Prayers of the People – Easter Sunday April 21, 2019
Dear Jesus, Matthew tells us that, early Sunday morning, when the women came to the tomb where your body lay, there was an earthquake and the angel the Father sent rolled the stone away and then sat on it (28:2). There is little question in our minds why the guards shook for fear, but we wonder if the angel was tired or if angels have a sense of humor. One sitting on the stone, two others in the tomb folding the burial shroud like so much laundry. A comic end to what one author has called a “tragedy beyond Sophocles or Shakespeare” (Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew).
To the women the angel said, “Don’t be afraid,
“. . . He has risen, just as He said
Quickly now, go tell his disciples
That Jesus Christ is no longer dead”
So the songwriter replays the scene. And, as we join in the singing we are wishing we could have been there in that garden just before daybreak to be witnesses, but we were not. Though angels could not resist the opportunity for some theatrics, laughing behind their hands at the divine joke played on Satan, barely containing their urge to laugh out loud, to sing and shout and dance, the stunned women had to be admonished “Do not be afraid.” The empty tomb, even for them, was not enough, they needed an encounter with their risen Lord or they could not, would not believe you were alive. And we are no different.
Mary Magdalene, did not run with with the others to tell your disciples, but stooped in to see for herself only to be told by two holy messengers sitting one at the head and the other at the foot of the stone cold slab that it makes little sense to search for the living in a graveyard.
And still, until she bumped into her Master and heard you speak her name, she could not break through the confusion and the fog to grasp the truth of the matter. That you were alive.
Sitting here this morning are some who, like Mary Magdalene, have a dark past where little ever went according to plan, where things generally ended badly; where relationships were fleeting. Ones whose hope died two days ago and peer with confusion into the empty tomb because nothing ever turns out right.
Lord Jesus, please meet them here today in the twilight of their confusion and speak their name so they might run and tell the truth to any who will listen that you are alive and not all stories end badly.
Peter and John, came shortly after. One who tried but failed to fulfill his vow of faithfulness and one who stayed nearby to the end, closest friends, leaning on each other, racing to see for themselves whether the women’s nonsense was true. Both had their own unrelieved anxieties, unable to believe the women because the one who could not forgive himself had denied you and the other stood at the foot of the cross and heard you say, “It is finished” and so he could not believe otherwise. Their vision had died with you on the cross.
But you met them at their favorite fishing spot in Galilee and there they learned how hard love can be and how deep. Though you had already forgiven them, you replaced their anxieties with your vision.
This morning, seated here are some who cannot forgive themselves; some who have experienced the death of a vision. Ones who need you to meet them in a quiet place where you can privately confront them with their anxieties, where you can give them a vision for their future, and your promise for the strength to endure the ordeals that are to come. We pray this morning that in the quietness of this hour they will find forgiveness and a renewed vision.
In our midst are ones for whom the Bible is a dark and mysterious thing, perhaps, even though they have heard it and read it from their youth. There are here those like the ones on the Emmaus Road who could not rejoice in the resurrection because they could not understand it. Please walk with them on their way. Open their minds to what you have done, to what you are doing, to what you will do so much that when we break bread this morning the realization of the resurrection will break in on them and they will know that it was you they met on the way here today.
Some here are like Thomas, wanting what others have experienced. Longing for an encounter with the risen Lord. Left out. On the periphery. Wanting to believe, but demanding something more substantial. Please, dear Jesus, step through the locked doors of their minds and overwhelm their desire for more and greater evidence by your tangible presence.
Each one of us here, in one way or another, need help believing the unbelievable. Laughing angels sitting cross-legged on tombstones or folding laundry are not enough. Even though the tomb is empty we still need you to lift our confusion, to give encouragement, to offer opportunity, to open our minds, to soften our hearts, to confront our doubts. We need this encounter because our faith is weak.
And are not alone. This morning we pray for every woman and man who tamp down their doubts so they can preach or teach, for every physician praying for little resurrections, for every missionary enduring persecution, for every social worker seeking resources for the homeless and mentally ill, for every person whose vision has died, for every sinner who believes they are beyond redemption, for every child who is afraid of the dark, and for every person who has yet to hear of the good news that the tomb is empty we ask for a holy encounter.
Most of all we pray for ourselves. That we might share the joke the angels shared with the women and the disciples and the others that first Sunday morning. We pray that today our encounter with you in this place will end in laughter and hooping and hollering:
“Joy to the world, He has risen, hallelujah
He's risen, hallelujah
He's risen, hallelujah