“Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun…” Well…maybe not “glorious summer,” exactly. Not yet, anyway. But the season is changing and the long winter’s grip has been broken. Though not yet have we likely seen the last of this winter of discontent!
Jesus had done it! This sun/Son had broken through! But Mary Magdalene and the other Mary didn’t know that yet. The two of them and the other women who had been standing around the gallows on Friday know one thing, the one thing we know when we stand uncomfortably in line at a wake: He’s gone.
Immeasurable emptiness streamed from that hanging body. Nothing but this gnawing emptiness had been at work in them. The world as they knew it had perished; it tore apart like a curtain from top to bottom. It had fainted away, turned to dust, burst like a bubble. There was nothing now but nothingness itself.
The world was dead. Love was dead. God was dead.
Jesus had done so much! It wasn’t supposed to be the same old ending of the same old story…death. Jesus had lightened their darkness. He had made them precious in His love. He had pushed back and called out those things which oppress and undo us. Amid all the powers that push people around, Jesus had walked with a breath-taking kind of freedom…the way a person does who is really alive, unchained, not scared of any future!
Jesus had looked His accusers in the eye…and they had blinked. But in the end…they got Him.
St. Matthew writes that the two women had gone to see the tomb. What’s more real and final than a grave? And on that morning, it was doubly real, doubly final because Jesus was there. Crucified. Dead. Buried. So was God not with Jesus? And if not Him, is God with anybody? And the future was looking dark.
This is no way for God to take a hand in things! Not the cross! It’s not what a person can reasonably expect of God! God isn’t supposed to die! Certainly not any god worthy of the name God! God is supposed to have lots of power…all power…so that He can lay low anything which gets in His way!
What good is He, then, for us in this century with all that lies ahead? A war heating up over Ukraine. An economy that just doesn’t want to heat up very quickly. What good is a crucified, dead, and buried Jesus? Besides we didn’t get all dressed up and come to church this early in the morning to hear about death and the grave!
But it’s in the place of death that something is stirring…something greater than the return of spring after a relentless winter. St. Matthew records two earthquakes. The first is on Good Friday when Jesus dies. The second is here as the tomb is opened. But God is not in the earthquake! Nevertheless, that divine earthquake causes a crack to appear.
The angel sits atop the stone that should have sealed the tomb tight…and announces what has begun to leak out. To these women who could not let go of the Jesus they thought Him to be…only a good man dead…to them the angel says, “He is not here…He has risen from the dead, and behold, He is going before you… You will see Him.”
And immediately they are caught in the current emminating from the tomb! On their way to tell the others, they flow smack into Jesus. “Greetings,” He says. Literally, “Hail!” like some conquering Caesar. And in that moment everything is different for these women.
Oh yes, Jesus was already raised, but they didn’t know it until that moment. And even then, they couldn’t grasp what it all meant. Yet now…now Jesus begins to draw them out of their darkness. He draws them out of their fear that God had quit on them…out of the fear that the old story always ends the same way…that this world, in the end, is nothing but a great big cemetery. “Do not be afraid!” He tells them, as He draws them into the stream gaining momentum from the broken rock of the tomb.
“Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun… And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house In the deep bosom of the ocean buried. Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths; Our bruised arms hung up for monuments; Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings, Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.” Shakespearean joy!
Yeah…well, jolly good for them! But on this Easter 2014, He isn’t going to meet us on the road, now is He?! He isn’t going to stop us on the way to brunch and say “Greetings! Do not be afraid!” We’re not going to bump into Him…and there is a lot of what feels like the winter of discontent still waiting outside those doors this morning! Besides…except for a rash of movies all of a sudden, God has been mighty quiet for a long, long time!
But what did we expect? A crash and a bang like the movies? If so, we have not been paying attention. On Good Friday, the glory of God was revealed in the weakness of the cross. The voice of God thundered in the silence of the grave. An earthquake may have marked the events…but the presence of God is not, ultimately, in the earthquake.
The presence of God was there in that final breath which said, “It is finished.” The presence of God was there on Easter, emerging from the tomb like a trickle…slowly, unbelievably slowly…but soon it quickened…into what? A new beginning?
Oh…on that first day it was too early yet to speak of hope. The stream was still much too weak to start whispering about love. But look, it’s on the move. It trickles, lost in the chaos, seeming without direction, without gravity. But soon enough flowing more abundantly. Soon enough, a wellspring in the chaos. It flows out of pure nothingness, out of itself…a new beginning, a new creation.
It is the beginning without parallel, Life arising from Death, as if weariness (such weariness as no amount of sleep could ever dispel) and the utter decay of the world were melting at winter’s outer edge, and beginning to flow. In time everything that is frozen and solid must dissolve into that flowing life of the new creation.
That is how this sun brings glorious summer from the winter of discontent. He is on the loose…sometimes only a trickle…sometimes a flood! But like the women we have no choice but to meet Him where He promises to be found. For them it was Galilee. But for us it’s here…here where He speaks His Word into our ears. Here where He places His body and His blood on our tongues. He meets us here. And what can possibly come of that? Well…we shall have to see won’t we!
Because now when anything tempts you to despair…and these days there is a lot that tempts us to despair…when we are tempted to conclude that God has quit on us…that He doesn’t care…that He doesn’t exist. Between all of that and you stands Jesus. And before despair can destroy you it has to destroy Him. But they already tried that!
“Now is our winter of discontent made glorious summer by this Son…” Perhaps, like the two Marys, you don’t see it…and the winter chill is greater than the sun. Perhaps you have known better summers, more glorious summers…and your winter is not letting go… Today is the beginning again in this stream of resurrection life. He flows ahead of you. Do not be afraid!
There! You have heard it. Soon…you will taste it…that you may know how sure, how true, how cheering, freeing, and enlivening is the hearing and the doing and the living of the Words of this Son today: “Do not be afraid!”