Text: Matthew 28: 1-10
By: David D. McDonald
April 12, 2020
NRSV Isaiah 25:6-9
6 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
7 And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
8 he will swallow up death for ever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
9 It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
NRSV Matt. 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."
In last week’s sermon we left Jesus, the disciples, and the multitude of pilgrims heading to Jerusalem for Passover. The city was in chaos as Jesus rode his beast of burden into it on that first Palm Sunday. The city was described in the scriptures as being in turmoil. The Greek word translated by the N.R.S.V. for the English word turmoil is related to words those such as seismic, seismology, and so forth. If the procession of the crowd into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday is understood as the warning tremors of upheaval, then it is not surprising to find a full blown earthquake on Easter morning. We are not told if the earthquake released the angel from the bowels of the earth for his appointed purpose, or if the angel whose appearance was like lightening struck the stone with such force that it created earthquake like tremors, or even if the angel plopping down on the earth from the heights of heaven created the great tremor. In fact, the scriptures are rather reserved about the whole matter. The angel appears and his words are clear and straight to the point:
- Do not be afraid.
- He is not here.
- Come and See.
- Go and tell.
Our world has been shaken by the new Coronavirus. Some 182 countries have been affected. The United States like many countries has told their citizens to stay home and maintain a 6 foot distance between others. Global economies have been shaken. This Easter is different then any other I can remember.
When Jesus meets Mary Magdalene and the other Mary he says, “Greetings!” It was a common salutation that could be translated, “Rejoice!” or “Glad tidings!” as Paul greets readers in his letter to the Philippians. Notice that in Matthew the “Good News” is first spoken to two women, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, who arrived at the tomb. It is odd that Matthew mentions Mary Magdalene, but identifies the other woman as only “the other Mary.” We do not know if this other Mary is Mary the mother of Jesus or another Mary that surely a disciple would have known. For the Gospel writer that does not seem important. What is important is that they are the first to know and they have a most important mission – to carry a message to the other disciples. Matthew’s Gospel is careful to point out that the Gospel is for all people. The history of Israel , and its prophetic literature demonstrate that God is at work among the least of the world for the good of the world. Something as important as salvation is not reserved for a few. Barbara Brown Taylor in a recent article she wrote entitled, "Easter Preaching and the Lost Language of Salvation," says:
“Whatever we believe about what happened on Friday afternoon, the story of salvation is not complete until Sunday morning. The memory of the cross is transformed by the discovery of the empty tomb. The stink of death is contradicted by the fresh smell of a new morning, as Jesus' friends stumble upon a kind of life they have not known before so boundless, so wholly unexpected-that it permanently, arranges their previous understanding of reality. In the presence of the risen Christ, they understand that there is no wreckage so total that God cannot Redeem. There is no cause so lost that God cannot breathe new life into it.”
This year, we are living with some intransigent problems:
· Terrorism continues to rear its ugly head. All sorts of rumors and incidents keep us from becoming complacent.
· Gasoline prices continue to fluctuate.
· Public utilities continue to be vulnerable and subject to human error.
· Earthquakes and Tsunamis continue to occur and we have become aware of how quickly planning and engineering can be wrecked.
· Airline and ferry accidents continue to plague the nations of the world.
· Now we have a novel virus to add to the list and we are not sure when it will go away.
Perhaps what we have discovered again and again is something that the scriptures have said repeatedly and that is there is no hope save in God, and no security except in His presence.
All the work of our hands is in many ways a striving after wind. Or as the Song of Solomon, states, “All is vanity…a striving after wind.”
We continue to get side tracked spiritually. Consider this question which a preacher was purportedly asked by an aged member of his congregation, “Once you are in heaven, do you get stuck with the clothes you are buried in?” (Atwood, p. 80)
Of all the things that might occupy a person nearing the end of their days on earth, can you imagine such a preoccupation with attire? When Jesus was resurrected from the dead, he was mistaken for a gardener. He had dirt on his clothes and his hands. He had the sweat and blood of a man at work at work in a dangerous job. Indeed, he had been about the Father’s work and it cost him his life. The Father in turn gave it back to him. There was a little more to be done. Jesus was on a trip to the upper room!
As wonderful as it is to get all cleaned up and put on beautiful fresh clothes for church, that image may have little to do with resurrection day!
A carpenter’s son from Nazareth seems an unlikely candidate to have the keys to the future. Two unprotected women seem unlikely as couriers for important instructions. Galilean fishermen seem unlikely prospects to be the Lord’s chosen evangelists. God’s purposes over the course of time have often eluded human understanding. Every once in a while one of God’s earthquakes grabs our attention. They unearth a surprise or two.
When the tornadoes wrecked havoc all over the state some years ago and some of the most extensive damage was in the Sanford community where I had served the Jonesboro Presbyterian Church, I was very distressed to learn that the home of our good friends Eddie and June Wallace had been completely destroyed. I was relieved that they had survived the storm, but not surprised. I know that they have a strong faith. Eddie knew where to go – in the cab of his heavy duty truck surrounded by a steel roll cage. Eddie, you see, is a member of the Wallace clan that has been in racing for years
Rodney, their son, was a classmate of my son. One day as he was coming home from his summer job, he had a terrible accident. One leg was completely dislocated from the hip. He had a damaged hand and sustained a concussion. He was med-flighted to UNC Chapel Hill hospitals. Over the next couple of weeks, Rodney healed and grew stronger. After he returned home, I went by one day to visit. His mother saw me coming and motioned for me to come over to the shop. There was her husband, cutting torch in hand, getting rid of the mangled metal of the wreck, with the stripped frame of another car beside it. “What are you up to?” I asked Rodney’s father? “Building a race car,” Eddie replied. That made sense, the Wallace family knows racing. “Lord knows accidents happen. No sense wasting what we got,” he continued. He was on a mission to take wreckage and make something new. That’s something like what happened on Easter morning.
