Rev. Danielle K Bartz April 9, 2023
Matthew 28:1-10 “Impossible Life”
In 2006, a short television series called Planet Earth was released on the Discovery channel. Created by the BBC to showcase the natural wonders of our planet, this 11-episode series very quickly became popular. The cinematography was extraordinary. Humans were able to see sights from across this planet that were rare and spectacular to behold. I remember making sure to turn on the television each week to tune in, and even though I was in seminary, with all of the related distractions, making time to watch Planet Earth took priority. The seventh episode of the series was called The Great Plains. It was, as should be obvious, about the various plains of our planet. And the feature that tied the entire episode together was a plant that perhaps we take for granted here in North America – grass.
Grass covers a full quarter of all land on this planet. Grass grows everywhere from the African savannahs to the highest and driest place on our planet, the Tibetan plateau. And where grass grows, animals thrive. Grass is the primary food source for over a quarter of all animal life on our planet. So, in the artic tundra, nesting snow geese feed on grass while hatching and raising their chicks. In the African savannah, grass feeds huge herds of grazing wildebeest. On the high Tibetan plateau, where it rarely gets above freezing and rain never falls, grass feeds small but strong packs of wild yak. And in the tropical wetlands of the Indian high plains, grass feeds a huge variety of animals – maintaining one of the most diverse food cycles on our planet.
Grass seeds are incased in a protective pod, which means the plant is virtually indestructible. Grass fires, which can burn hundreds of acres shockingly fast, do not kill the plant. Grass grows again, often during the blackened landscape green again in just 48 hours. When herds of grazing animals mow down fields, leaving nothing but dirt in their wake, the grass is back within days, ready to feed the next herd moving through.
I remember watching the episode on the Great Plains of our planet all those years ago, learning about a plant that I had never given much thought to other than trying avoid my teenage choir of mowing. I remember learning about this extraordinary plant – growing in impossible conditions in order to sustain the life that relies on it, and thinking – this is like God. Creating and sustaining life, in surprising ways. Thriving even when the world seeks to destroy it. Providing a foundation for new life. This is like God. God creates life, even in places that feel like death. God sustains life, even as the forces of the world seek to destroy it. God is a foundation for new life to rise, even when our limited imaginations tell us it is impossible. And the extraordinary, indestructible force for life that is God can be seen no more clearly than on Easter.
It was supposed to be a time of death. It was supposed to be a time of mourning, of fear, of hope lost. It was a tomb. How could new life exist in such a barren place? The life of Jesus, the hope of his message, the promise of God’s Kingdom – the people thought it all had been defeated. That empire had won, once again. That death had conquered life. But, we know that God’s love cannot be defeated. We know that God cannot be contained within tombs. We know that God’s yes to peace and justice will always drown-out the world’s no. As Easter people, we know this. But that morning, there were only two ready to greet the miracle.
In the other three Gospel accounts of the resurrection, the women go to the tomb of Jesus expecting death. In Mark and Luke, they bring spices to anoint his body, an ancient ritual of love and devotion for someone who has died. In John, the disciple Mary is looking for a body. She is not looking for life. But in Matthew, the scripture we read this Easter – the women do not go to the tomb looking for death. They go looking for life.
In Matthew, the women do not bring spices to anoint a body. They go to see a miracle, a miracle that had been promised. And even though it was beyond the imagination of most, the women believed. The Gospel makes it clear that Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph had been with Jesus as he traveled from Galilee. No fewer than three times in that journey did Jesus tell his followers that he must ‘go to Jerusalem, undergo great suffering, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.’ The women, who were present for each of these teachings, went to the tomb not to mourn, but to see the promise fulfilled. In this passage, the word ‘see’ is theoresai, which is not a passive looking, but to examine and understand. They went to understand the miracle that they had been promised. While the rest of the disciples had abandoned Jesus, having either forgotten or not believed what he had told them, the women did not. They were there. They went to see because they believed.
Diana Butler Bass, historian and writer, whose book ‘Freeing Jesus’ we just finished reading for Lent, says that in the 21st century, seeing is believing. We need proof of something before we can believe something is real. But in faith, it does not work like that. We must believe in order to see. The women went to the tomb believing in God’s promise of life in places that feel like death, and life is what they saw. Yes, the encounter with the angel was awe-inspiring but they did not express surprise. And when they encounter the risen Christ on the road, they fall at his feet to praise him. They do not doubt their eyes. They recognize him because they believed first. The women went to the tomb believing to see life, and life is what they saw. In faith, believing is seeing.
I speak about what it means to be Easter people often from this pulpit. I talk often about what it means to be Easter people and shout alleluia into the whirlwinds of this world over-run by empire. To be Easter people is to seek out life in places that feel like death, not in order to believe, but because we believe. We look for life because we know it exists. We embrace life because we know it is abundant. We worship life because it is a promise fulfilled. The two Mary’s on that extraordinary morning went to the tomb looking for life. And when they did, as Easter people, they cried alleluia. They cried alleluia not in surprise but in praise. They cried alleluia because they believed and then they saw. They cried alleluia and we do as well. We cry alleluia not because we saw, but because we believe.
Last summer I re-landscaped my small property. Because I was removing the non-native lawn in order to replace it with native pollinators, my landscaper told me they would have to remove four inches of the topsoil in order to hopefully remove that indestructible grass. It kind of worked, but grass still grows. All of the human efforts to destroy it – machinery, chemicals, my own stubbornness – cannot overcome a simple plant that can thrive in the most unfriendly of environments. On the high Tibetan plateau – where our limited bodies could not survive, grass grows and sustains life. On the African savannah, after huge herds of wildebeest eat all of the grass on their path, the plant revives itself, ready to feed the next herd. And in our own region, grass fires seemingly destroy all life, but we know that the grass will be back quickly. That is like God. That is like Easter. That is life in the place of death. That is hope that is in the place of fear. That is love in the place of hate. That is believing something to be true and seeing the promise fulfilled when we look for it.
We are Easter people and we cry alleluia not because we see but because we believe. Because we believe in the promise of God’s life. Because we believe in the teachings of Jesus. Because we believe. And by believing we can see the life all around us. So, let us look – not to finally believe, but because we already do. Let us go and see and cry alleluia. Amen.
God of joy and hope, on this Easter morning,
we sing Alleluia with the fullness of hearts.
Christ is Risen!
Love is stronger than Death!
In the joy and hope of this Easter morning,
in the midst of our singing and shouting,
we know there are those who are bewildered and sad.
We pray for those that have no hope,
for those who suffer from depression, loneliness, and fear.
We pray for those places and peoples in our world
where death and domination rule,
where imperial powers ignore the poor,
where war never ends,
where children are hungry,
where parents grieve because they cannot provide,
where accidents happen and death abounds senselessly.
We pray for those held hostage
to addiction and chronic illness that debilitates.
In the joy and hope of this Easter morning,
we realize the depth and breadth of what it means
to be your Easter people.
For we are the ones who are called
to go into the places in our lives and world
to work for justice and life for all in your Creation.
It is up to us to bear witness to the promise of resurrection,
to hold those in despair,
and believe for them,
that Love is stronger than death.
In the joy and hope of this Easter morning, O God,
give us the courage to bear your living Love
in every corner of our lives,
so that your peaceable realm will be so,
here on earth, as it is in heaven.
In the name of the Risen Christ, we pray, in the way we were taught by saying…Our Father…
 Matthew 16:21, 17:22-23, 20:17-19