of this! But it all feels a little artificial to me, a little too much “Deus ex Machina”… as if Matthew felt like he had to quickly resolve this matter of Jesus’ death in some way that brings a powerful ending.
Here is my problem with Matthew’s resurrection account. There is just too much happening way too fast and with too little explanation for me to find the focus of it all. My head is reeling, or my mind is distracted. Where do I focus here? Where am I supposed to look?
Should I focus on the stone, or on the Earthquake? Do I place my attention in the Angel’s message or on the Angel’s actions? Am I to look at the women’s reactions, or on the women’s response to the Angel’s words? And, while I’m still trying to figure all that out, then in pops Jesus himself rather unexpectedly as the women are going to tell the disciples about what they’ve seen. Do I put my attention there now?
No, it appears that even if you grab Jesus by the ankles he won’t stand still for you. Jesus tells the women to go on and tell his brothers that he’s going on to Galilee, that’s where they will see him. Whew! So much going on! Where to look?
That perhaps is as much of a resurrection message today as any. If Matthew has anything “right” about the resurrection it is that this point. He has right that it is deucedly difficult to pin it down and know just where to look for it, or to know just exactly where to look when it breaks in upon this world. There is this breathless quality to the set of actions as he describes them, and much more going on than anyone can quite take in.
It is God exploding back on the scene of this world from an orderly and properly sealed tomb.
It is Jesus suddenly showing up when we thought we had corked him up and bottled him up into a hole in the ground, nicely managed.
It is Jesus suddenly appearing in the least likely of events, inspiring us, meeting us, assuring us of his presence, reminding us of what he said, what he commanded, where we would find him, and what we are to do next.
It is Jesus always just out of our reach, or slipping through our fingers as he goes ever on before us, or pulling us forward to witness and to wonder, and then to figure out for ourselves what this resurrection means.
This is resurrection, according to Matthew.
This is resurrection as we experience it as well.
I like my world well-ordered, don’t you? I would much rather attend to just one thing at a time, get the details of that all worked out, and then move on to the next thing.
But resurrection life appears to be incredibly messy and often dis-organized, and we feel that in the church as much as anywhere.
Darn you Holy Spirit, you blow where you will, and you motivate people to do things out of passion and conviction. You make us stumble all over each other from time to time, as disciples and women did as they raced from the tomb, or raced to the tomb, or tried to figure out what to do next.
Because of the resurrection there is a sense of urgency about things. And so, like women running from the tomb or Angels wrestling stones out of the way place; God’s people set about the work they feel called and empowered to do, and sometimes we can scarcely take it all in.
Pantries are being stocked, pillow cases are being sewn, and quilts are stitched together.
Books are being read, lessons are being prepared, servant projects are undertaken, retreats embarked upon, trips to camp planned, landscaping attending to, repairs made, leaks stopped, flags changed, meals served, labels collected, cans decorated for Christmas cookies, art displays changed, crosses donated, collected, hung, and revered.
A panaplay of characters wander in and out and around this place as they do in the Gospels themselves.
Some of the characters are intense, and some laid back.
Some are judgmental, and many are wounded looking for love and healing.
Some could care less whether it was a church or a social club, so long as they get what they need, or what they are looking for, or begin to sense that here they can find the “bread” that they need.
Swangers dance in these walls, and scout troops meet, Arabic language is taught, confirmation is endured, and first communions are taken.
Altar clothes are changed, laundered, and shifted around, put back, seasons change and rhythms of worship attended to, services are planned, readings are worked out, bulletins produced, handed out, gathered up, and corrected. Prayers are spoken, and solicited.
Tables are set up, taken down, moved around, loaned out, broken and abused, but in the midst of it all the funeral lunches are served, the community gatherings are empowered, garage sales are made possible and the church is seen as being connected to life and community.
Coffee is made, donuts are brought in, cans are sorted, eyeglasses donated, books are donated, passed along to eager readers, clothes are gathered, walks are taken for CROP, Spring flings and flung, Carnivales celebrated, tears wept, and laughter lifted up.
Kids go running up and down the aisles, some grab the sacred vessels for offering and for sacrament, not sure what they are doing but certain that there is a need for wine to be served, bread to be broken, and offerings to be gathered, and that is enough for them.
In the chaotic maelstrom of the church, whipped by the Spirit’s wind we argue over resources and over words and music and styles, we do battle over minutia, and want things to go well….even if we can’t agree on what is meant by “well.”
Whipped by this resurrection life into a frenzy, songs and tunes of all kinds and styles are rehearsed, stumbled over, sung, played and offered up as they are, a fragrant offering from sore fingers and chapped lips and croaking throats of the old, the young, and everything in between.
Whew! So much going on!
Where to look?
This is resurrection!
And if this was the only place resurrection was seen, that would be breathless enough but the tag line on this Gospel, on ALL the gospels accounts is that you won’t just find Jesus here, not in the garden, not in the upper room, not on the seashore hanging out close by the disciples and the women… no where you are going to find him, where you are going to be the ones to identify him is in the world.
He is going before you to Galilee, and to Jerusalem, and to Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
If you’re breathless just thinking about all that God through the Holy Spirit is causing to happen in and around St. James, then hang on to your hats, because that is nothing compared to what the Holy Spirit is up to in this world, through the larger church, through all churches and even beyond that, to all who are now seized by the power of the resurrection.
God is loose in the world and on the one hand you don’t know where to look for him, but on the other hand, you can look for him and find him now everywhere!
This is resurrection!
So maybe Matthew has it all right, by breathlessly telling the story that we can’t quite get our heads around. Maybe he’s preparing us for this resurrection life we’re about to experience.
Where to look?
All around. Resurrection is everywhere!