Written by Pastor Ed
Restore us, O God! We live.
April 16, 2017 – Easter
Matthew 28: 1-10
It should be easy, right? After all Easter is the high point of the church year, the crowning event of the Christian calendar and the center of the good news. So why is it that so many commentators remark that Easter is one of the hardest Sundays to preach on? Perhaps it is because we presume that everybody already knows the story. Or perhaps it’s because it’s not easy to explain, but then again why should you need to explain?
It is true that after preaching on some 30 Easters one begins to wonder how to bring something new to a sermon, but maybe that’s the point – this is not anything new. It’s the old, old story that the hymn talks about. And it is a story, like the Christmas story, that simply needs to be told rather than explained. And in Matthew’s account, it is really the telling that seems to be the most important.
“Go and tell” is the phrase repeated most often in this short account, along with several more occurrences of either “tell” or “message.” The women are urged by the angel to “go quickly and tell his disciples.” Then we are told that the women “ran to tell” and finally when Jesus meets them on the road he too urges them to “go and tell” the disciples, again that they should go to Galilee to meet Jesus there. Furthermore, the initial message is given by an angel, a messenger from God, who explicitly tells them that this is a message they are to pass on.
None of the Gospel writers try to explain the resurrection, and even Paul who interprets much of the early church theology simply argues from the fact of the resurrection rather than trying to explain it. The closest he comes is in I Corinthians when he tries to logically argue for belief in the resurrection.
Matthew’s account comes closest to actually describing what happened, but all of the accounts are quite short and matter of fact. Matthew is the only one who describes an earthquake as the angel rolled the stone away, and also has guards present as witnesses as well. He has an interesting little irony in that the guards “became like dead men” while the dead actually came alive.
Matthew wants to make it clear that this was a momentous occasion, just a Good Friday was. At both Jesus’ death as well as resurrection, Matthew records that the earth shook. Now I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced an earthquake, I’ve only felt very minor ones, but even minor ones you remember. And in the Bible earthquakes signify something particularly important. And these earthquakes are no exception. Whether the earthquake was because of the stone being rolled away, or the cause of it rolling away is unclear, but one thing is clear; the message is important.
Now part of the message also has to be that Jesus died. As is often said, you can’t have Easter without Good Friday. Our tendency is to want to skip directly from Palm Sunday to Easter, stick with the positive, none of this death stuff. But in order to have a resurrection, there has to be a death. And the Gospel writers make it clear – Jesus died – there’s no way to sugar-coat it.
Over the centuries people have tried to say other things. Jesus was both human and spirit and only the human part died, not the spiritual part. Or, Jesus only appeared to be dead, but we know he really wasn’t. It’s the scandal of Jesus death that causes many to try and deny it. How could it be? But that is as much a part of the message as any other part. And it was not a particularly nice death. It was not peaceful, Jesus was in agony, there were bones being broken and piercings – blood and water. Jesus died and was laid to rest in a tomb, a cave, with a stone to cover the opening. It’s real, Jesus died.
It’s real, but it’s not final. “He has been raised from the dead” is the message the angel gave to the women. While you cannot have Easter without Good Friday, so you cannot have Good Friday without the Easter message, or you have a very different religion than that portrayed in the Bible. One of the issues I have with a lot of language around Jesus’ work is that it focuses primarily on the cross, caught in the phrase, “Jesus died for you.” While that’s certainly true, the truth is that if that’s all the further your theology goes, then you haven’t really heard the message of the angel!
All the creeds of the church affirm not only that Christ died, but also that he rose again from the dead. If all it took was Jesus dying, then there would be no need of Easter. But for God to raise Jesus from the dead means a vindication not only of who Jesus was but also of what Jesus did and taught. As we noted in the early Christian hymn of Philippians 2 last week, it was because Jesus was obedient, even to death, that God exalted him. That means we need to pay attention to what Jesus said and did throughout his life, not just the events we remember this week. That too becomes part of the message.
While Matthew doesn’t give us the scene where the women relay their message to the disciples, we presume it must have happened because just a few verses later Matthew records that “the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.” As Rolf Jacobson says in his commentary,
“Thus, Matthew’s resurrection narrative is about the first announcement in what was to become a continuous chain of announcements, with one messenger repeating the message to the next, down through the ages that, ‘He has been raised from the dead.’”
That it was Galilee where the disciples went to meet Jesus is also significant, for Galilee was the hinterland of the day – “the sticks”, not where you boasted that you were from kind of place. Jesus didn’t show up immediately in Jerusalem, but rather among the ordinary people, in ordinary places. And the message needed to be carried wherever Jesus was going to meet them.
The message that has been passed down is the central message of our faith – “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” It is the message that has been repeated and must continue to be repeated. It is what gives us hope for the future, hope in the face of death, and incentive to follow in the path of Jesus, obeying his words in our lives, even in the face of death.
And it is the message that Paul calls to mind as he encourages the church at Colossae. If you have been raised with Christ, then set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. Don’t dwell on death, but rather on new life, resurrected life. For Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, and we too shall be raised at the last day. Hallelujah.
Please join me in a Confession of Faith as it is projected:
Confession of faith (based on STS 179)
Leader: O living God, who raised Jesus from the dead
we shout your great victory;
we sing hymns of praise!
People: Even when our hearts are heavy
and our eyes are dimmed by sorrow,
you are faithful.
You wipe away all tears
and bring joy in the morning.
Leader: Teach us, O God, to trust your gracious love,
to rest in your unfailing goodness,
to hope in your true promise,
that we may rejoice all our days
and share the good news:
All: Alleluia! Amen!
Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!