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When All Heaven Breaks Loose

Matthew 28:1-10


I want a Matthew kind of Easter. The earth quakes, an angel in dazzlingly divine garb pushes the tombstone away as if it were a cotton ball, while the Roman guards play dead in the graveyard. The angel erases any ambiguity about death and resurrection, announcing to the women, “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen.” And, no sooner do the two women leave the tomb than the risen Jesus greets them and they take hold of his feet and hold onto him for dear life.

I want a Matthew kind of Easter; the kind of Easter in which all my questions about an afterlife are laid to rest. I want the kind of Easter when I stumble upon the risen Christ or he stumbles upon me, the kind of Easter that despite living in the Hell of death and despair, fear and broken promises that all heaven breaks loose.

Some insist that kind of Easter is only natural. After all, on this Easter day in Covesville, Virginia, Spring has sprung. Even though there is still a chill in the air, the dead of winter has lost its grip. New life is popping out wherever we turn. Flowers are in bloom, bees are a buzzin’, and green is exploding out of the ground. Of course, Christ has risen! Of course, death has its final grip. Of course we gather here to sing “Alleluia,” because Easter is only natural.

The only problem with this peppy theological thought is that there is absolutely nothingnatural about Easter. Have you ever noticed that the Easter story is told in a graveyard? Over the years, I have spent more hours than most in graveyards and I have yet to meet any other permanent resident there than death. What is natural in any graveyard is that the dead stay dead and the Good Friday world stays in full bloom year-round and its killing ways are always firmly and inevitably in place.

The women who come to the graveyard are card carrying residents of the Good Friday world, a closed world specializing in death, a world that has us always looking back and lamenting what could have been. The women come to a place where the best that you and I can do is join the late entertainer, Bob Hope, singing, “thanks for the memories.”

It is a world, in the words of Tom Long, “where hope is in constant danger, and might makes right, and peace has little chance, and the rich get richer, and the weak all eventually suffer under some Pontius Pilate or another, and people hatch murderous plots, and dead people stay dead” (Matthew, WBC, p. 322).

The women come to do what is natural in a graveyard and they are met by what is not. In Matthew’s Easter story, Jesus is no corpse waiting to be anointed for burial. He is the living presence of God waiting to lead us into a future that far exceeds our wildest dreams or our fondest memories of days gone by.

When Easter comes, the Good Friday killing world does not disappear like a bad dream in the morning. It is simply not the world in which the women now reside. When the women leave the graveyard, they leave the Good Friday world behind to begin the lifegiving walk into the Easter world.

When cruelty and injustice, misguided legislation and blatant racism, are dismissed as “the way of world,” Easter people say, “It is not the way of the Easter world, a world that God makes possible, a world where fear no longer chokes us, forgiveness no longer eludes us, and love no longer is an occasional visitor.” The Easter world is present with loving abundance at this table, a table that does not recognize all the Good Friday distinctions – between gay and straight and trans and legal and illegal and Catholic and Presbyterian and housed and living on the streets.

“When Jesus says, ‘Fear not’, [to these women] it is not the assurance that nothing can go wrong, because often things do go wrong [even in the Easter world]. It is not the assurance that everything turns out for the best, because, if we are honest about it, it seldom does. Rather,” says Martin Copenhaver, “it is the assurance that, whatever may happen to us, whatever a day may hold, God has the power to strengthen us and uphold us; that whatever we must face, we do not face it alone; that nothing we encounter is stronger than God’s love” (Feasting on the Word, Year A, pp. 349-350).

Writing from a Nazi prison, the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer offers these words to anyone who is ready to walk in the Easter world: “Christ did not come into the world that we might understand him, but that we might cling to him, that we might simply let ourselves be swept away by him into the immense event of the resurrection” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Werke 12. Berlin 1932-33. Hg. v. Carsten Nicolaisen u. Ernst-Albert Scharffenorth. 1997).

Writing as a prisoner of war, it is amazing that somehow Bonhoeffer could walk in the Easter world, when all about him the Good Friday world had a noose around his neck. For the keepers of the Good Friday world want Easter to remain a children’s fairy tale, a simple metaphor about the rites of spring when butterflies emerge from cocoons. The keepers of the Good Friday world want us to live in fear of each other, to think the worst of each other, to grab for as much as we can, and to return fire before our enemies can take the first shot. The keepers of the Good Friday world are convinced that they must make the most out of today because there is nothing beyond the grave, so God help anyone who gets in their way.

Page after painful page Matthew tells the heartbreaking, death-dealing Good Friday story, a story that sees Jesus betrayed, denied, arrested, beaten, and executed. But Matthew’s Gospel does not end with the Good Friday story. It ends on the day when all heaven breaks loose, the day when the Easter world appears and the Good Friday world loses its grip.

Serving a church some years back in the toughest, Good Friday part of the Bronx, Pastor Heidi Neumark tells about characters in her own Easter story: “There were Nelly and Aurora who rode across the border huddled in fear under a pile of vegetables; Danielle, Shakira, and Desiree, who saw their mother die in the stairwell. There was Nelson who knows he’s a child of God; and his big sister, Venus, and the whole flock of siblings she shepherds each week. [On Easter morning], they all stood there in front of the church singing their hearts out. And it dawned on me. It was happening before our very eyes” (Breathing Space, p. 267).

What was happening to Heidi before her very eyes? All heaven was breaking loose and she was being led into the Easter world by a community of God’s children who had been fed on the high-fear diet of the Good Friday world. She was being led into Easter by children that the Good Friday world writes off daily as worthless and hopeless, cast-offs destined for an early grave.

I want a Heidi kind of Easter. I want a Matthew kind of Easter. I want to live in the Easter world, a world where all heaven is breaking loose and is releasing us from the chains of the Good Friday world. I want to walk into a graveyard and know to the core of my being that death has lost its sting and is not the last word and that you and I have far more to set our hopes on than our greatest collection of good memories.

Of all places, Easter happened to the women in a graveyard. Where will it happen for us? When will it happen for us? Maybe it will happen today when we taste the bread broken for us or when we walk out of here to give bread to those who hunger or when we sit down at other tables later today to make peace with those we would rather not be around.

Whenever Easter does come, look out, for all heaven will break loose in our lives and we will be swept up into an Easter life that awaits us long before death, and by God’s resurrecting power, a life that awaits us long after.

I want that kind of Easter for me and for you. It is an Easter that cannot come too soon.

Alleluia!

Amen!



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