Sunday, April 16th, 2017 – An Easter Sermon on Matthew 28:1-10

Audio will be posted shortly.

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.”

People of God, if you hear nothing else today, hear this and let it sink into your body – grace, peace, and mercy are yours from the risen and living Christ. Amen.

Will you please pray with me. Spirit of the Risen Christ, break through the tombs of our hearts and free us from fear. Resurrect our hope and enliven our love for one another. Raise up within each of us here the desire to be your faithful family forever. Amen.

 Well, it wouldn’t be Easter if we didn’t do this ancient tradition –so let’s go for it.

I’ll say, “Alleluia, Christ is risen!” You respond – “Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!”

Alleluia, Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

On Thursday this week – this community gathered together here for worship. We felt the weight of hands upon our heads as forgiveness was proclaimed for each of us. We witnessed Jesus’ humble love for his disciples as we heard the story of him kneeling down and washing their feet and giving them a new commandment – to love one another as he has loved them. And then knelt down as we took into our bodies the grace and love of God through the body and blood of Christ, the bread and wine of communion.

On Friday, this community gathered here again. And we sat in the darkness of Good Friday together. We listened with our ears and sang with our lungs the story of God’s death, as Jesus’ was betrayed by friends, beaten by enemies, and broken by a cross and buried in a tomb. All the while, Jesus pouring out his love for his friends and entrusting us to each other and making us into a new human family.

They were beautiful and meaningful services– some of my favorite of the entire year, actually.

But here’s the thing – if it weren’t for this story – the story of the Resurrection – proclaimed last night at the Easter Vigil and this morning – if it wasn’t for this story – I don’t know that we would still have those stories. Would they have stood the test of time? Who knows.

Which is to say that today is the linchpin of what was started on Thursday. So thank you for being here to help us proclaim this part of the story. So know that you being here today, regardless of whether you have been with us these past three days or whether you’ve haven’t darkened the door of a church since last Easter – today connects you to those stories too. The forgiveness of God is for you too. The new commandment to love one another as we have been loved is still for you. And the love poured on the cross is for you. And that the new family of God includes you too.

So, today’s story is the story. The one that stitches all of us and these stories together. But it doesn’t stitch them up, like a nice closed seam as if this is the end of the story of God. No, today’s story breaks everything open as if it is just the beginning of the story of God.

Out of all of the Gospel’s stories, Matthew’s version of the resurrection that you just heard is the most dramatic.

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (I’m not sure how she feels about that title for the rest of eternity – the other Mary) go to the tomb where Jesus was buried. And suddenly there was a great earthquake. It is the only story of the resurrection to include such a thing. Which is Matthew’s way of saying that what’s about to happen will change the entire world. The foundations of the earth will be shaken and broken. The fault lines of history are beginning to shift.

Along with an earthquake, there is an angel appearing like lightning and sealed tombs being ripped open and soldiers falling from fear and becoming like dead men.

And let’s pause and recognize that it’s the soldiers, who are brought to their knees. Armor and weapons and flexed muscles will never hide or protect us from our fear, folks.

And then the angel appears to the two Mary’s and gives them a message. First, do not be afraid. Second, I know you are looking for Jesus, but he is not here; he has been raised. Come and see. And then thirdly, Go and tell. Tell the disciples he has been raised from the dead, and indeed his is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.

That’s the message – Do not be afraid. He is risen. Go and tell. And so they do. They run in fact to go and tell. And then along the road, Jesus jumps out suddenly from behind a tree or something, he greets them and then he sort of repeats the message – “Do not be afraid. Now, go and tell my brothers to go Galilee; there they will see me.”

There you go, that’s the story of Easter according to Matthew. And I’m left wondering a…why do the angel and Jesus make the women the messengers who carry this earth shattering news that Christ is risen?

Haven’t they done enough?

I mean they are the ones who stayed at the tomb, grieving that first night, until who knows how late. They are the ones who got up early to come to the tomb to grieve some more. Meanwhile, Jesus has had three days of eternal rest going for him.

Please tell me that Jesus is different than the stereotypical male, who tells the women to do his work for him. Or was his resurrection life schedule just as busy and booked as ours that he only had time for a quick hello, but he’d catch up with them later? They’d grab coffee when things slowed down a bit.

But really, maybe the greater question is – why put this earth shaking, world shifting news that Christ is risen, that death is dead and hope is alive, into the hands of just two grief-stricken women.

I mean, we ensure the proper delivery of the Oscar’s Best Picture winners better than that. At least, now we do.

