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Before I read the Easter story from Matthew, just in case you weren’t here Good Friday, I feel like I should say something like this:“Previously, in the Gospel of Matthew!”
I want to remind you of the setting that leads to the Easter Story because the meaning of this day and this story is caught up in the tragedy of what happened to Jesus in the previous week. Just in case you missed it!
The last time we saw them in Matthew’s gospel, Mary Magdelene and the other Mary… must have been in shock… in tears. We left them sitting and watching as the rock was rolled over the tomb… where the corpse of Jesus was laid to rest forever, or so they thought.
Their world must have been in a tailspin. They have seen their mentor, their friend, their Lord publicly humiliated and put to death in the most awful way. Torture, we would call it.
So, the last time we meet Mary and the other Mary in Matthew’s gospel… we left them sitting opposite the tomb, watching his corpse being laid to rest… perhaps in shock… perhaps wondering, “why?” “Why would they do such a thing? “ “Why would anyone want to kill him?” “How? How did this all happen? “ “how could a loving God allow this to happen?”
So previously, in the Gospel of Matthew… there we left them… at the tomb.
Left only with their fears and tears, their sorrow, their confusion, their uncertainty about the future…Now a full day has passed—the Sabbath—and they are returning one more time. Listen now to the rest of the story:
READ THE TEXT
I want to start today with a story I heard. Maybe you’ve heard this story before… I may have told it before… if I have… don’t tell me that!
There were three very faithful and gregarious Christians, who were saved by their faith in Jesus Christ, but were not exactly Biblically literate. They all died in a car wreck at the same time and appeared at Heaven’s gate before St. Peter. Peter says to them, “You are all going to be able to come in because you are saved by your faith in Jesus Christ. But we’re trying to do a survey, an assessment, of exactly the level of Christian literacy of those we are admitting into heaven so we might be able to strengthen our Christian education measures while you are here. I wonder if each one of you, or any of you, could tell me what is the meaning of the Easter celebration?” “The first person said, “I can. I know every Easter there is a parade. And then after the parade there is a big meal, and we often have turkey or ham and sweet potatoes…like the Pilgrims.” Peter says, “”thank you, thank you.” Next? The second person says, “Well, Easter is about God’s love. We have candy treats and we send cards and there are lots of red hearts posted all over the wall.” Peter says, “Thank you, thank you.” Next? The third person stepped forward with confidence and says, Easter is the occasion when we remember the last week in the life of Jesus. We recall his entry into Jerusalem. We recall his death, and we recall, how, on Easter morning, he rose from the tomb and came forth.” Peter smiled with satisfaction. Finally, someone gets it. “Then,” said the last person, “after coming out from the tomb, if Jesus sees his shadow, he goes back in the tomb and we have six more weeks of winter!”
Your laughter gives me some assurance that you at least know the essential story of the resurrection. Easter is the day we celebrate the time when God raised Jesus from the dead… and the powerful implications for us and the knowledge that the resurrection gives us to go and to tell others.
There are four versions of the resurrection you know. Each differ. But all have this in common: (A truth the disciples staked their lives on) God raised Jesus from the dead.
Matthew has a version ready for the movies… dramatic scenes… earthquakes rock the graveyard…[Maybe he would have included a storm like the ones last weekend here in Raleigh had he thought about it] … an angel like lightning, in snow white clothes, throws away the tombstone. The guards shake violently and drop dead like into silence. Women, scared by the events flee from the cemetery… heading to Galilee where they were told they will see him. But on the way, Jesus comes out of nowhere… and he says…
Do you remember? Do you remember the first words of Jesus after his resurrection, as Matthew remembers them? “Good morning.” The greek word means literally, ‘be cheerful’ or ‘good day.’ Other versions say, “Greetings!” or “Peace be with you!”
It’s a very personal greeting. A very familiar greeting from one friend to another. You almost get the sense the Jesus can’t wait to greet them… he cannot wait for them to find him in Galilee. These are his disciples, his friends lost in grief and confusion… they have lived through the terror and tragedy of Good Friday… they are still filled with tears of loss… and he is reaching out to them. “Good morning!” “Peace be with you!”
This greeting is the fastest way for Jesus to dispel the fears and grief of his friends. The first work of Jesus after his resurrection is to meet his friends in their pain with the assurance that he is alive… that Good Friday is not the last word… for God has raised him from the dead.
Today we gather to reaffirm once again this basic truth and to hear the good news for us as well, and to share it with others: God is the god of the resurrection.
Easter makes it clear to me what God is about in this world. God is not in the hate business. God is not in the killing business. Or the revenge business. God is in the resurrection business. God is the God of resurrection.
