The Resurrection of Jesus
After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 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. His appearance was like lightning and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 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.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers and sisters to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)
When I returned from internship to seminary one of our classes was to talk about our internship experience. One day a classmate shared their experience when their supervisor preached a Christmas Eve sermon in which he talked about the sad fact that the baby Jesus was born to die. He pointed out that the only reason we celebrate the baby born that night is that 30 some years later he died an ugly death and three days later, God raised him from the tomb.
After the service he was confronted by a visitor unknown to him. She complained loudly that he had ruined her Christmas, just ruined it. “I have children and grandchildren visiting from all over the country, I have spent the whole month preparing for this weekend, decorating, cooking, etc. Though we are not of your tradition, we came to the Lutheran Church because you all are so theatrical, and sing so beautifully, and put on the best show Christmas worship in town. But then you ruined everything with all that negativity in the sermon.” All the supervisor could think of to say was, “Well, I’m sorry the truth hurts.”
I told you that story to warn you—I might be about to ruin your Easter. If you came to church today just to add a little religious icing to an Easter of bright new clothes, baskets full of candy, brightly colored Easter eggs, and stories of baby chicks and cute bunnies—well watch out. As with Christmas, the only reason we celebrate Easter is that on Good Friday a horrible thing happened to a very good man who was our Savior and Redeemer; a bad thing which God gloriously reversed on Easter morning.
Let’s review our texts for today, which any could be chosen to go with.
Jeremiah proclaims God’s message: “I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.” What a great opportunity to say, “Now let me tell you how God has done that!”
In the Acts reading, Peter gives a great example of a simple, straightforward message summarizing the Easter message.
Matthew’s Gospel outlines the basic, moving story of a discouraged and disheveled group of followers coming to a tomb hoping for some kind of hope. And that is what they find!
There is no real “proof” offered by way of actually seeing Jesus come forth from the tomb, but there is the reassuring presence of Christ for those who move forward in faith. This resurrected Jesus comes to his disciples where they are, however they are; wracked with grief, confused by the day’s appearances (or according to the disciples was rumors by the women), called to move on and head back home to Galilee. Jesus promises to be there, and it is in moving ahead that we meet him.
We live in a world of horrible things. Less than two weeks ago a troubled young person walked into Covenant School in Nashville, TN and opened fire, killing six people before being killed by the police. Over the last few weeks, tornadoes have swept across the south, devastating whole communities and taking over thirty lives. Our political lives are in a shambles as the American people stand on opposite sides of a seemingly unbridgeable divide, screaming at one another while claiming God’s favor on our side and God’s condemnation on yours. “They put him to death on a tree, but God raised him.” Those words, but God, are the church’s only true answer to the death, destruction, and despair the world has for us.
Trying to reason our way through grief and loss, trying to make sense of the senseless, trying to convince a world gone crazy with the desire for more of everything and anything that desire is deadly of both body and soul; these things are, at the end of the day, pointless. There is no reason which can relieve our grief, there is no sense to be made of the raging evil we see around us, there is no way to divert the addicted from seeking their fix. The only answer we have to offer to these things, which the church has traditionally summed up as “Sin, Death and the Devil,” is these two words, but God!
Beginning with Adam and Eve and the Apple: the Devil tempts people, Sin & Death ensues, and God intervenes with another chance. This story is the golden thread running through the Bible; this story of God’s redeeming and forgiving love, this story of God’s willingness to act in response to the world’s evil, this story summed up in the words; but God.
Today we celebrate the ultimate but God moment, the raising of Jesus from the tomb. It is both the proof and the promise of our faith. It reminds us of what God has done in the past while promising to us what God will do in the future. With both Jesus and the world, the evil trilogy of Sin, Death and the Devil did their best to do their worst. Good Friday appeared to be a complete victory for those forces of destruction which assail all of us,
Evil reared its ugly head and roared; and the Good stood by idly and did nothing. When Mary went to the tomb, she went in deep sadness and despair, she went into a place of coldness and death, she went to a place with no happiness and no hope, she went to prepare a body for burial, she went to put Jesus in his grave. But when she got there, she discovered that things had changed, the tomb was empty, the body was missing, and angels were lurking about. Mary had come upon the greatest but God moment of them all.
Perhaps the biggest question Matthew’s resurrection account asks is how we will live as Easter people? How do we live as faithful stewards of the most miraculous event ever to take place? How do we faithfully live into the power of the resurrection? Living as Easter people means recognizing we cannot control God or predict how God will act. No matter how much death and destruction we see at work in our lives and in the world around us, life will always have the final word. Following the resurrected Jesus into the world means holding on to hope.
Our lives are full of difficulty. Natural disaster strikes, friends die, relatives get sick, jobs don’t pan out, politicians and teachers and yes, even preachers, turn out to be less than they seem or should be. All of life is subject to the painful realities of decline and decay. But Easter reminds us that the Church has an answer and that answer is God; God’s love, God’s forgiveness, God’s power, God’s calling, God’s actions in the world. Easter is more than a promise of life beyond the grave, of happiness in heaven with our loved ones. Easter is a promise that life is good now, that God’s power is active in this moment, in this place, in our lives. Easter tells us that our eternal life begins now and goes with us through death into God’s future. Easter tells us that whatever may happen to us in this world there is an answer, and the answer is but God.
The world says; “Seek success and glory and material well-being above all else.” But God says; “Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven and all these things shall be added unto you.”
The world says; It’s a dog eat dog world, it’s a rat race. It’s every person for themselves. But God says; “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
The world says, “Find your self, your bliss. Do that thing which makes you feel most fulfilled.” But God says; You shall love the LORD your God, with all your heart, mind and soul; and the second is just like it; love your neighbor as yourself.”
The world’s way leads to the death of the soul and eventually the death of the body, with no hope for tomorrow and no joy for today.
But God’s way leads first to death and then to life; life both now and forever; life full of the joy of loving and serving God and neighbor with reckless abandon and total trust in God’s will and way.
The Easter story is not just one about Jesus’s resurrection, but about how all of creation has limitless dignity and possibility as fearmongers and death itself are shown to be false idols.Easter is a total reversal of every norm that this world tries to push on us, further showing that God’s work in this world is one of reversing power structures, rolling the stones of fear and death and oppression away so that everyone can truly and fully live.
And that, my friends, is some good news for an Easter Sunday. That is why we are so full of joy as we cry out today:
Christ is risen! CHRIST IS RISEN INDEED!