Matthew 28:1-10, Easter Vigil
Fasten your seatbelts. I have some particle physics stuff to tell you. I know physics can be difficult but don’t worry. One graduate physics professor advised us once: if you don’t know the answer to the question, just say “energy”.
Let’s try this. What keeps the sun shining? (Energy) Why is it hot these days? (Energy) What causes global warming? (Energy) What is mc2? (Energy) What do you eat? What keeps you going? When you’re tired, what goes out of you? (Energy)
Because of E=mc2, we now know that matter and energy are interchangeable. Matter can be created from energy and vice versa. There is some nuance in this simple equivalence however. For instance, let us make a particle, an electron, say from energy.
Considerations of symmetry and conservation lead us to assume that if an electron were to pop up from this ocean of energy (say, from photons of very energetic light), then an oppositely charged particle (an anti-electron) would have to be likewise produced. This anti-particle is just the same banana but with an opposite charge, to balance the total charge in the universe which was zero to begin with when there was only energy.
This is not a figment of our physics imagination. Matter and anti-matter are real. If there are electrons out there, there are also anti-electrons whizzing about. In fact, they’re called positrons, the kind we now use in those PET scan machines in hospitals.
Be careful though. When matter and anti-matter collide, poof! They annihilate each other and lose their mass to energy. E=mc2.
Think for a moment about this symmetry of matter and anti-matter. For every plus, there is a minus. For every particle, there is a partner anti-particle to balance things out. For every electron, an anti-electron, for every quark, an anti-quark. And imagine for every you, an anti-you. Just make sure you never meet your anti-you. If your you and your anti-you ever collide, you will both be annihilated and you will be converted to… yes, energy.
Now imagine you are with Mary Magdalene about to enter the tomb of Jesus. Forget the earthquake and that weird looking guy that’s supposed to be an angel with the lightning face, wearing clothes as white as snow. You see nothing inside the tomb. The body is gone. And since you’re of the 21st century and you watch a lot of Star Trek, you ask, whoa did some kind of teleportation just happen here? Is the tomb a transporter or some kind of portal, a wormhole to another universe? Did matter just collide with anti-matter inside this tomb, to be transformed into energy and transported elsewhere? Did the molecules of Jesus’ body just bump into their anti-molecules so that we are left with nothing in this tomb, not even a whiff of an atom of Jesus?
Even without all this geek stuff, we see this church as very much like that empty tomb. We do not see angels around, with lightning faces wearing clothes white as snow. Not even a whiff of an atom of Jesus. We only hear our words spoken in the dark, stories of God keeping faith, keeping promises throughout our history. We only see a table, with bread and wine, in remembrance of a meal that marks our deliverance from slavery. There is only the light of candles to believe by. We only see the bits of linen but we know deep inside the tomb is not empty.
This tomb, this church is not empty of Christ. He our Lord is very much here. He is here in the remorse and contrition of a church of broken lives, here in the trust we repose in the mercy of a forgiving God; here in the words spoken bravely to the darkness, words that are like lit candles for barren souls that walk the night; here in simple bread and wine, offered in oblation as his own body and blood, in sacrifice for the redemption of a divided and disconnected world.
The Easter faith we celebrate tonight in this empty tomb gives us new eyes to see this fundamental asymmetry to life. Life is not balanced by anti-life. Life exceeds anti-life. To be is better than not to be. Good is greater than evil, hope stronger than despair. And when you net all there is to life, the net of all this is love. The net is love. The initial condition as it were of the universe is not nothing. All being, all life is charged with a net surplus of love.
We know this to be true because we are told that God loved us first, even before all of you and me and the universe came to be. To paraphrase the Genesis story, in the beginning, there was love; from the beginning, there has always been love.
When all the good seems nullified by the bad, when human kindness seems outweighed by violence and vulgarity, when love seems to have yielded to hate, and everything else seems to cancel out, we need to tell each other: Christ is risen. Love is risen. God loved us first. God will love us to the very last. Love is stronger than the fear and doubt and pain. When life breaks, it is love that picks up the pieces. It is love that raised Jesus from the dead. It is love that keeps daring us to rise from the dust. It is love that keeps raising us up to life.
In closing, you may now unfasten your seatbelts. I know life can be turbulent. Life can be full of difficult questions. I have one piece of advice: if you don’t know the answer, just say “love”.
Let’s try this. What does the world need now? (Love) What keeps the sun shining? (Love) When someone’s down and troubled, and they need a helping hand, what do you give? (Love) If all you want is to be happy, what do you need to do? (Love) What is stronger than hate? (Love) What is stronger than death? (Love) Where did we come from? (Love) God is where we are going. Who is God? God is…love.
Indeed, God is love, and Christ is risen, and the world is charged with a net surplus of a greater love. A joyful Easter to us all.