A Sermon for 16 April 2017 – Easter Sunday
A reading from the gospel of Matthew 28:1-15. Listen for God’s word to us.
“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.” 11 While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 telling them, “You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
If you are here today, you likely have heard this story. What happens when Sabbath rest is over and the followers of a brutally crucified man go to be with his body. Few of us have experienced a week quite like theirs. Those who loved this great teacher, those who followed and took hope from all the words he spoke, those who had seen miraculous things taking place in others and in their very own bodies. Those who gathered at a festive meal just a few nights early though they did not understand it would be his last. Those who had the courage to watch what would be done to him and those who scattered in fear as soon as the guard came to Gethsemane to take him away. All of those whose hearts were crushed when the nails ripped through his flesh and at last the sword pierced his side showing all the world he was, in fact, dead. A handful of those lovers of that One cannot bear it any longer. The morning after Sabbath rest is over, they go to see the tomb.
Certainly you’ve heard the story before, though perhaps you’re not familiar with the details unique to the perspectives of the four different authors of the gospels who record the happenings as they had come to know it. It’s the gospel of John, the latest of our recorded gospels that tells of Mary Magdalene heading off to the tomb alone. Only to return with news something was amiss, which set off the apostles Peter and John in a foot race to see for themselves just what was going on. It’s the gospels of Mark and Luke that have a group of women early the morning after Sabbath, taking spices to the tomb to properly tend the broken body of their beloved Lord. Mark names the women from the start: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome; though Luke leaves out that specific detail until the end of the story when the group is named as Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women too. It’s Mark in which the women wonder together who will roll away the stone for them – as if they hadn’t laid out their anointing plan all that very well. All the gospels tell of some sort of angelic being – either one or two come to deliver an important message to the woman or women, depending on the version of the story. In Mark the women flee from the tomb and find themselves too amazed to tell anyone. In Luke, the apostles believe the women’s words to be an idle tale. John and Matthew include an appearance of the Risen Christ come to meet Mary Magdalene as it’s told in the gospel of John, and Mary Magdalene and the other Mary too as it’s told in the gospel of Matthew. And it’s Matthew alone that makes mention of an opposition party at the tomb. The guards. Stationed there at the pleading of the religious leaders; for they were worried the disciples might try something tricky like stealing away the body after three days in order to deceive everyone that he had been raised from the dead. According to Matthew chapter 27, Pilate grants the wish. Guards are stationed in the graveyard and the stone of the tomb is sealed extra tight so the living cannot get in and the dead cannot get out.
The gospel of Matthew alone is also the one that tries to explain what happens. How the earth itself shook and a mighty angel of the LORD descended to roll back the stone with ease before hopping up on it in victory to sit in all God’s glory. Supposedly it all took place right after Mary Magdalene and the other Mary arrived at the tomb – before their very eyes and those of the guard’s as well. Which leaves us wondering if it ever would have happened had not at least these two followers believed God yet could make the impossible possible. Matthew doesn’t include a mention of women and spices and the duty of an early morning anointing of a beloved one’s dead body. He simply states: “After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb” (Mt. 28:1). Could it be they believed and had to see for themselves what their Lord had been telling them all along? . . . It’s the contrast lifted up by the gospel of Matthew. As if in these characters of Mary Magdalene, Mary, and the guards of the religious leaders; we see the energies that war within us all. The parts of us that hope and the parts of us that fear. The parts of us that dry up like dead men, as the guards do in terror; and the parts of us that hold on to experience the absolutely amazing, as the women do when they nearly knock over the Risen Christ on their excited dash to deliver the incredible news. It leaves us wondering what role we have to play in God’s resurrecting work. Are we, as the gospel of Matthew seems to portray, necessary participants in the process? So that the stirrings in us that something incredible yet can take place are exactly what is needed for new life to have a shot.
A prayer simply titled Common Prayer, could be the summary of the gospel of Matthew’s telling of resurrection possibility. It goes like this: “There are only two feelings. Love and fear. There are only two languages. Love and fear. There are only two activities. Love and fear. There are only two motives, two procedures, two frameworks, two results. Love and fear. Love and fear. Love and fear” (Common Prayer, by Leunig. Quoted in books and speeches by Alan Jones).
According to the gospel of Matthew, there are two energies at the tomb that morning after Sabbath after fear had worked its mighty magic. The earthquake, the flash of some mystical messenger, the site of an empty tomb. Does it leave us shaking in fear? For if this thing which defies human logic actually could be – this Life after death thing really something within the Divine’s reach – then what does it mean for us? For our dying, even before our physical death; in order to truly Live. . . . And if this dying, even before our physical death; in order to truly Live is the Way as shown here in full in Christ; then . . . wow! We indeed have absolutely nothing to fear. . . . With the women, we’re left to fall down in worship before this One. To open wide our hearts in overflowing love; for the Way of the Living God. For there are only two feelings. Two motives. Two activities. Two results. . . . Because of Easter morning, which one will you choose?
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
© Copyright JMN – 2017 (All rights reserved.)