April 12, 2020



Matthew 28:1-10

“To See the Tomb”

I made a special point of sending a thank you note to Marianne Woods after we finished the Good Friday online worship service a couple of days ago. We had a bunch of people involved in leading the service from their own homes through a Zoom video conference that was live streamed on Facebook. But I especially wanted to thank Marianne for singing “He never said a mumblin’ word,” and leading us all in singing “Were you there when they crucified my Lord” as well as all the sung refrains between the stories of suffering and struggle.

I was the one who wrote the stories of the many different people who are being especially impacted by this COVID-19 pandemic. They were based on the lives of real people that we’ve all been hearing about in these days, and I wanted to invite us to remember them and pray for them as we all continue through this strange and challenging time.

I didn’t realize until I started to hear the stories read by our church members how emotional I would feel. I mean, I should have known, because it’s not unusual for me to get emotional! But as I listened and prayed, I felt my own heart breaking with their sorrow and grief, anxiety and fear. I was so grateful that Marianne was leading the singing, as I knew that I could not have managed it without my voice shaking with emotion.

As difficult as it was to tell those stories and to name the extreme suffering and pain in our world today, it was a Good Friday kind of thing to do. For that’s the day when we come face-to-face with Jesus’ own suffering and death. We look upon the cross, remembering that it was an instrument of torture, and we face the fact that it was the sin and hatred and fear of human people (including us) that nailed him there to die a slow and agonizing death.

In Holy Week each year, we are called to walk beside our Lord on the way of the cross, resisting the temptation to run or to turn away from the worst of what happens to him. And in so doing, we cannot help but see the depth of his love for us. Neither can we avoid the realization that our world continues to crucify the innocent, and that we are so often complicit in condoning or perpetrating, or at least doing little to stop it.

And so, as difficult as it is to do so, we face our sin once again. We look at it in hope and trust in God who promises to take us as we are, to forgive us, to transform us, and to equip us to become people of love, compassion, and care for our neighbours.

And that is, indeed, what God does for us. Because Good Friday is not the end of the story.

Ask ten Christians why the women went to the tomb that Easter morning, and nine will tell you that they brought spices to anoint Jesus’ corpse – but that’s not the story that Matthew’s Gospel tells.

Yes, Mark and Luke mention “spices” and anointing; for them, the women go to the tomb because they think Jesus is dead and they need to make sure that his body is properly prepared for an appropriate burial. But have you ever noticed that in the Gospel according to Matthew, the women go to the tomb because they think Jesus is alive?!

In Matthew 28:1, Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” don’t go to embalm a body, but rather “to see the tomb.” The SALT Lectionary Commentary explains that the Greek word here for “to see,” means “to look at” and also “to discern,” to contemplate, to analyze or understand.

These women are in the midst of an unprecedented crisis, the kind of thing they have never had to deal with before. Their leader has been killed. Their group has been dispersed. Who knows how much danger the rest of them are in? And the future of their community and their mission is a big question mark, at best.

But these women have been paying attention to Jesus’ teaching, and even if they didn’t completely understand it at the time, they remember what he said. He “must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering… and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” And so, they go “to see” the tomb, to discern, to contemplate, to try to understand. They go “to see” the tomb, and they look with eyes of faith for resurrection.

These disciples go to see the tomb with great expectation because they haven’t given up on God yet. They see the tomb, they see it open, they see an angel, and then they see Jesus himself. They worship him, and then they go again, as he sends them, to tell the others what they have seen.

I wonder how difficult it must have been for them to go and look. I imagine that there must have been some anxiety and some doubt in their minds. What if all they found was his dead body and a fresh wave of sorrow and grief? What if he was just a silly dreamer when he told them he would be raised from death? They would feel like fools for wanting to believe that new life and hope were possible.

I think that’s what it often feels like for us when we also go, in faith, “to see the tomb.” We’re not completely certain that our going, our looking, our being present, and our offering what we can will make a difference.

Think of the long-term care worker who gets up in the morning and goes to the nursing home where she works, despite the fact that they’re short-staffed, despite the fact that half the residents already have the virus in their system, despite the fact that several of them have already died. She gets up and she goes to that tomb to care, and to protect, and to be a part of what God will do in that place.

Think of the teacher in the low-income neighbourhood who can’t reach most of his students through online learning opportunities. But he does what he can to help all his students through these days – packing up wellness packages for the families that won’t have enough to eat, putting together printed lessons, delivering and encouraging, and seeing what can be done.

Think of the doctor who was on the news the other day – the one whose patient was dying from COVID-19, and he didn’t want to die on a machine. He wanted to look at the sky. And so, she sat with him, and looked at the sky with him, and waited and watched with him until the end.

It’s most obvious in our Good Friday rituals, when we intentionally reflect on the situations of suffering and struggle in our world. We go there, and we face up to the sin in our lives and in our world.

But we don’t just go there to wallow in how awful everything is. We go there because we believe that somehow, in our going, in our seeing, in our being present, in our hearts breaking with Jesus and all those who suffer… that God will bring about healing, and transformation, and new life in us and in our world.

And that’s not just something to do on Good Friday. That’s something to do on Easter Sunday morning like the women who went to see the tomb. And it’s something to do throughout the Season of Easter as we continue to live as Easter People throughout our days.

You see, Easter is a celebration of new life and hope in the context of disappointment, death, and despair. And we celebrate Easter best when we, as people of faith, go to see the tomb. When go to the places, and situations, and people who are grieving, who are suffering, who are struggling in our world today – and we look for, and we discern, and we open our eyes of faith to see resurrection.

Perhaps we’ll only see glimpses of it now: Health care workers giving their all to care for the sick; community leaders dedicated to protecting the vulnerable and assisting those in need; neighbours helping each other out with groceries and other supplies; strangers leaving encouraging messages in chalk on the sidewalks; researchers working diligently to find effective treatments and a vaccine for this terrible virus.

And when we only see glimpses, we need not despair that the Reign of God is coming too slowly, or that disease, despair, and death are winning. Just think of those women who had just a moment with the Risen Christ to hold on to his feet and worship him. Because right after that, they had to get going where Jesus was sending them – to tell the others, to proclaim the Good News, to be a part of showing forth the wonder of new life, hope, and joy in the world.

This Easter Season, can we remember that we are not celebrating because everything is good and right in the world? The pandemic with which our whole world is struggling makes that pretty obvious, as does the suffering and struggle of so many vulnerable people in Canada and around the world. But we celebrate because we have faith, and like the disciples, we have not yet given up on God.

We believe that goodness is stronger than evil, love is stronger than hate, light is stronger than darkness, and life is stronger than death. We believe that when we do go to see the tomb, that’s where we will discover resurrection when we discern what God is doing and we get up and go where God sends us to participate in that good work.

Let’s return, for a moment, to the image of the butterfly that we reflected on earlier in the service. Like a child intently watching a cocoon so as not to miss the emergence of the butterfly, our job is to go and “see the tomb,” to look for signs of resurrection and glimpses of Jesus himself. During these 50 days of the Season of Easter, may we also go and tell the others what we have seen.