Resurrection is not as tame as Easter eggs might imply. Easter sets the earth to quaking, guards to shaking, and women to evangelizing.
The text for today from Matthew’s Gospel, begins with a journey undertaken. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary go to the tomb of Jesus.
What they see sets them on a journey entirely new in history. Even with Easter’s awesome surprise, they do not linger at the tomb. They run.
Along the way, they stop for one extraordinary moment to worship at the feet of the Crucified One now living. “Go and tell my brothers,” Jesus commissions them. Then, off they go.
The women witness not only to the joy of Christ’s raising, but also the assurance of Christ’s forgiving. They tell the deserters that Christ still chooses to call them brothers.
Resurrection, like crucifixion, summons forces and images of creation. An earthquake shakes the land. An angel, likened to the appearance of lightning, descends from heaven.
Life and death will never be the same.
For something so talked about, predicted, and explained, the resurrection of Jesus was a surprise to everyone. Some of you today may also be thinking that.
You may be thinking, “this coming back to life stuff is news to me”, or “I cant really get a grip on it”, or “takes a great leap of faith to believe in the resurrection”.
Well that’s fine, it is hard to understand, it does require faith and all we are ever asked, is to simply trust, to trust that what God has spoken about in the Bible is true.
Today is Easter Sunday, or Resurrection Sunday. This is the day that the church celebrates that Jesus of Nazareth, who was killed on Friday, has been raised from the dead.
The Greek word for resurrection means to stand up or rise up again. Resurrection Sunday is therefore a day for us also to stand up and celebrate life, risen life, new life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Resurrection Sunday would have to be the day of the Christian faith. But not everyone gets excited about it.
For as long as I can remember I have known about the resurrection story. I have grown up with it, heard it, sung about it, listened to sermons about it and even preached on it myself a few times. It doesn’t surprise me, I know the story, I know the ending, or the beginning if you like. It doesn’t surprise me, but it doesn’t stop exciting me!
But for many Easter Sunday is a surprise. It certainly was for the disciples and the women of Jesus day. It certainly was for the writer of the gospel of Mark who ends the gospel with no resurrection appearance story but says about the women…’and they ran from the tomb and told no one, for they were afraid. – That is the ending of the earliest Gospel of Mark!
Those who venture to the tomb, women and men are surprised at what they see, or more accurately what they don’t see.
The women, particularly had no idea that what Jesus had said previously would be true. They, or she (depends on which gospel you read as to how many women actually go), didn’t go to wait for the resurrection to happen (with videos and iphones), but rather to anoint or prepare a dead body. That is why the women go to the tomb.
In Matthew, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary simply go to have a look. Mark has MM, Mary mother of James, and Salome go to anoint the body. Luke has simply ‘the women’ taking spices, and John’s gospel has the solitary Mary going to the tomb.
What did they see? The stories vary but common to all was that Jesus was not there. The tomb was empty of Jesus and that is what evoked faith (or scared them silly.)
Within the Easter Sunday story there is an emphasis on seeing.
The resurrection is about seeing the empty tomb, the clothes, and even Jesus himself. The people of that first Easter witnessed, they saw, they touched, they talked, they believed.
But not us! That’s all gone, covered up by 2000 years of sand, time, tradition, memory and legend.
We have never been able to see what the people of that day saw. But thank God for Thomas, also known as Doubting Thomas, because he is the one with whom many of us identify. Its hard believing because we have not seen.
Thomas, however, when he sees, does believe. But then there is that line, those comforting reassuring words of Jesus, words spoken for us, John 20:29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” That is faith!
Jürgen Moltmann says in his book The Crucified God (173) “The resurrection of Jesus from the dead by God does not speak the ‘language of facts’ but only the language of faith and hope, that is the ‘language of promise”. The literary evidence for the resurrection is strong, yet it still requires faith.
The gospels mention it, Peter declares it, Paul expounds on it. The disciples and Apostles and the early church stake their lives on it.
Would grown women and men, in the face of certain death, be silly enough to stand up and confess faith if they didn’t absolutely believe it, if they were not convinced?, if they had no faith?
Would the church face persecution if there was no faith, faith that says because of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead, I have hope, hope now and hope to come, hope that whatever is before me is not the final end.
This is CELEBRATION!!! This is what gave Handel the passion to compose the Halleluiah Chorus. Or Mozart – the Sparrow Mass
This is what sets the church apart from any social club, that Jesus is RISEN, he is risen indeed.
This is the one day we make no apology for being excited. If we were allowed to be happy, noisy, excited, exuberant, over the top, then TODAY is that day.
This day makes every other day dull in comparison. This day makes the Christian faith real. We are here because of this day.
We can keep it ‘out there’, at arm’s length, or in the intellectual grey matter up here. If we do that, then the resurrection will remain just a distant part of us.
Yet, we don’t trust our vision, we don’t rely on our knowledge, for the resurrection is not complete until the real presence of the risen Christ is felt, – is taken on, and is experienced, in here, by faith, and we allow Christ to meet us personally and call our name, as he did for Mary, as he does for us.
Christ is risen . . . .
Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology, SCM Press, London, 1974 p173.