After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 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. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became 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, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’ —Matthew 28:1–10
The beginning of resurrection is like the first glimmer of light at the edge of the darkest hour. It was right for us to begin our service in darkness tonight, for resurrection always begins there, the seeds of new beginning planted in the debris of something lost.
Two physical sensations accompany a resurrection experience. The first is a feeling of lightness, as whatever weight we carry is lifted, gradually or at once. In all the stories of Jesus’ resurrection, we’re told of an enormous stone that seals the tomb where Jesus’ body lay. In one account, the women who have risen early to anoint Jesus’ body with burial oils worry as they walk, “Who will remove the stone for us?” But when they arrive, in the some versions the stone is already gone, or, more dramatically in the version we heard tonight, an angel appears in the midst of an earthquake, effortlessly moves the stone to one side, and sits on it.
Consider the stones in your life and what it would feel like to have even one of them removed by an angel or other harbinger of new life. Whenever that happens, we breathe differently and we walk lighter on our feet. We wake up one morning and the anger, grief, or stuckness that sat like a weight on our chest is gone, if not completely, significantly so. Whenever a stone is removed, we feel alive again—not in the same way as before, but no longer trapped by the stone’s weight.
The second sensation that accompanies resurrection is that of energy and momentum. It’s not as if we’re being carried; we’re still the ones deciding when and how to move, but there’s wind at our backs now that helps make our actions fruitful and confident.
In the Gospel accounts, notice how the women walk with heavy hearts toward the tomb, but after their encounter with Jesus, they run. Yes, they are still afraid, but they also feel joy and urgency. So, too, for us: in resurrection, joy accompanies fear or sorrow, giving us energy that we haven’t felt for a long time. It’s like the feeling we have after being sick. First there’s the relief of no longer feeling pain and, then, energy returning at last.
These sensations of lightness and energy are wonderful, but they are not as easy to embrace as we might imagine. Because the context of resurrection is death, there is no going back to the life we lost. In the early moments of resurrection, we feel with greater poignancy the death that preceded it, confirming its reality by the invitation to move forward.
We can’t go back. The only options left to us are to stay dead or to move toward a new life. While you’d think we’d always choose life over death, in reality, we don’t, and for good reason. You see, death asks nothing of us, whereas life demands a response. God offers us new life in resurrection, but we must also choose life.
The wise Quaker educator Parker Palmer posted online yesterday what he called his “Upside Down Easter Meditation.” In it, he describes how years ago he came across a book by the Guatemalan poet Julia Esquivel entitled, Threatened with Resurrection. Those three words had a great impact on him, because, at the time, he was experiencing a kind of death-in-life called depression. And while he had been taught all his life to believe that death was threatening and life comforting, he now realized that death sometimes feels comforting and comfortable, while resurrection, or the hope of new life, feels threatening.
“When I was depressed,” he confessed, “nobody expected anything of me, nor did I expect anything of myself. I was exempt from life’s demands and risks. But if I were to find new life, who knows what daunting tasks I might be required to take on?” (Parker J. Palmer, “An Upside Down Easter Mediation,” Huffington Post, March 29, 2013).
So it is when resurrection stirs—we hesitate and even pull back, for fear of what life might ask. Which is a good reason for us to be here tonight, to ponder and take in the reality of resurrection in darkness first, before we must live in the light of day.
And so, at this, our first proclamation of Easter, I invite you to name one place you feel new life stirring, where you feel lightness and energy calling you forward.
Take a deep breath and say goodbye, one last time, to the life that is gone. Say goodbye, also, to the helplessness of death, and rise to meet your new life. Then tomorrow wear the new you proudly—your new Easter outfit—and walk on the path set before you. Walk the new road with the Risen Lord Jesus as your companion and friend.