But Jesus leaves this news upon which the entire world shifts up to just two women who are both overwhelmed with fear and joy?

Don’t you think the Son of God and the heavenly chorus would make better and more trustworthy candidates for the proper delivery of such critical good news?

No. Of course not. Because the earth does not shake, and the world does not shift when the powerful remain powerful and the powerless remain powerless.

You see, the testimony of women would not have been trustworthy in Jesus’ day. So what does Jesus do – he gives them message that changes the world. He gives the powerless the most powerful message and tells them to proclaim it! As an embodied sign of the resurrection – that the kingdom of heaven is here and the world will never be the same.

And did you notice that Jesus changed the message. The angel told them to go and tell his disciples. Jesus said, “Go and tell my brothers.

You remember the disciples  – the ones who when the moment of truth came they bailed. Abandoning and denying Jesus while he hung on the cross. Those disciples. What does our world do to abandoners and betrayers? Well, in our country, we throw them in solitary confinement to rot for months on end. You abandon, you betray us, we will give the ultimate form of abandonment – total isolation.

But Jesus – he calls them brothers.

In the light of the Resurrection, Jesus trusts the ones who are said to be untrustworthy. He claims as family the ones who had denied him as family. The kingdom of Heaven is here and the world will never be the same.

As Preacher William Sloan Coffin has said, what we proclaim today is not just about “one man’s escape from the grave, but the cosmic victory  of seemingly powerless love over loveless power.”[1] And that will makes the ground beneath our feet (and our knees for that matter) quake.

And now we are the ones who get to proclaim that good news. And listen to how we proclaim this gospel news:

Alleluia, Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

 Think about what we are saying there. How is Christ risen? Christ is risen indeed.

Think about that word – indeed. Break it open like the tomb. Christ is risen in deed.

In meaning…in. Deed meaning…action.

Jesus doesn’t say, “Hey! I’m alive. So, you know, it’s all good. Carry on.” No, he says, “Go and tell everyone, I’ll meet them in Galilee. There they will see me.”

What could he mean by that? Why Galilee? Well, Galilee is back where it all began. Back where Jesus found the disciples living out their everyday lives. Jesus says, “Go, I’ll meet you back in Galilee. I’ll meet you back in your ordinary lives! And together we will live life differently.” Living life trusting that death has died – it has no power over us and we need not be afraid. Trusting that if death has died, then the means of death are gone too – guilt, shame, exclusion, fear, worthlessness. They are dead too.

This good news -we proclaim it with our bodies. In deed. Not to make it true, but to show that we trust that already is true.

Theologian Peter Rollins was once asked if he denied the resurrection. And he said this, “Okay, this is the time to fess up. Yes, of course, I do. Everyone who knows me knows I deny the resurrection. I do deny the resurrection…every time I do not serve my neighbor. Every time I walk away from people who are poor. I deny the resurrection every time I participate in an unjust system.

And I affirm the resurrection every now and again – when I stand up for those who are on their knees. When I cry out for people (who have been silenced.). Every time I weep for those who have no more tears to shed.”

We proclaimed the resurrection with our bodies, Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed.

Now here is what I know to be true. The world does not stop for Easter. Our beloved ones still died this past week. Our country still dropped the biggest non-nuclear bomb this week. Arkansas is trying to increase its rate of executions this week because it’s lethal drug is about to expire. We’d rather see a life expire than a drug expire.

The world does not stop for Easter. I know that some of you go home to a tense dinner table, or to the never-ending job search, or to illness or addiction, or to loneliness.

But here is what I also know is true – Easter will not stop for the world. All of those things will not stop the undying love of Christ from breaking out of the tombs we bury it in and coming to you and through you for the sake of the kingdom of Heaven. Which is here. Now.

So when you leave here –make sure you get some egg bake. Because it is a good deed. It helps send our kids to camp and mission trips.

But also leave knowing that the ground beneath your feet is shifting and moving. Tilting its way towards grace and hope.[2] May that give you good courage to face what’s ahead of you with Easter hope. Trusting that the tomb is empty. Christ is alive. Indeed.

For as we will sing is just a moment – The strife is over, the battle is done. You are freed in love to go and love freely. The Christian faith proclaims that we are the body of Christ now. Which means today is our resurrection day too.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] William Sloan Coffin, “Our Resurrection, Too”, The Collected Sermons of William Sloan Coffin, Vol. 1, pg. 67.

[2] Tom Long, Matthew, pg. 322.

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