Rev. Sarah D. Odderstol
Readings: Jeremiah 31.1-6
After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.
Why do people visit the graves of their loved ones? Initially, we gather to mourn. We visit gravesites to remember…to feel close. People talk of “paying their respects.” If we peel back the layers of motivation – at the core – visiting the graves of the dead is a profound act of faith…a hope beyond hope that for those who have died “life has changed, not ended”…a spark of belief that God is faithful to God’s people.
All four Gospels agree, that early in the morning on the first day of the week, some of the women who followed Jesus went to visit his tomb. Mark and Luke tell us the women took spices, oils, and aloes to anoint Jesus’ body. Matthew tells us only that the women went to SEE the tomb.
I find it hard to imagine what the women were expecting when they went to the tomb on the morning we have come to call Easter. We know too much about Easter. Surely they could not have anticipated earthquakes and lightening flashing angels and an empty tomb. Yet these were women of profound faith – women who had been raised on the words of prophets like Jeremiah. Their faith told them that no matter what they found at the tomb, their God would be with them. God is faithful to God’s people.
God called Jeremiah when he was a young man and as is typical of those called by God; he was reluctant to take up God’s call. Jeremiah spent nearly his whole life attempting to relay God’s challenging and hopeful words to a people who were undergoing the greatest crisis of their nation’s history: the decline, destruction, and exile if Israel. How does one live through such events and retain hope for a future with God?
Easter is about the absurd announcement that there is no death so dead that God cannot find life in it. Easter is about the God we worship, a god who will always have the last word, even in the face of death. This is not a truth that Easter demonstrates to humankind for the first time. God has long been in the business of breathing new life into fallible humankind and creation. Jeremiah is a clear witness to that. In the midst of destruction and exile, Jeremiah called the people back to their faithful God. He reminded them how God had rescued them from the sword in Egypt and led them to find grace in the wilderness. To people in crisis God says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.”
Five Sundays ago we held our first virtual worship and I invited you to embrace your time in this wilderness. I am so proud of all of you. Sure, we all have our struggles with isolation and fear, but when I have to opportunity to listen to your stories, I hear gratitude: Gratitude that God has brought you to a new day… Gratitude for the labors of health care workers, delivery people, grocery store workers, your neighbors who take your garbage to the curb for you and all those who do not have the luxury of sheltering in place…gratitude to gather with your people even if it is online. We are finding grace in the wilderness!
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to visit Jesus’ tomb trusting that they would find grace in the wilderness into which Jesus’ brutal death had thrust them. Like our spiritual ancestors, we find ourselves in the midst of crisis. God speaks to us through Jeremiah:
Again you shall gather for worship
and pass the peace with abandon
Again you shall meet at Bangkok Golden for lunch
and the shelves of your grocery stores shall be fully stocked
Your children shall return to school
and their parents go back to work.
God loves you with an everlasting love;
therefore God continues God’s faithfulness to you!