The Lord could have just melted down the earth, when it fell into sin. Instead, he chose to save it. In spite of all the hatred, the brokenness, all the helplessness of those swallowed in catastrophes; God resolved to recycle and save what he could. I rather like the image of mangled scrap turned into a race car. Not all of us can do that. It’s all a matter of who’s eyes and hands are doing the job.
Surely, Easter is about the element of God’s surprising presence. None of the words we read can seem to give us an adequate description of a force that rolled a tombstone away. Nor can we adequately imagine an angel whose appearance was “like lightening.” Even more surprising is the realization that the tomb was empty. In spite of guards standing right next to it, the body of Jesus was gone. Easter forces us to consider the issue of God’s creative, redemptive, saving power. Miracles are rather tough things to grasp for most of us. We know things happen for which we have no explanation, but that does not mean there isn’t one. The fact that miracles may happen at all leads us to wonder why miracles happen to some and not to all. Generally speaking, we seem to contemplate miracles more when we need one then at other times. I am particularly fond of the way Frederick Buechner addresses the topic of miracles:
A cancer inexplicably cured. A voice in a dream. A statue that weeps. A Miracle is an event that strengthens faith, It is possible to look at most miracles and find a rational explanation in terms of natural cause and effect. It is possible to look at Rembrandt’s Supper at Emmaus and find a rational explanation in terms of paint and canvas.
Faith in God is less apt to proceed from miracles than miracles from Faith in God. (Wishful Thinking, p. 63.)
What is striking about the Easter event is Christ’s great faith in the will and purpose of the Father’s plan.
· Jesus could have called on the heavenly legions to make short work of Pilate his legionnaires and the Sanhedrin, but that was not God’s way.
· Jesus could have simply disappeared in the crowds at dark Gethsemane, as he had done on other occasions, but at this chosen time he elected to meet his accusers.
· Jesus could have persuasively called upon the nation to revolt and as in the days of the conquest of the Promised Land, the Lord’s army would fight with them and prevail but that was not God’s way.
None of those things happened. The Earth shook instead. Who could have anticipated that though Christ was crucified he returned to love the world as He had always loved it. He refused to give up on sinful human nature. The great miracle of Easter is God’s refusal to let evil seize the day and have its way.
Easter morning is full of joy because it means that the world is not empty of God’s presence, but just as full as it ever was. None of the evil of the days before tarnished the glory of Jesus. His light shone among us even more brightly then the day before. Disciples emerge shaken, but not faithless!
Easter is timeless for all eternity because it is more about a gracious and loving God then it is about hateful and sinful men and women. It is more about God’s constant love then about the betrayal of Judas or the denials of Peter. Easter is more about the instructions of Jesus to meet in Galilee then it is about apostles who grew impatient and went fishing rather then wait in the upper room. Easter is about a God who fixes breakfast on the beach for his disciples when they are wearied from exertion. Easter is more about Christ coming to the disciples across the water then it is about Peter’s sinking into the sea. We can doubt the objectivity of grief-stricken women and disciples. We can generate al kinds of intriguing hypotheses as to how a man who appears dead to everyone comes to life and exits a tomb. We can laugh at some of the quirky explanations that children use to explain the resurrection – like the one a Presbyterian Pastor’s son gave. According to Pat McGeachy, (Cited by Atwood, p.82):
Pat McGeachy's son was experiencing the triumph of the resurrection as he sang his own version of a great Easter hymn. "Up from the grave he arose—with a mighty puff of his toes."—Pat McGeachy.
After all, it is about what God did in Jesus Christ, not what we see.
In sum, the resurrection is a demonstration of God’s great love for the world and not a series of stories about men and women of little faith. Goodness knows we have more then enough examples of selfish greed, inordinate anxiety for tomorrow, self-righteousness, jealousy, envy, strife, anger and hatred in our own lives; little do we doubt that they exist in the lives of others. What the Resurrection demands is nothing less then a major shift in the direction of our vision. It calls upon us to see in Jesus the model of faithful living. It demands that we set aside the cares of the day and let the Spirit enter our lives. It calls upon us to envision a world where as the Gospel of John says so well:
16“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
As we gather while at home this Sunday, we affirm that the power of God was not exhausted at the resurrection, but that more then enough remains to supply the demands of grace. Out of the chaos of an Earthquake-the grace of God flowed. The broken body and the shed blood ultimately could not be contained in the grave. Thanks be to God!
We have a hope that things will be alright after the virus does its worse. Ultimately, our hope and our home are with God. The scriptures promise that one day Christ will gather the saints who have died and the saints still alive and introduce us all to the wonders His hands have created.
May the Lord continue to bless you this day and always. Amen!