Instructions for Living a Life

Our Easter story this morning comes from the Gospel of Matthew. But to set the stage for us to hear it, I want to back up several days. Let’s not begin with Easter, but with Good Friday. Because honestly, the longer I live, the more it feels like Easter doesn’t really make sense unless we start there. So I want us to go back, just for a moment, to the day Jesus died, just to notice something. 

The scene on Friday is set in a place called Golgotha - “the place of the skull,” they called it; the place the Roman government exercised its privilege to perform executions. It was a very public place, meant to shame those who were crucified and to terrify those who watched. 

Perhaps understandably, almost every single one of Jesus’ followers had fled - out of fear of the power of the Romans, out of confusion about what had happened, out of sheer terror that they might be next, out of anger that he had failed – who knows. But we do know that Judas betrayed him, Peter denied him, all the rest of the twelve disappeared. Honestly, I don’t know if I would have stayed… 

But a few remained with him. Let’s begin there, at Golgotha, soon after the crucifixion of Jesus.

Matthew 27:57-61

That evening a man named Joseph came. He was a rich man from Arimathea who had become a disciple of Jesus. He came to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate issued an order to release the body to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which had been carved out of the rock. He rolled a large stone across the entrance of the tomb, then left. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting across from the tomb.

That’s where Friday evening ends. With Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, at the tomb. 

Which is where the Easter story begins… 

 Matthew 28:1-10

After the Sabbath, as the light of the first day of the new week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the tomb. Suddenly there was a powerful earthquake, as an angel from the Lord came down from heaven, and rolled away the stone, and sat on it. Shafts of lightning blazed from his face, and his clothes shimmered snow-white.  The guards at the tomb were so terrified of him that they shook and were frozen in fear, as if they were dead. 

But the angel said to the women, “Don’t be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus, the one who was crucified. He isn’t here. He was raised from the dead, just as he said he would be. Come and look at the place where they put his body…. 

“Now hurry, go tell his disciples, ‘He’s been raised from the dead, and he’s going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.’ This is my message to you.”

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid and full of joy at the same time, running to tell his disciples.  

But suddenly Jesus met them and greeted them! They came and grabbed his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go, tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and they will see me there.”

* * * * * 

In one of her beautiful poems, Mary Oliver gives these words of advice: 

Instructions for living a life: 

Pay attention.

Be astounded.

Tell about it.  

It is not bad advice, I’ve decided. Not a bad way to live out a life. 

Pay attention.

Be astounded.

Tell about it. 

That’s what the women at the tomb did, that bright, amazing morning, isn’t it?

They paid attention….

They were astounded….

And they ran to tell others about it…. 

Of course, one could argue, how could you not pay attention, under circumstances like that? Earthquakes, and angels, and an empty tomb?

 But paying attention wasn’t a given, was it? No one else was paying attention to the tomb. And why would they? What was there to see? Just a body. Just crushed spirits and broken dreams. Just the triumph of the Empire over everything Jesus stood for. That’s all there was to see. Why would anybody go there?

 But those women showed up. They came, to look at the tomb. They came in spite of it all. 

The women were there that morning, which is the only reason they could see what they did. They paid attention to Jesus all the way; not just to the lovely, take-your-breath-away moments, but to the ugly, break-your-heart moments. They followed him to the cross, to the grave. They were willing to pay attention, even to the worst that could happen to someone they loved.

They showed up, when no one else would.

Isn’t that what paying attention really is?

St. Augustine said something like that once: “The problem isn’t that God’s not here. The problem is that I’m not here.”

The problem is that I’m not here…

Life begins with paying attention. 

But that’s just the beginning. That’s just where you start. Because the next step after paying attention is being astounded…

The women at the tomb wereastounded. Because God was there that morning. 

 The story is astonishing, isn’t it? It’s pretty outrageous. I mean, that angel! That impertinent, impudent angel, all shimmering with light, sitting there on that stone. I can just picture him, arms crossed, legs swinging, with his face giving off an attitude, like, “What are you going to do about it?” Light just radiating off of him, his glimmering, shimmering, shining self. His face full of God’s light. 

