April 24, 2011
Matthew 28: 1-10
The agonizing story of Jesus’ arrest, vicious interrogation and brutal murder is over. Great sadness has settled on his followers, those who loved him so much that they gave up their ordinary lives to support, learn, and follow his ministry. As Joseph, the wealthy man from a town near Jerusalem gathers Jesus corpse and dresses it in expensive linen clothes, the faithful women have gathered to watch and pray. Meanwhile the religious authorities, who have finally got rid of this divisive upstart who dared to call himself God’s Anointed, are still scheming to be sure that his followers will not continue the charade he began. They get permission to seal the stone at the mouth of the tomb and post a guard to keep anyone from stealing the body. They remember that Jesus had predicted that he would come to life again after three days, and they are not going to let anyone fake that possibility.
So here we are in Matthew’s dramatic narrative. You can almost see it play out like a movie thriller. Instead of speeding trains and calamitous crashes, we have earthquakes and angels. The scene begins in the quiet dark. The women come, probably encouraging each other in the chilly morning air. Maybe some are still weeping. As they approach the earth begins to shake uncontrollably and the dark is riven with the light of a man in brilliant white descending to the stone and moving it back from the opening of the cave in the rock. Soldiers crumble in shock. The women grab each other in terror. The man speaks: “Do not be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus, but he has risen, just as he promised. He is not here. You can come and look. But I have a message for you. Go and tell his disciples that he has gone ahead of them to Galilee. You should go and meet him there.”
Matthew describes the women’s reaction as being fear and great joy. Imagine! Can you? They are on their way in a flash, running to tell the news. And they meet Jesus face-to-face on the road. Falling at his feet and touching them is a sign of great reverence offered only to kings and emperors. I can just imagine Jesus bending down to raise them up and look at them with love. “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers that I will meet them in Galilee.”
The Gospel writer not only waxes more and more dramatic as he tells this story, he introduces some new characters at the end of his long story of Jesus life and ministry. Joseph of Arimathea is the man who buries Jesus in his own new tomb. He has not been mentioned before in Matthew’s narrative. Matthew also has not mentioned much about the women who surrounded Jesus. Suddenly there is a group of them who apparently have followed him through much of his ministry and who remain with him through the scenes of his trial and death. They are at the cross and at the tomb while the rest of his disciples have fled. At a time when the testimony of women was not allowed in court, Matthew tells us that they will carry the information about Jesus’ resurrection and reappearance to the disciples who aren’t there. The soldiers will be paid to lie about what happened, and theirs would be the most credible testimony in the Roman courts.
This story is of Jesus’ death and resurrection is so shocking and implausible that people have struggled to understand it and its implications. But it is not so implausible when set in the context of the Scripture that comes before it. The Hebrew Scriptures will show us over and over again a God who dwells with his people. This is a God who forgives them and walks with them through good behavior and bad behavior. This is a God who is present with them through exile and restoration, always saving those who trust, bring life out of death time and time again. And in this story we have before us today, we see this God setting the seal on every promise ever made to God’s people. I AM the God who created the universe, who called the ancestors into the land and brought the people out of slavery. I AM the God who spoke by the prophets to wake my people up to their work in the world and to live my love and compassion for all people. I AM the God who came in person to live among you, to show you what love looks like, to heal your diseases and your hearts, and to face down evil and death. I AM the God who closed the door on the old covenant with the death of Jesus, and brought new birth in the new covenant with his resurrection.
That Jesus who we read about in this morning’s story is no longer bound by his physical body, the one which died on that fateful day. That Jesus is with us now as we gather, bringing his Spirit to fill our hearts as we remember his promise, “I AM with you always, even to the end of all ages.” Jesus resurrection is the guarantee that all the promises that God ever made to God’s people in our Scriptures are possible and true. The God who created the universe and redeemed it in Jesus’ resurrection can bringing life out of death, joy out of sorrow.
So if you came here today wondering if the life you live has some purpose or end, hear God’s YES. If you wonder if your fragile body is still important and loved, hear God’s YES. If you wonder if you are loved and forgiven even if you feel you don’t deserve it, hear God’s YES. If you came grieving, discouraged, frustrated, wondering if there is anything worthwhile in the life you live, hear God’s YES. This new life of Jesus is won for you. The earthquake of Matthew’s story is the whole earth rocking and reeling as the world is turned upside down and God lifts those who are the least to make them first in the God’s kingdom.
Jesus is alive. He is among us. He will never leave us to wander on our own, but promises to walk with us forever. His resurrection is the guarantee that with God all things are possible. Rejoice in your new life. Rejoice in your new freedom. Alleluia! Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen, Indeed! Alleluia.