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 worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
fter weeks and weeks of anticipation, the long-awaited moment has finally arrived. Millions of people have come together to bear witness to a miracle unfolding before them. With excitement and great joy, they greeted the new life being revealed to them.
Because, April the Giraffe birthed her new baby yesterday, live streamed across the internet and around the world. Now, for those who don’t know what I’m talking about, April the Giraffe lives in an upstate New York animal park and has been expecting a baby. Media savvy zookeepers set up a live streaming camera in her stall, and for months, people have logged in to check on her. As of late, that excitement has picked up, because for the past several weeks, April has been in labor. It is a story that has been all over the internet and has even made it onto the television news. And yesterday morning, the baby giraffe was finally born.
Whether you’ve been watching all along or not, it was a wonderful and much needed reprieve from all the other things that have been grabbing for our attention. Because, let’s be honest, this past week has been insane.
The past ten days have brought us a greater number of shocking and extraordinary events than we can reasonably absorb. There was, of course, the chemical attack in Syria and the corresponding missile strike launched by our country in response. But that is old news.
Since then, we had the United Airline scandal. “Look at this!” the world cried, and we all watched with shock as a man was dragged, unconscious, from his seat on a plane. And we marveled that such a thing could happen to a paying customer.
But there was more. “This, this!” the voices shouted, and we all turned our gazes to see the latest school shooting unfold as a man entered a school, shot his wife and killed himself, but not before killing one child and injuring another. And honestly, I’m not sure which is scarier, the shooting itself or the fact that it barely held our attention as a country.
“This, this!” the television, radios, and newspapers cried at us as word came out of our use of a new bomb in Afghanistan. It seemed that everywhere we looked, images of the so-called Mother of All Bombs were plastered before our eyes. On ever screen we could watch looping clips of our largest non-nuclear bomb exploding on the landscape. The coverage bordered on pornographic, as reports breathlessly described its destructive capabilities and pundits confidently peddled their opinions on what it all could mean.
“This, this!” We look over and give our attention now to our naval ships stationed off the coast of the Korean Peninsula and North Korea’s apparent readiness to conduct their next nuclear test. It suddenly feels like we are closer to war with Korea than we have been in over a generation. More than that, the prospect of nuclear confrontation suddenly seems possible in a way that it hasn’t since the end of the Cold War.
Everywhere we turn, we hear new cries of “This!” on our ears. Every new day brings some new calamity, some new tragedy, some new impending catastrophe demanding our attention. Demanding our passion and our concern. Demanding our action and our prayer. We try to remain attentive to the moment, but instead we feel lost in the moment. We feel like the world is shaking around us. We feel like everything is spinning out of control around us. It is too much. It is overwhelming. It makes us want to crawl back in bed and hide beneath our blankets.
Perhaps this is how the disciples felt. Tensions had been mounting for some time. They knew that Jesus was threatening to the religious establishment. They knew that Jesus was threatening to the religious leaders. And on top of it all, the strain between the Jewish people and their Roman occupiers had been growing. Their world probably felt a bit like a powder keg, like it wouldn’t take much to set the whole thing off.
Still, they were unprepared for the explosive speed with which everything happened when the spark was finally lit. They were still reveling in the excitement of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. “Look at this!” people shouted with palm branches in hand, “Our savior has come!” It must have seemed like their work and ministry was finally getting traction, like they were finally making progress.
They weren’t ready for the betrayal of Judas. This, this was unthinkable, that one of their own would betray them in this way. But they couldn’t dwell on it for long, for now Jesus was captured. Now he was being questioned. Now he was being tortured. This, this was beyond their imagination! Now it was dawning on them that they were all in danger. Now they started to scatter.
And then, Jesus was dead. Everything they had believed in ended. The one they had called the messiah was dead. They knew because a few of the disciples, including Mary, Mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene, had been there to witness the crucifixion. They had been there to witness this, this atrocity.
All around them, the world was falling apart. Things that once seemed certain were now uncertain. Their future was in doubt, their very lives in danger. Everything around them was urgent and terrifying. Everything around them demanded their full attention. It was too much. It was overwhelming. So, they hid, my friends, oh they hid from the terrifying world outside.
And then, the earth really did shake.
Only Mary, mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene were there when it happened. Only Mary and Mary were not hiding. They were the only ones to see the angel roll back the stone. This, this proved to be too much even for the guards; they passed out in terror. But Mary and Mary did not. They stayed standing and bore witness to this thing that unfolded before them. They heard the words of the angel, Jesus’ instruction for them. They saw with their own eyes the empty tomb.
What was it that was different about Mary and Mary that allowed them to stand where all the others had fled away? Was it that they were braver? Was it that they had a stronger faith? Or, was it that they had better discipline? I don’t know.
What I do know is that through all that unfolded, Mary and Mary kept their gaze upon Jesus. They kept him in their gaze throughout his ministry. Their gaze was fixed upon him when he was betrayed and captured. Their gaze remained upon him even as he was crucified. Even in death, their gaze did not waiver; they watched where he was laid in the tomb.
Though the world seemed to be ending around them, though the earth itself shook beneath their feet, and though the glories of heaven appeared before them and spoke to them, their sight remained fixed on Christ alone. They followed where Christ led, even in death, even in the stillness of the grave.
And so, in the first light of morning, as Pilate lay sleeping in his chambers, as the Centurions rested in their barracks, and as the other disciples hid beneath blankets and behind closed doors, it was Mary and Mary who would first lay sight on the Risen Christ. It was Mary and Mary who would first witness the world turned on its head and glimpse the new creation.
My friends, all around us people and current events are shouting for our attention. This, this is what is important! This is what is defining our time! This is what should scare us! This is what we should place our trust and hope in, they all seem to say. And indeed, something new is being wrought in our midst. A new creation is unfolding before us.
But the new creation does not come from Rome or the religious establishment. The new creation does not come from the president or from the military. The new creation is not born of violence or any of the powers of this world.
Like Mary and Mary, we must keep our gaze fixed upon Christ, for the new creation comes from God alone. We must keep our gaze fixed upon Christ so that we might follow him and him alone. For Christ is risen, and we are witness to this new reality. Christ is risen, and this, this alone, is what is important. This alone is what defines us. It is this alone that gives us hope for the future.
My friends, keep you gaze upon Christ, for he is risen! Keep your gaze upon Christ, for he has gone ahead of us on the way, and is beckoning us into the new creation.
Preached by Adam Yates