Posted on Wed, Apr 23, 2014
Easter Sunday April 20, 2014
Gospel Text: Matthew 28:1-10
After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, 'He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.' This is my message for you." 8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."
For the Children of Israel to be freed from the bondage of slavery in Egypt, God had to act. For Moses to hear God call his name and give him the Law, the Torah, God had to act. For Elijah to show the priests of Baal that the God of Israel heard their prayers and was faithful, God had to act. For God to fulfill God’s’ promise to save God’s people for all time, God acted by sending us a savior, even though God knew Jesus would be betrayed, arrested, scourged and killed on a cross by the very people whom God was trying to save. Try and recall all the things we have learned about Jesus after he returned to Jerusalem, how would you feel as a parent, if you felt obligated to send your very own child into a place where you knew the people would only betray him, beat him, and kill him. What kind of mindset would be necessary for a person to send their very own child to save a group of people like that? It would take an “act of God” to make any one of us feel compelled to send our child into a hornet’s nest like that… but that is exactly what God did, for us. This is a day we celebrate what God has done! God has acted, God has suffered and risen, and we are forgiven!
Easter is all about the results of God making a decision to act on our behalf for the sake of LOVE. Through the Cross of Christ, we are healed and God’s essence of love is fulfilled.
Matthew proclaims the Easter story as God’s greatest act, adds a moment of surprise, and proclaims to us, we too will receive resurrection, in all its forms, and this is all about God acting according to God’s nature.
Just after the Sabbath, just as the sun is rising over the hills around Jerusalem, as soon as the women are allowed to do any work at Jesus’ tomb (the Holy Sepulcher), there was a great earthquake. A messenger of God, an “angel of the Lord,” descends down from heaven and rolls back the stone and sits on it as if he has just ‘conquered’ the stone.
Matthew tells us that the angels’ appearance was “like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.” Where have you heard this phrase before? It was in the story about the Transfiguration of Jesus, when he turned dazzling white before James, John, and Peter up on the mountain.
The angel is like ‘lightning’ because he comes with a powerful pure and holy message that only God could give to the world. To the women who have come to anoint Jesus’ body with oils and spices, he proclaims, "Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.” He is announcing to the women that something has happened that only God could make happen… his body is no longer here because He has arisen JUST LIKE HE PROMISED!
Mark and the other Evangelists write about various details about the women, and even about the disciples, but for Matthew this information is just superfluous. Matthew is about “God’s actions,” and he is not so interested in the mundane facts about human experience or feelings, he wants us to see that a new age has begun… God has acted! Jesus as arisen! THE TOMB IS EMPTY, BUT THE EARTH IS FULL! Even the angel is an apocalyptic figure with a shattering appearance that throws the stone to the side and announces to us that a new age has begun. The human power that put Jesus into the tomb, that caused fear in the hearts of the people, is powerless now.
The guards whom everyone feared and who were charged with the task to keep the tomb closed tight in the case someone would come and steal Jesus’ body, at the risk of being killed themselves, were left powerless and unable to move. I find it ironic that the greatest symbol of fear and strength at the time were the Roman Soldiers and their disciplined skill at killing and threatening… but before the GRACE FILLED acts of God, they were left unable to move! Those whose mission was to ‘guard the dead, had become like, “dead men.” The dead one, whom everyone had abandoned in a stone tomb is alive and now walks amongst us. God is acting and it is a new age!
The religious leaders derided and ridiculed Jesus. They were afraid of the Truth that Jesus proclaimed and embodied in His Words and Actions. The people rejected him and chose a criminal because they were seeking revenge and blood BECAUSE Jesus was preaching forgiveness and mercy. The soldiers scourged him and mocked him as they took their hatred out on another Jewish teacher claiming to be the Messiah… And then they nailed him to the cross, according to orders. But now, what does anyone have to say about the one who remained silent in front of Pilate? God has acted by allowing an innocent man Jesus, to be crucified for OUR sins. This is only something the grace, mercy and compassion of God could accomplish. And now, according to Jesus’ words God has raised him up. The resurrection is the divine verdict on us… The resurrection is the divine promise given to us fulfilled through Jesus’ works and words. Jesus’ enemies lifted him on the cross… God lifts him to fresh and indestructible life.
And look at how God acts and to whom God sends the women (The first missionaries/evangelists!) to proclaim the Good News. The angel tells the women to go first to the ones who are grieving and hurting the worst, the ones who have sinned the most in betraying Jesus and not believing in His promises. Even though Peter promised to follow Jesus even until death, the angel says, “go quickly and tell his disciples, 'He has been raised from the dead.” Tell the ones, whom he loves and will entrust His message, that Jesus is alive so that they too may be set free from their fear and doubt.
I love the words that Matthew uses to describe the woman after their encounter with the angel; they leave the tomb with “fear and great joy.” Put yourself in their sandals, how do you think you would react after this kind of amazing “God encounter” experience?
And then, just to surprise them, remember the angel told the women that Jesus would meet the disciples in Galilee? The angel forgot to tell the women, that Jesus would be “just over there behind the hill, just out of sight, waiting to meet them…” the women run off in fear and great joy, and then Jesus suddenly appears before them and says, “Greetings” which is Aramaic or Hebrew for “Wazzup?” The word, “greetings,” in Greek is as close to a colloquial greeting between two friends as the Bible translators could possibly come up with.
The scene is almost comical if not cruel on an emotional level for the women.
Matthew doesn’t tell us if the women said anything back to Jesus; but what could they say? To know that the one they loved the most, who you witnessed dying on a cross three days ago, is now alive standing before them… what do you think they were expecting when they went to the tomb? They were expecting to see what they last saw, a dead Jesus, wrapped in the clothes they may have provided. But after seeing a resurrected Jesus, the only conclusion they could have was to realize what Jesus hS taught them was true, and that God had freed them from their sorrows and fear! They saw that Jesus was alive so they came to him, held onto him and worshiped him.
What else could they do? What else can we do? Jesus, who was nailed on the cross, is alive! The Holy Spirit gives us utterance so that we can proclaim this good news.
“Jesus is alive!” and your response is? “He is alive in deed!”
Jesus is alive! He is alive indeed! Now when Jesus calls your name, like he called the women, go to him, hold onto him, and worship him. Go out into the world and proclaim that He is alive and He will set you free. Amen.
“And may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)
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