Sunday, April 20, 2014
(Acts 10:34-43; Hymn to the Risen Christ; Colossians 3:1-4; Matthew 28:1-10)
Christ is risen: He is risen indeed!
The resurrection is the event that changes everything. Good Friday, on its own, is just not good news. Were the story of the gospel to end with the death of Jesus we would have very little, if anything, to celebrate. It would be nothing more than the defeat of God; a conquering of good by evil.
But the discovery of the empty tomb by two women is a game changer. And God knows it.
Our Gospel passage reads like all heaven is waiting and watching as the women approach. We are told nothing here of their motive except that they are going early in the morning to ‘see the tomb’. It is the most they can do. Mary Magdalene and ‘the other Mary’ are here for little more than furthering their mourning and memory.
But heaven wants them to see more.
I wonder what it is like to see a ‘descending angel’? Our author seems only able to make comparisons: he appeared ‘like lightening’; his clothes were ‘white as snow’. Combine it with an ‘earthquake’ and it is no wonder this Roman guard is left petrified. ‘Do not be afraid’ is more than sage advice. It reads like the commanding of another miracle. How could they possibly not respond in fear?
But it is the purpose of this visit that is most intriguing: the angel is here to let these women see that Jesus is not here. He rolls the stone back, sits on top of it, and invites these women to ‘Come and see the place where he lay’.
This angel is here, not to let Jesus out, but to let these most privileged women in. The discovery of the empty tomb is initiated by heaven, by ‘an angel sent from the Lord’.
In the strange timing of God these two women are the ones heaven chose as the first to take the message of the resurrection to the world.
In the patriarchal culture of the early first century, two women did not add up to a valid testimony. If these witnesses are taken to court they can say all they wish, but without a man to validate what they have seen, they would never be taken seriously. Who would invent a story to convince the world of a resurrection and open with the testimony of two women?
It reads like these things really unfolded this way. God chose these unlikely witnesses to initiate the spread of the message that the Christ is risen!
It is, however, their response to running into Jesus that gets me most. They listen to and obey this awe inspiring angel ‘with fear and great joy’. But when they meet Jesus they respond with nothing less than their humble, reverent, worship. There is daylight between their reaction to this angel and their adoration upon meeting the resurrected Christ.
It is an exemplary and perfect response to Easter Day: Worship. They give themselves in adoration and service to the risen Christ.
Amazingly the transformational discovery at that tomb on that day did spread. Peter testifies, in what is surely a summary of a longer message, to Jesus’ also appearing to others ‘chosen by God as witnesses’. His simple gospel account constituted God’s ordaining of Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit, a summary of his good deeds and healing ministry, his death on the cross, and God’s raising of Jesus on the third day.
These to whom Jesus appeared spoke of one both ordained by God to judge and who freely offered forgiveness to all who would trust in him. What a combination. To be a Christian is to make Jesus’ offer of forgiveness our own and begin to learn life’s priorities from him.
This resurrection was a new and hope filled event. No one, despite Jesus’ repeated predictions of his rising on the third day, expected that life would come after death. They understood well enough the cycle of life. Indeed, they buried their dead in the ground because they knew there was nothing to come but decay.
Of course this is the very reason that those to whom the resurrected Jesus appeared are amazed, overwhelmed, and willing to declare these events to be nothing short of a ‘miracle’. They knew that the resurrection was, first and foremost, an act of God.
And it is even more. The appearance of the resurrected Jesus is a source of the most extraordinary hope. Early believers spoke of themselves as dying and rising with Christ. They could ‘seek’ and ‘set their minds on things…above’ for their lives were now understood to be ‘…hidden with Christ in God.’
They symbolised this reality to the world by making the waters of baptism their own. Baptism depicted a dying to self, and a rising to life with Christ. It echoed the reality they had come to trust so completely: that what occurred in that tomb would, in God’s time, also occur in them. The resurrected Christ was but a ‘firstfruit’ – a promise, a glimpse, of a similar harvest to come.
And it is all this for us as well. The death and resurrection of the Christ is the very foundation of the Christian hope. In these events we find reason to serve, to share, to pray, to proclaim, to celebrate, to forgive and be forgiven. Here we find reason to live out of an extraordinary hope. We hear in these events a call to imitate Jesus.
Through the resurrection of the one who lived so radically for God and others we are persuaded that we are created – indeed we are being re-created – for the very purpose of loving God and loving others. This is our eternal call, our destiny.
In short, our life together becomes, like the response of those first women, an act of worship before our risen Lord and Saviour, Jesus the Christ.
The invitation of Jesus today is to align our lives with his – that we may know both the forgiveness of God and the hope of life eternal. Even today, Jesus waits for your acceptance of this invitation.
Christ is risen: He is risen indeed!