Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
This is our holy story of resurrection. We’ve been telling this story during all of Holy Week. Last Sunday during worship, we read the crucifixion story from Matthew’s gospel.
Usually when we read the gospel lesson, we are all standing up together, standing up for God’s Word! And we read it from up here, at the lectern, the special place that’s lifted high, to draw attention to the importance of these words.
Last Sunday, however, we read the long gospel story and remained seated the whole time. The readers were seated in the back of the sanctuary, among the assembly. Not lifted high. Not far away. But from among the assembly. The Word is near you. The story is all around you. And the story is long, so maybe you missed some details.
Did you notice the earthquake? At the moment when Jesus dies, Matthew’s gospel says there was an earthquake. Here’s what we read last Sunday:
“The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs were also opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection, they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.”
It’s an important detail: Jesus was not the only one who was raised from the dead. There were others raised from the dead, too. And there were witnesses—the saints appeared to many.
I used to think the dead could only be raised by breathing again, returning somehow to the same life they used to live. And since this kind of resuscitation doesn’t really happen, it must be impossible to live again after having died.
But life is more complex than that. And eternal life might not look the same as this breathing life we have.
Many years ago, I attended a Tre Ore worship service at First English Lutheran Church in Austin, Texas, the congregation where my father grew up, and where my grandparents were members until their deaths. All of them had died by that point, but I still liked to worship there when I could.
On that Good Friday they hosted the long, meditative, three-hour service with the seven last words of Christ, Scripture readings and multiple sermons and lots of music. People were invited to come and go—not many people can stay the entire three hours on a Friday afternoon. So that’s what I intended to do, too—show up, stay for a little while, and be on my way.
It’s a solemn service, not a time for greeting or fellowshipping, so I sat by myself in a pew, joining in whatever point in the worship. I don’t remember seeing anyone I recognized, so I imagined that I was alone in my meditation.
I heard this section of Matthew’s gospel about this moment when Jesus died, with the earthquake and the tombs opened and the saints showing up. A woman seated behind me somehow got my attention, and I looked back and she was waving at me and holding up a hymnal, open to show me the inside front cover, where my grandmother’s name was printed. That hymnal had been purchased and given in memory of Evelyn Walenta, my grandmother.
I recognized the woman as my grandmother’s good friend, and she had recognized me. I wasn’t alone or unnoticed, after all. I saw Ginna Franke waving at me, but I understood this as a kind of greeting from my grandmother herself.
The tombs were opened, and the saints were raised and appeared to many people. By some kind of mystery, the communion of saints makes their presence known on this earth, on this side of eternity. Death doesn’t stay dead, but life keeps being raised.
Has this ever happened to you, too? Perhaps you have been the one who is grieving the death of someone you love, and then someone comes to you and tells you a story about your loved one that you never heard before: their memory is raised. Perhaps you have found yourself taking on a habit or a task or a cause that was significant to your loved one: their life’s work continues on through you.
The story is not over. All is not lost. It is not finished. Jesus is risen, and resurrection is still happening.
And resurrection is not easy work. To raise a people, to reinvigorate an entire community, takes the hard work of building and repairing and reconciling relationships. It can get messy. The crucified Christ will remind you of this. Resurrection is not just words, not just lip service, not virtue signaling. It’s risky.
You may have heard about the building that was once the home of Resurrection Lutheran Church, in North St. Louis. Resurrection Lutheran Church came together as a merger of three congregations in St. Louis, and after years of declining membership, last year, the congregation was closed. But the building remained, the property of the synod, and people were discerning—what ministry could possibly be done in that place?
After discussion and prayer, it turned out another congregation was in need of a home—Kingdom Church. Currently they are meeting in the building that has been called Resurrection, gathering weekly for worship, holding Bible studies, hosting after-school programs and activities for youth, support for parents, and gathering their neighbors and elected representatives to build a stronger community.
Their pastor, Bishop Derrick Robinson, and music minister Damon and other church leaders joined us last night during the Easter Vigil and blessed us with a song. They’re not a Lutheran congregation, but their leaders intend to continue in relationship with our local ELCA congregations, working together to grow ministry in North St. Louis. The synod council intends to gift to Kingdom Church the building and the land on which it sits.
Is it risky? Maybe. But the risen Christ will also remind us that it’s worth the risk to build relationships, to become vulnerable. In Jesus Christ, all things are made new. Abundant life is worth it. I pray that all of us followers of Christ could become answers to Jesus’s prayer for unity!
When Jesus began his risky ministry, and people were wondering whether Jesus really was the Messiah and asked him about it, Jesus said to them, “Go and tell…what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”
The dead are raised—even you.
During this season of Lent, we have been asking questions for deeper faith. All this time, did you think you were the one seeking? In truth, all this time, it has been God who has been seeking you. The Holy Spirit has been relentless in her pursuit. Even if you imagine you are the Easter egg that rolled away and got covered by leaves, destined to remain lost: today you are found, and gathered together with all the others.
What questions will you carry with you into and through this season of Easter? Where do you see these stories still happening? Where is unity happening? Where is resurrection still going on?
May your heart be encouraged by these words of the risen Christ: “Do not be afraid! Go and tell…”
May you be empowered to bear witness to resurrection.
May you tell and keep telling the story of new life.