So, what did you expect when you woke up this morning? What were your expectations for the day? Because we all have expectations, right? So you woke up on this Easter morning…what did you expect to see today?
Maybe you expect to see family or friends who have traveled to be here…to celebrate together. Maybe you expected to step outside this morning and to smell spring in the air. (We just snuck that one in, didn’t we?) What about here at church? Did you expect to be greeted by a brass fanfare? Did you expect to see bright flowers? People dressed in their Easter best? Did you expect to sing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today?”
How about your Easter dinner? Are you expecting ham and potatoes? Or maybe some other special meal?
And kids…I’ve got to ask you: what do you expect to see today? Maybe it’s grandparents, or uncles, or aunts or cousins? Do you expect to see Easter baskets? Maybe jellybeans? Easter eggs? Bunnies?
Especially on days like today; we all have expectations of things we will see, or do.
This is not new. Mary, and Mary Magdalene, they also had expectations on that first Easter morning. Their expectations, however, were different than ours. Rather than bright colors, flowers, and a celebration feast, the two Mary’s, and all the other disciples, were grieving. Jesus…their teacher…their Lord…their friend…was dead.
The two Mary’s went to the tomb because they had to see for it themselves. When they left their home that morning, they expected to see a cave…sealed shut by a huge boulder. They expected to see guards, watching the tomb to prevent grave robbers. They expected bleakness…sadness… tears…
To say that the two Marys did not get what they expected, would be the understatement of the millennia.
The scriptures tell us that when they arrived, they looked, and saw the tomb. In that moment, there was a great earthquake. Everything shook, and an angel… surrounded by a bright light, descended and just pushed aside the giant stone, and then he just sat down on top of it. In my imagination…my mind’s eye, he crossed his arms, and smiled at the two women.
It was all so unexpected, so shocking, that the guards who were there? They trembled and shook in terror, and then they just froze…in a kind of a catatonic state.
The angel invited the two women to look inside, so they could see for themselves; Jesus was gone.
And then the angel said “now go on…go on back to Galilee. There, you will see Jesus. Alive. For real.” The scriptures say that with both fear and joy (which makes total sense when you think about it,) the women ran…they ran back to Galilee. And on their way there, suddenly…unexpectedly…shockingly…Jesus appears. Right there in front of them. Right in their path.
Jesus said to them “Greetings!” When Mary, and Mary Magdelene got over their shock, they drop to the ground to worship Jesus. But he says, “Get up! Go and gather the other disciples together and tell them to go to Galilee. There, they will see me too.”
There is a truth…a truth that Jesus knew: There is power in seeing. Seeing is believing.
We know this to be true, right? Believing in something is always so much easier when we can see it.
In the pretty messed up, broken world in which we live, we want to know that we put our faith in things that are real. But it is not always easy. We don’t get to physically see Jesus, like the two Marys did.
So what do we do instead? We see the evidence of what Jesus is up to in the world around us…we look for the signs of God’s grace, and love, and hope that surround us. And we listen for the stories; the stories that reflect God’s love; the stories that show us the way. And then because of God’s grace, we choose to place our faith in Jesus. We choose to follow.
In New York City, in January of 1935, “night court” was a thing. Yes, kind of like the tv show. The courts were overcrowded. So, people who had been arrested during the day for relatively minor crimes, sat in night court, awaiting their time in front of a judge.
It was a bitterly cold night in the poorest part in the city, and most of the people who awaited judgement in night court were destitute.
On this one particular evening, the people who sat in night court saw something completely unexpected.
You see, the mayor of New York at that time was the honorable Fiorello LaGuardia, who was the mayor during the Great Depression and during all of World War II.
Mayor LaGuardia was…shall we say…a bit of an eccentric. He really loved his job. So much so that he would go out at night and ride the New York City fire trucks with the firefighters. He would go along with the police department when they would raid speakeasies. He would, on the spur of the moment, take entire orphanages to baseball games, and whenever the newspapers were on strike, he would go on the radio and read the Sunday comic strips to the kids.
So, on this one cold, January night, LaGuardia showed up at night court and told the judge that he could have the night off. LaGuardia would take over. (I guess when you’re Mayor, you can do that!)
LaGuardia put on the judge’s robe and sat down at the bench. Within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told LaGuardia that her daughter’s husband had deserted her, that her daughter was sick, and that her two grandchildren were starving. She had taken the bread because she needed it, and she had no money to pay for it.
But the shopkeeper, from whom she’d stolen the bread, refused to drop the charges. “It’s a bad neighborhood, your Honor,” the man told the mayor. “She’s got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson.”
LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said “I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions. It will be ten dollars or ten days in jail.” But even as he pronounced sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill and tossed it to his bailiff, saying “Here is the ten-dollar fine, which I am now paying; and furthermore, I’m going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.”
The next day, the newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered old lady who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren. When the bailiff handed the grandmother the money, the seventy petty criminals and police officers in the courtroom gave Mayor LaGuardia a standing ovation.
Those people, in that courtroom, 88 years ago, definitely did not see what they expected to see that night.
Do you know what they did see? Do you know?
They saw grace. Grace! They saw an extraordinary moment of unmitigated, complete grace. According to the law, that poor woman deserved nothing more than 10 days in jail. But Fiorello LaGuardia saw another way. And because of what he did, all the people in that courtroom were witnesses to a moment of pure grace. This was…a resurrection moment!
We live in a complicated, broken, and cynical world. And we are surrounded by so much pain, anger, and divisiveness, that it becomes hard for us to see the stories of beauty, love and grace when they are right in front of us. Our newsfeeds keep showing us the things that stir up fear and anger…the clickbait that gets us to look deeper. And the deeper we go…the more cynical we can become…the more our hearts…they break.
And then along comes Easter. Along comes this amazing day…this completely counter-cultural day of celebration, and joy, and resurrection. Our world would have us believe that Easter is simply an event…a holiday…a reason to get together with friends and family. But Jesus tells us something very different! The resurrection story is an important reminder that just like the two Marys looked and saw the empty tomb, we too can look around, and see Jesus at work. We can see love and grace, even in the midst of a broken world. These moments…they are resurrection moments!
- Whenever we look and see an act of selfless love
- Whenever we are forgiven
- Whenever we forgive
- When we experience love
- Whenever we experience the care and compassion of another person…or,
- Whenever we are the vehicle of that care and compassion in Jesus’ name, we see the beauty of the resurrection.
These empty tomb moments remind us that the resurrected Jesus is with us, and that because of him, love always wins!
The two Marys? They didn’t expect to see what they saw at the tomb, to be sure. They expected to see death. But what they saw was resurrection.
When you get up every morning, I don’t know what you expect to see. But I can tell you this: If you expect to look and see resurrection moments…moments of love, grace and hope, you will! Because Jesus is alive…and loves you completely, and he is at work, in and around you. And love, grace and hope are real…and resurrection moments happen every single day.
And as you become more and more conscious and aware of resurrection moments, you will see them more often. And your life…your life will begin to reflect to those around you, the moments of love and grace that God gives to each of you.
Thanks be to God!
Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!