God chooses to be known as the God who creates life out of death and hope out of despair. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we see the fullness of the revelation of God. What we see in the risen Lord is a God who loves the unlovable, who triumphs over tragedy, who forgives the unforgivable, who treats sinners like saints and defeats the power of death itself.
One of my favorite writers, whose dead end life – a life filled with struggle with God, faith and addiction — whose life was turned about by the God of the resurrection… Anne Lammott said it this way,
“Easter is so profound. Easter says that love is more powerful than death: bigger than the dark, bigger than cancer, bigger than airport security lines. She was with a dear friend who was dying: “Hope is not about proving anything. It is about choosing to believe this one thing: that love is bigger than any grim, bleak [stuff] anyone can throw at us.”
I believe that… I believe God is the God of resurrection… not only because of the Gospel Story… not only because of the witness of the Christian community for 2000 years… but because I’ve experienced it and seen it.
What are the signs of resurrection that you see?
Last weekend I saw it at the Woynicz’s on Sunday afternoon. I saw members of the Kirk with chainsaws… Angels carry chainsaws they say– helping clean up after the destruction of the storm. During the week I read similar stories of resurrection… neighbor helping neighbor… groups and churches reaching out. That was a sign of resurrection to me.
Where have you seen signs of resurrection?
How about in these words said outside of an office. One person says, with resignation, ‘I will never be able to forgive you.” The other says, “Perhaps not. But in the resurrection, God will bring us together.”
What are the signs you see that God is the God of resurrection?
A couple of weeks ago I was brought to tears by a piece on 60 minutes.
It’s a story that comes straight out of the streets of Harlem… with a program called, “Gospel for Teens”… they take teens from all over New York to teach them the tradition and art of singing gospel. Vy Higginsen, created it. She is a woman of passion and love. Vy’s group works with teens who have have experienced abandonment, the death of family and friends on the street. Teens who feel so ashamed that, when they are asked to introduce themselves, they mumble their name… Vy says, , “This is terrible. To have those little teeny voices that you can’t hear is almost to say, ‘I’m ashamed of who I am and where I come from.”
In that 60 minutes piece you see lives turned around as those kids—like Gabby and Yolanda and Rhonda are embraced by the challenging love of Vy and others… as they sing the gospel tunes whose message is about the God of resurrection… “Go down,Moses…Let my people Go…” “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.”
At one early rehearsal she tells the class, “I want you to begin to shake your hands. Shake. Shake. Shake,” Why shaking before singing? Vy says, it’s part warm-up, part message: leave everything but the music outside the door.
Kids progress from shaking to shaking and stomping, to doing both and Vy with a smile, “Any worry, any pain, any problem with your mother, your father, your sister, your brother, the dog, the boyfriend. I want that out now of your consciousness. That’s your baggage. Leave the bags outside, because this time is for you,”
“You feel all their troubles go?” Leslie Stahl asked. “I feel it. I see it. The next thing I see (is) a smile. And I know that’s when they’re ready. And I’ll make ’em shake until I get it,” she replied.
At the end of the interview, Leslie Stahl asked one of the teens, Yolanda, “ What’s going on inside?” “Joy. That’s what’s inside my heart all the time when I’m in here,” she replied.
“Joy” Sounds like resurrection to me! But I’m not surprised. God is in the resurrection business after all!
Tomorrow, I know, I know… you and I will wake up and go back to work or school or retirement… you will go back to dealing with cancer or illness or picking up the pieces of your life… and in many ways, the world will not look to different from last Friday.
But I invite you to look beyond Good Friday. For while we still live in a Good Friday world, because of God… because of this day, the world, is a different place.
For today is the day of resurrection. It is the day that I remember that when we in the world are at our worst, God is at God’s best. God is the God of resurrection. And because God raised Jesus from the dead, we move ahead on our journeys with hope. Even death cannot touch us. As Paul said, “Nothing in life or in death can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”
I heard the story of a person who sat by the bedside of her elderly father for the last 24 hours of his life. She held his hand and patted him and told him that his family loved him. She held up pictures of his grandchildren and great grandchildren. She told him God loved him and was with him and that there was nothing to fear. She recited all the Bible verses she could remember, the 23rdPsalm. Finally when she could think of nothing more to say, she said, “Easter is coming, Daddy. Easter is coming.”And the hymn that came to mind and the hymn she softly sang to him as he died is one we sang today- Jesus Christ is risen today. As I close, won’t you sing the first verse again with me now? It is in the bulletin:
“Jesus Christ is risen today. Alleluia!
Our triumphant holy day. Alleluia!
Who did once upon the cross. Allelulia!
Suffer to redeem our loss! Alleluia!
Alleluia indeed! Amen.