Resurrection of our Lord – Easter Sunday; Year A
Acts 10.34-43; Psalm 118.1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3.1-4; Matthew 28.1-10
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from the crucified and risen one, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
In the quiet of the early morning dawn, the sun rises on the horizon, illuminating what seemed to be another day of mourning. Two long nights have passed since the violent death of the one called, “Prince of Peace.”
Two women, in step, heads hanging low with grief, reaching the tomb that held the lifeless body of the one they had loved. Suddenly the earth cracks and moves underneath their feet. Creation is awake. The movement of the earth causes them to remember the earthquake that occurred just days before, right at the moment Jesus breathed his last on the cross.
The shaking becomes more violent. They sway and tip off balance as they try and maintain their footing on top of the deep rumbling beneath their feet.
They want to cry out in fear, but their gaze turns upward as they see something descending from the sky…something that is as bright and brilliant as lightening. It looks like a human being, but he is clearly something more, something otherworldly.
They shield their eyes from his blinding appearance and notice the two guards now lying on the ground near the opening of the tomb. They look dead, but are still breathing.
They lift their heads and now see that the large stone blocking the entrance to where Jesus lay was rolled back and the brilliant being was seated on top of the stone looking at them.
Do we run? They think. But they are too afraid to move. They stare wide-eyed and stunned, understanding that they are witnessing something extraordinary. The figure on top of the stone held their eyes and gently and confidently spoke his message to them without stopping:
“Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 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.”
The women try and take in what the messenger is saying as the guards still lie like dead men on the ground. Still fearful and cautious they think: We saw Jesus die. What does this messenger mean that Jesus has been raised from the dead? What was it that Jesus said to us while he was alive? The tomb is empty; he is not here. We clearly see that. How could he have left the tomb with the stone still in place? It doesn’t matter, as long as he’s alive. Alive…the messenger said that Jesus is alive!
Joy and hope began to well up in their chest. The messenger said that we will see him, they realize. We will see Jesus again! He lives! Yes, we must tell the disciples. They must know that they can stop their weeping for Jesus lives!
They start to run with fear and amazement still pulsing through their veins as their hearts lit up with great joy and possibility. Perhaps they still feel the earth shaking beneath them through the aftershocks as they ran. But all they could hear was the rhythm of their feet on the desert sand and the in and out breathing of the air running through their lungs.
Then suddenly they stop dead in their tracks. Could it be…
They see a familiar one walking towards them. They know the way he walks from a mile away. Again, fear and great joy runs through their being as this one who was hanging bloodied on a cross only a few days earlier is now standing before them alive as ever. He steadies the ground they walk upon, like a solid cornerstone of a foundation. Jesus calms their fear and bids them, “Greetings!…Rejoice!”
Overcome with emotion, they fall at his feet to make sure he is real. They feel the flesh on his bones and understand that the messenger’s words are true. Death has been overcome and Jesus lives!
The women rejoice and worship this one who has always loved them, who has conquered death. Then they hear him speak again, echoing the words of the messenger: “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
They are left with a continued promise that they will continue to see the crucified and risen Lord in this world. This is the Easter story, according to the Gospel of Matthew.
I stand in awe and reverence of this resurrection story. The movement in this narrative and the implied details are astounding. We don’t always grasp what’s going on in a single reading of the text; we need to hear it again and again for it to seep into our souls and give us hope and faith.
In many ways, it is an unbelievable story. People we know don’t just come back to life. The resurrection story defies all logic, science, and common sense. Yet, all of who we are and all of death and life is not just what we can make sense of. The fact that we can think at all and make sense of anything, even having consciousness, knowing that we are alive, is one of the greatest mysteries there is.
The resurrection is a mystery and we cannot fully understand it. The purpose of it is for us to know that death does not have the last word. Death, violence, and the power of evil is not more powerful than God and God’s love for you and the whole world.
Christ’s rising means that no matter how bad or how hard your life gets, there is a future with hope for you. Christ’s rising means that we do not grieve as those who have no hope. His rising means that we too will rise up to eternal life, and that we are to rise up each and every day, unafraid with great joy.
Resurrection life begins now. Henri Nouwen, once wrote, “Wondering how things will be for me after I die seems, for the most part, a distraction. When my clear goal is the eternal life, that life must be reachable right now, where I am, because eternal life is life in and with God, and God is where I am here and now (The Dance of Life, pp. 217-218).”
The crucified and risen Christ is here among us today, sitting at the tables during Easter breakfast, flipping pancakes in the entry way, in our voices as we rejoice and sing, in the prayers lifted up, in the sprinkled water that reach our faces, in the bread and grape juice, in the sharing of the peace, in your hearts that may be filled with fear or even great joy this Easter morning.
The crucified and risen Christ goes ahead of you to meet you wherever you may go: back to the cottages, to your home, on the road, to your workplace, to your garden, to the grave of a loved one you visit, to the doctor’s office, to treatment groups, and to classrooms. This is Jesus’ promise to us when he says at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, “And remember, I am with you always to the end of the age.”
This week I have been fortunate to come across a brief writing of a friend of mine from seminary. I share it with you this Easter morn in order that you may continue to rest in the deep mystery of God, of creation, and of the death and resurrection of Christ.
“Vigil” by Jennifer Agee
We have seen the labor pains of creation. From the Spirit’s swirling storm on the face of the abyss, to the burning light of the supernovas that forge every element; from the earthquakes and volcanoes that quicken our planet, to the crashing waters that draw us down into death.
Our God is the Living Word who calls into existence the things that are not and endows them with the joy and power and complexity of being. Nebula and neuron, quark and quasar, moon and mountain, snowflake and Serengeti, cherubim and chlorophyll: All that is, seen and unseen, known and unknowable.
This God loves and redeems all creation. This God says, Look, I am making everything new. This our God plucks us from the waters of chaos and sets us on the Living Rock.
The evening and the morning are the first day. After darkness and the silence of God in the death of Jesus Christ, a new day breaks and the shadows flee away. The light shines on a great mountain that fills the new earth. The light gleams green in the garden of God and blazes on the healing leaves of the tree of life. The first Word in the new creation is a voice that speaks our own name. And all the children of God will shout for joy.