And the guards! Those poor guards. I almost feel sorry for those people. Those big, burly men, frozen in fear. The cocky angel, no substance to him, just light, all light; and those two men, used to scaring off everyone else, frozen solid. It’s almost comical, if you ask me. It is astounding.  It is astounding.

Pay attention.

BE astounded….

And then tell about it. 

Tell about it….

That’s what the women did, didn’t they? They ranto tell the disciples. Afraid and full of joy at the same time. 

And then, beyond their wildest imaginations… there was moreastonishment. 

                        Jesus, meeting them… Jesus,there…

And what do they do? They grab on to him as if their lives depend on it. 

They grab on to him becausetheir lives depend on it. 

 Their lives, their faith, their hopes, their dreams, the past, the present, the future. 

Pay attention.

Be astounded.

Tell about it. 

That’s exactly what those women did. 

 And what about us? Can we do that, too? Can we live that kind of life? What might happen, if we did? 

 I mean, if we really pay attention to God, here, among us? 

If we let ourselves be astounded?

If we could risk saying it, naming it, to each other? 

If we lived that kind of life?

 Last week I picked up one of my Bibles at home to look up the passage from Ephesians we heard this morning – and I came across a note from a church friend, Becky Clarke Hoover. She sent me this note several ago, when I was home recovering from cancer, and it lightened my heart so much that I saved it. 

Becky wrote,

I am thinking of you so often praying for increased strength for you with each passing day.

Oh, this mortal experience, its highs and its lows! Recently I’ve been noticing the sky more, just the absolute wonder of it!

May you be feeling the joy of living!

 Love, Becky

It felt exactly like what the Apostle Paul sent to his beloved friends in Ephesus who were struggling. He wrote,

I pray that you may have strength in your inner being – that you may have the power to know the breadth and length and height and depth! The love of Christ – the absolute wonder of it! 

 May you be filled with all the fullness of life that comes from God!

 When you start to pay attention, what do you see? 

Can you see that God is already here?? Can you lift your eyes and begin to hope? Can you make yourself show up in the midst of loss? Can you trust that sorrow might not be the last word? Can you dare to consider that if you look closely enough, the world might still yet astound you? 

It is a risk, to live this way. It is a risk. Sometimes, when we pay attention, we will see Good Friday – like this morning’s news, about the tragic attacks on Easter in Sri Lanka. When we open ourselves to the world, it often begins with the cross. 

But we may also see resurrection…

On Palm Sunday, St. Mary Catholic Church in German Village reopened. The venerable old church had been closed for repairs since the summer of 2016, when it was struck by lightening. The project had stalled for lack of funds, but then people stepped up, raised $8 million, and the church was saved. 

Last Sunday, people thronged to worship there. Many were in tears. The sanctuary was stunning – the painted ceiling, the stained glass windows – but most of all it was the feeling of being home again. “It really was phenomenal,” a woman named Bonnie said. “It took your breath away.” There were baptisms and first communions and soaring hymns and jubilation. It was a glimpse of resurrection.

Then Monday came… and the news that Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was engulfed in flames. The devastation dwarfed what had happened at St. Mary’s. I was stunned; I couldn’t even watch the footage. I could only imagine what Parisians were feeling. 

People thronged to watch as flames roared from the roof of the 800-year-old Cathedral. It had been there for centuries; it was the heart of Paris, the center of France. Quite literally, the center - every distance in France, is measured from the center of that Cathedral. 

Even for the non-religious – when that spire fell, it was as if the stars began to fall. That it happened during Holy Week was not lost on anyone. The sadness – the grief - was palpable. Almost like the women at the tomb. It just made you want to weep.

Then the next day there was this: 

The cross, all shimmering with light, standing over the stone. 

 Light radiating, shining, shimmering. 

Shining God’s light.

Pay attention.

From the ashes, he is risen. Jesus lives. Say it with me - JESUS LIVES

Be astounded!

From the rubble, he is risen. Jesus lives. Say it with me - JESUS LIVES

Tell about it. 

From the tomb, he is risen. Jesus lives. JESUS LIVES!