MATTHEW 28:1-10

Do you remember what you were doing about this time three years ago? I do! We were all at home trying to figure out how to live with a pandemic. The sanctuary was empty on that Easter Sunday in 2020 and our worship was only on line. Do you remember that?  I looked back at the sermon from that Sunday and was reminded of a few things. I was reminded that we were lamenting the things we had lost – so many lives lost to the coronavirus, so many freedoms curtailed, so many things being shut down – we couldn’t meet together, or hug each other, or be with family, there was no Easter Breakfast or Sunrise service. We weren’t certain of what would happen next or how long we would all be isolated. It was a time of great uncertainty, a time in which we felt powerless against many things. Yet, there was something else happening underneath the surface of all the things we had lost – resurrection – not into things exactly as they had been but something new shaped by the shared experience of loss. In April of that year, we had just started our food ministry in earnest. By Easter we had served 310 meals and given out 180 bags of groceries. To us this seemed huge. In contrast to this year – three short years later where so far this year we have served over 8,000 meals and given out over 1,600 bags of groceries. That is an example of resurrection power, God’s power to inspire hope and to bring restoration even when things seem hopeless. When things seem to be ended, God sees a new beginning and when the world says, “No!” God says “Yes!” The resurrection of Jesus Christ is God’s resounding “Yes!” to redemption, to wholeness, to Life!

During the pandemic and especially during that initial, isolating period, when our lives slowed way down, many people began to notice the beauty of the world around them – some took up activities such as hiking and enjoying creation. Connections with family became more precious. We took some time in that fallow period to really look around, to really examine how such a difficult and horrible time could be redeemed. This is how resurrection happens. One thing ends and a new thing begins. Something dies and is returned to a brand-new life. But if you think back to that time three years ago, it didn’t feel that way, it only felt like the ending part.

My friends, today we celebrate the Easter resurrection of Jesus, who lives and reigns forever, no longer as a rabbi walking the dusty streets of Galilee but as Lord of all; Savior of all. Without Easter, we would probably not even know about Jesus. If his story had ended with the crucifixion, he most likely would have been forgotten along with the thousands of others who were crucified during that brutal time in history.[1] Jesus’ resurrection changed everything, for all time. His resurrection makes a way for us and assures us that we have a hope and a future in him.

But the ending part happens first, the uncertainty, the disbelief, the dying, the loss, the tomb.

 For everyone involved, the events of the previous few days were horrific by any standards. Death, especially one so brutal as that of Jesus, is not something we are ever adequately prepared to accept. It’s a shock to the system. We can only guess at the state of mind of Mary Magdalene and the other Mary as they go to see the tomb that morning. The Message says, they “came to keep vigil,” (v1). That is their expectation, nothing more. They return to the last place they had seen Jesus’ body laid. Possibly just to remember and mourn. Don’t you wonder what they must have been thinking; the questions that must have swirled around them? Why did God let this happen? How could their beloved rabbi’s death be so brutal? How would they manage without him? How could all that he had done end in this way? Hard questions as they revisit the tomb where they last saw Jesus’ lifeless body.

Since the pandemic I have witnessed many occasions on which we long to revisit the tomb of where we were; to remember and mourn. I agree that remembering is important. Grieving is important. But resurrection calls for more than just remembering – it calls for something new. The women and the disciples rapidly discover this truth as they encounter the risen Christ. And that encounter is never meant to be a return to “normal” it is meant to prepare and empower them to carry on the ministry of Jesus Christ – just as we are meant to be empowered to carry on that ministry today. Here. Now.

As the women arrive at the tomb, there is more shock and uncertainty. Matthew tells us there is an earthquake, then a sight that is alarming and terrifying. It’s an angel, so fierce and stunning in appearance that the guards, faint dead away in terror. Rolling back the stone from the tomb, this intensely luminous creature says, “Don’t be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He’s not here; he has been raised, as he said.” And he further commands them to enter the tomb and to take a look around – “come and see”. Can you picture them entering the tomb, covered in goosebumps, not wanting to have to see the body, and then discovering the tomb is empty? Again, we have to wonder what thoughts and emotions they must have had at this (point) fear? Disbelief? Confusion? A sense of unreality? Joy? Matthew tells us they left the tomb with fear and with great joy, running quickly to tell the disciples. (v. 8) As they go they suddenly encounter Jesus. Whose greeting seems so everyday, as though nothing has happened – Greetings! Or Hello! How do you think you might have reacted if you had been there? I think I would have wanted to stay there, right there in that moment. The passage says, “they worshiped him.” Neither you, nor I will have quite this same experience – but I remember vividly a time when I lost my daughter Hannah in a huge department store when she was about 4. When she was returned to me I did not want to stop hugging her, holding her close, I was so relieved. The women, I am guessing want to stay there, to bask in Jesus’ returned presence. Yet, here, in typical Jesus fashion – the women are given a commission not to stay and worship but to go and tell – “do not be afraid, go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me” (v 10). For the women, their message is no longer “Jesus, our beloved teacher has died.” Instead it is, “Jesus our Messiah lives!” And because he lives we, too may boldly “go and tell” leaving the grave behind, leaving the past behind, leaving fear behind, stepping boldly into our own mission of proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.

You know, the pandemic is behind us for the most part. But isn’t it true that these are still uncertain times, that there are still things against which we feel powerless? Things aren’t right when our school children have to live in fear of someone coming into their classroom with an assault rifle, things aren’t right when parents struggle to feed their children. Things aren’t right when seniors have to choose between paying for medication and paying for groceries. Things aren’t right when wars rage and families are torn apart. Things aren’t right when people are reviled for their gender or skin color or place in society. Things aren’t right when … you fill in the blank. And yet – resurrection happens. Almost never into the way things were, but into something new. Resurrection happens and it is God’s power to inspire hope and to bring restoration even when things seem hopeless. When things seem to be ended, God sees a new beginning and when the world says, “No!” God says “Yes!” The resurrection of Jesus Christ changes everything. The resurrection of Jesus Christ can and should change us. It should inspire us to something new, it can and should empower us and prepare us to “go and tell.”

Dr. David Lose says, “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 transient – … they do not have the last word and do not represent the final reality.”  The resurrection is God’s “Yes” to life, yes to Jesus and all he teaches us, yes to all who come to believe. For Christ is alive – he is risen indeed, and he is with us for all time. Amen.

[1] Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan. “The Last Week.” Harper One, 2006. Pg. 190.