Surprised by Grace
The Rev. Jennifer Adams – April 16, 2017 – Easter Day
So one of the amazing things about that first Easter morning as told by Matthew was how suddenly and how joyfully it all happened. The women had come to the tomb after a long many days, a painful many days of confusion, suffering, and loss. These women were likely very, very weary, exhausted even, as grief has a way of making you so. They were probably full of questions having witnessed denials, betrayals, and injustices to the point of devastation. And it was all even harder because Jesus, the One at the center of it all, was the one whom they had hoped to be the Messiah. And so over the past many days, their hopes had been shattered too.
And so, as was their custom in grief, the women came to the tomb that first Easter morning. And they came fully expecting and prepared to mourn.
But before they could shed another tear it happened! Hear that! Before they could shed another tear, it happened: The earth shook and an angel descended from heaven. The angel then rolled the stone away from the tomb, sat on the stone (wonderful image there), told the women not to be afraid (given that this was all a bit shocking) and the angel then proclaimed to them that Christ was risen!
Just like that. These women had come fully prepared and expecting to mourn but instead there was an angel. And the angel was announcing new life.
And then the angel told the women to go and share the news and on their way to do that, Christ himself appeared to the women, fully, newly alive and indeed risen from the dead. That first Easter morning the women came fully expecting and prepared to grieve and instead there was resurrection. Right in front of their eyes – undeniable. And life and faith were renewed.
And that’s how it happens. Resurrection is always a surprise because no matter how many Easters we celebrate, no matter how many times we sing these hymns, or proclaim this Creed, or renew our baptismal vows… no matter how many times we ourselves experience some form of life coming from death, resurrection still comes as a surprise. Because like it was with the women that first Easter morning, resurrection runs counter to what we are prepared for and expecting to encounter. Even the most faithful among us gets sucked in to believing this isn’t so, because resurrection is not how the world works.
Resurrection, unlike almost anything else, always comes by grace.
Notice that in this gospel story, new life wasn’t earned by anyone. In fact over the past few days in these gospel stories we’ve heard about the horrendous and nearly unanimous failure of the human beings involved in the story – from the main characters like Peter who denied the Christ and Judas who betrayed the Christ and his friends too. We heard about the systems that failed all around them; an innocent man was put on trial as one who proclaimed to “not be from here” was arrested and sentenced to death. In this gospel story, religious and government leaders acted out of fear rather than courage or wisdom and even the very, very good people in this story could not stop the wreck that they had become.
And yet, resurrection still happened to and for and among them and counter to the ways of this world, the grace and forgiveness and mercy at the heart of new life was offered them all. It was and is pure gift which runs counter to how we are taught things happen. “Go tell people,” Jesus told the women and a few verses later he told his disciples, “Go tell the world that new life has come!”
And so the promise and grace of new life came through Christ not to a select few who had gotten it right, not to the ones who had won the battle. Resurrection came not just to those who had proven themselves worthy or most faithful or right, presumably because there wasn’t anyone like that. They were all to various degrees a part of the wreck. And yet (the yet that is grace,) new life was offered them all. And that moment of new life came as a surprise. Which is how resurrection works.
Resurrection is God’s doing, not our own. And really we should expect it or at least trust that it will be. We can’t time it, or force it, or will it. Resurrection is bigger than that. Thank God. (Literally.) But it comes. Resurrection always comes. It shakes the earth and appears like an angel who descends out of nowhere when you’ve come expecting to and are prepared to mourn. That’s how resurrection happens. Very simply, by grace.
So, don’t be afraid, people of Grace, people of this world, new life is always on its way. New life is always being offered us all.