Easter Sunday, April 20th, 2014 – Sermon on Matthew 28:1-10

Matthew 28:1-10

1 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.”

On Friday night, we heard that Jesus’ body was laid in a tomb. And, according to Matthew’s version of the story, the two Marys, Mary Magdalene and Mary, Jesus’ mother, were the only ones there when the stone was rolled in front of the tomb. They were the only ones who stuck around for this graveside burial. And then the next day, the chief priests and the Pharisees were so frightened that someone would come and steal the body and then proclaim that Jesus had been raised. So Pilate told them to go and make the tomb as secure as possible. And they did. They sealed up the tomb.

The next morning, this morning, the two Marys go back to the tomb. Maybe because they just still couldn’t believe it. That their Lord and teacher really had died. We do that too. Sometimes we just need to go and stand by a grave, so as to feel a little closer to the one we’ve lost. And to let the truth of it sink in. And so that is what they were expecting that morning. A grave. But as they came to the tomb, suddenly there was an earthquake. Which is to say that the foundations of life on which they stood, were shaking and crumbling. But not just for them. For the entire world. The whole world is about to change.

And an angel of the Lord appears. Not quietly. Not sweetly. But like lightning. Loud and illuminating. His clothes were like snow. And it all was just too much for the guards, and (I love this part), they became like dead men. The two guards standing in the cemetery to protect the dead man suddenly melt and become a graveyard themselves.

And then the angel finally speaks, and its very first words are those wonderful, wonderful words. They are the words of parents to their children in the dark of night. They are the words of nurses into the ears of surgical patients. They are the words of teachers to their students on concert night. Do not be afraid. Such loving words.

“Do not be afraid;” the angel says, “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.”

And it says that right then, the two Marys did just that. They left the tomb. It says they left with great joy. But also with fear. You would think that if an angel of the Lord tells you to not be afraid, you would believe it.

But they still went away afraid. And that’s what I can’t seem to let go of this Easter season. The fear. I mean, we, the church, have got the joy of Easter down. Trumpets. Easter dresses. Easter lilies. Easter breakfasts. Many of you I know have big plans with your family today. Which I realize doesn’t always mean great joy, but the effort is there. We all know about the joy of Easter morning. We’ve done that. But what about the fear? The fear of Easter morning. If we are true to the story, how come we don’t ever practice Easter fear?

Did you know that Easter is the only church day of the year that is set by the moon? Easter always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the spring equinox.[1] I find that very peculiar, because so often Jesus is associated with the sun. The sun is the light of the world. And Jesus is the light of the world. The sun falls at night, just like Jesus’ death. But the sun rises in the morning, just like Jesus’ resurrection. That is why we have a sunrise service on Easter morning. Because the Son rises. It’s perfect for that Easter joy that the two Marys experience. But what about Easter fear. If we wanted to spend sometime with that, then we might consider a moonrise service. When you think about the fear of Easter, setting it by the moon seems like the perfect choice. First, the moon is much more frightening than the sun. The way it glows through tree branches, triggering thoughts of werewolves and spooky sounds. But also, did you know that for three whole days each month, the light of the moon is hidden from the world. Three whole days the moon does not shine. No wonder it takes three days for significant things to happen in the Bible – Jonah spent three days in the belly of the fish, Jesus spent three days in the tomb. “From the earliest times, people learned that was how long they had to wait in the dark before the sliver of the new moon appeared in the sky. For three days every month, they practiced resurrection.”[2]

So, if we really want the full Biblical experience of resurrection, we may need a little more moonrise, along with our sunrise. A little more fear, alongside our joy. Because that would be a little more honest. I mean who are we kidding? Not everything is perfect after today.

At the announcement of the resurrection, the angel tells the two women to not be afraid, but to go and tell the other disciples what has happened. And they do! With joy. But also still with fear. And isn’t that our reality too? I mean, don’t we also live lives tinged by both fear and joy. Fear of what may happen to our children in a dangerous world; joy at the blessing they are to us and, we pray, they will be to the world. Fear of whether we will have a job in the year to come; joy at the fact that we do have a job. Fear about the fate of a loved one struggling with illness; joy in the gift that person has been to us. Fear about the future amid problems both national and global; joy in the present moment surrounded by those we love.

Fear and joy. That’s our life. And so maybe today, for as joyful as it is, it’s not going to calm all of our fears. After all of the celebrations are over this day, most of us come crashing back down to earth, with our nose back to the grind. Our homes and lives still a mess. Bills to pay, loneliness to avoid, doctors appointments to make. We too, just like the two women at the tomb, leave here, after the announcement of the resurrection, with a mixture of both joy and fear.

But did you notice what happened next in the story? In the midst of both joy and fear, the women come face to face with the risen Christ. Maybe the best part of the story is the risen Christ shows up, when they were joyful and still afraid.

And so it is with us. Maybe the great news of the resurrection is that we will continue to encounter the risen Christ, God incarnate in the world, after we leave here today. In the midst of our beautiful and messed up lives. And maybe that will give us the courage, just like it did the two women, to keep the faith and to keep on keeping on even in the midst of our fears. To keep doing our duty and sharing the good news in spite of our anxieties. This is the very definition of courage. And courage is precisely what Easter is about. “For while some preach that coming to faith in Christ should smooth all the rough places of life and still the tremors of this world, I believe that the gospel gives us the ability to keep our feet steady even when the ground beneath us is shaking. And it enables us not just to persevere but even to flourish when life is difficult.”

“’Do not be afraid.’ These lovely, lovely words — repeated by Jesus when he encounters the women — gives us insight into the very nature of our lives in this world. For there is, indeed, much to fear in our mortal lives. And yet the resurrection of Christ creates the possibility for joy and hope and courage and so much more. Why? Because it changes everything. In the resurrection, you see, we have God’s promise that life is stronger than death, that love is greater than hate, that mercy overcomes judgment, and that all the sufferings and difficulties of this life are temporary — real and palpable and sometimes painful, for sure, but they do not have the last word and do not represent the final reality. Fear and joy, despair and hope, doubt and faith, these are the two sides of our lives in this world. But in the end we have heard the resurrection promise that joy, hope, and faith will ultimately prevail.” [3] May it be so. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

[1] Barbara Brown Taylor, Home By Another Way, p. 109.

[2] Barbara Brown Taylor, Learning to Walk in the Dark, p. 108.

[3] David Lose, http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3174

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