An Easter sermon, 2017 - Matthew 28:1-10
I know you. I can see it in your eyes. Sitting here now. You are looking for Jesus, who was crucified, but he is not here. You are looking for a dead man, a dead Jesus, a dead Lord, but he is not here. The hopes are that he is dead. A dead Jesus means a dead Gospel. A dead Jesus means nothing of life or salvation for you found in him giving himself for you. A dead Jesus means no rising. No new creation. No hope for a future unseen. No possibility of there being anything more than this. I see it in your face now. You are looking. Looking for this corpse of a God that we laid to rest on Friday in hopes that there would be no truth behind the resurrection.
I would hate to ruin someone’s Easter, but He is risen. He is risen indeed. In those three words he shatters the bonds of darkness that confine you in your sin. He gives unto you this new life in himself, as he stands as the victor over all that might kill you. He becomes the very embodiment of what God gives to you each day – mercy, righteousness and grace.
A dead man tells no tales. A dead man cannot speak to you, to tell you of what it is that he has done for you. A dead man is just dead. No life. No breath. No movement. Just dead. That is why we search for a dead Jesus. There is no story there for you to hear. No preacher to speak to you of the life that is this risen Christ who has beaten down the old enemy, and gives to you the forgiveness of all your sin.
Death would be the end of the story. Yes, one could tell of the world in the past tense. Of what once was said. But that is something limiting. Not to mention depressing.
Imagine for the two Mary’s. Their teacher, their master, is dead. They come to the tomb, to do what? To look at it. To see if what they saw before was true. Was he really dead? Could our eyes have been deceived?
We do it too. I joke with my family that I want to be buried at sea when I die. Being from California and missing the ocean, you can understand why. But Liesl says to me – “Noooooo! I want to be able to visit you.” There is something morbid about that. A little. But I can understand. Knowing the place in which our loved one is resting gives us some comfort at least. There they are. Uncle Bob. Aunt Enid. Mom. Dad. My beloved. My child. There. Resting. Waiting. Waiting for something.
Not so fast with Jesus. The two Mary’s eyes, expecting or looking for something else, are awakened in the darkness of the early morning by an earth-quaking experience. A shaking of the foundations of their world and emptying of the tomb for which they thought they would be just observers. Never expecting they would get a backstage pass to the performance of eternity that petrified the strongest of soldiers, those who know that men don’t rise from the dead, and yet these soldiers become like dead men, in comparison to the risen son of God.
And after all of that showmanship, we hear it – come and see. Come and see and look for yourselves. There is no body in this tomb. No evidence of death. Not even a stink. Instead, a tomb perfumed by the resurrection. The angel doing his job as the preacher to speak to us who look for evidence and makes this evidence known in our hearing.
“Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
I know you are looking, but he did what he said he would do – rise for you. You can come and see, but there is nothing to see but the place where your sin died and forgiveness arose, where your shame was loosened and grace took hold, where your death was buried and your new life in the risen Christ broke out. So powerful of a work of God it shook the earth and shakes you. Shakes your heart and mind, body and soul. To think that every burden you have ever had has been taken away by him. Every judgement that makes you less than acceptable, Christ says I accept that judgement for you and take it away.
You can look and see, but the eyes fail without the story. Without the mention of the one who was in the tomb and the gift of God that accompanied it. Even the angel knows it: he has risen just as he…said; Go quickly and…tell…his disciples. Now, I have…told…you. A story, a Jesus that comes to you through the lips of the preacher to announce to you this risen Savior, this wonderworker who takes a death we laid on him.
So now I have told you. As you hurry away this morning to go to brunch, to ham and potatoes, to colored eggs and chocolate bunnies; like the Mary’s, I hope you leave with both fear and joy. Joy in so great a salvation gifted to you by God. A salvation that saves you from all you think you are alone to face. The enemies of sin. The enemies as burdens you feel you must bear to please God, or please others, or walk a life of law and regret. I hope there is joy for you as you have this taste of the fountain of life today and you come back again to always be refreshed, because there is enough crap swirling around the world to bring you down by this time tomorrow.
I do hope there is some fear though, too. Fear of what Paul speaks of in that you have died, and your life has now been hidden in Christ. The fear is the precursor to this resurrection you have been given in Christ. This rising means a death first. A death of the old you. A death of the sinner you. A drowning of what we call the old Adam or the old Eve. Your old self. Those parts of us we are comfortable with because we don’t know any better. We actually like them because they fit in better with all the old Adam’s, these old sinners that we are and call our brothers and sisters. Sitting next to you now. Behind you. In front of you. Inside these walls and out.
The fear. The quaking. The trembling as you leave is to realize that in this death you have died in Jesus, all that stuff is dead. Regardless of how hard you try to resurrect the reputation you have as the old sinner, it keeps getting killed by Jesus, hidden in the flood of his blood.
And now, I give to you what a pastor should. No judgement, but the obligation to say to you - die and be raised. Be raised and allow that former you to be left in that grave, to take up residence in the empty tomb, and walk away with Jesus. A Jesus who is so strong as to grab hold of you, and no amount of sin or lack of faith can keep him letting go of this grip he has upon you now. In him you have died and been hidden away. Even if you go looking for something else, he has you. Thanks be to God. Amen.