Matthew 28:1-10 / Easter A / 24 April 2011 / Holy Trinity Lutheran Church – Hacienda Heights, CA
Christ is risen! Alleluia! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
It feels good to shout that again, doesn’t it! After 40 Lenten days of hushed Alleluias in and a full year since the last Easter season, it feels to shout the Easter acclamation once again. Jesus who was crucified is risen from the dead just as He said He would. Death has lost its sting. The grave has lost its grip on humanity. Death, the greatest enemy of our humanity has been defeated single-handedly by the Son of God who came in our flesh to conquer Sin and Death for us.
You hear it every Easter on the nightly news. I’m sure you’ll hear it again this year. Something like this: “This is the day Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead.” Wrong on two fronts. This is not the day, in the sense of the date, because we don’t know the day. We do know it’s Sunday, the first day of the week, the day after the Passover Sabbath, but because we don’t know the year, we don’t know the date.
And it’s not the day we believe Jesus rose from the dead. It’s the day we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead as an historic fact. Not a matter of faith but a matter of fact. It’s a fact attested to by eyewitnesses: first the women who went to the tomb, then Peter and John, then the other disciples, then 500 men at one time, then James and finally Paul. How many eyewitnesses do you need to call to the stand to make the point. Christ is risen. Deal with it.
Jesus’ resurrection is the linchpin of our faith. Without it, everything else counts for nothing. It’s all so much religious prattle. The apostle Paul says if Christ isn’t raised from the dead, if there are bones of Jesus buried somewhere in Palestinian soil, then our preaching is worthless and so is your faith and you’re wasting precious time here this morning. You may as well don your Easter bonnet and get on with your Easter egg hunt.
If Christ isn’t raised from the dead, then we are biggest bunch of fools that ever walked the face of this earth. You are believing fairy stories and it’s time to grow up. If Christ isn’t raised, then you, me and 2000 years of Christians all the way back to the apostles are liars and are misrepresenting God. And most importantly of all, if Christ isn’t raised, then you are still in your sins and you better get to work.
If Christ isn’t raised, then you may as well become a Buddhist and work out your own version of salvation, or be an agnostic not knowing anything, or just be an atheist, because what’s the point anyway, if the dead are not raised?
If Christ isn’t raised from the dead, then dead are gone so you may as well forget about them. If there is no resurrection, then life ceases when your synapses cease firing, so why even worry about meaning, morality, judgment, sin, grace? Then you may as well join the ancient Greek skeptics who said, “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die.” That’s all life is, if Christ isn’t raised. We are nothing more than food processors, passing on our flawed genetics to the next generation of dog eat dog consumers, with survival going to fittest.
But something happened that morning of the first day of the week. Something that shook the earth to its foundations and brought angels down to take a look. Something that rattles everything we know about biology and medicine. When the women came to the tomb early that morning they were expecting to find a sealed tomb and guards and a corpse. They brought burial spices. They’d forgotten what Jesus had told them, that He would be crucified and on the third day raised to life again. Even those unsophisticated, unscientific country bumpkins from Galilee knew that dead men don’t rise from the dead, at least ordinarily.
What they found was a stone door rolled away, a bright angel happily perched on top of it. What they heard was incredibly good news: “He is not here, for He has risen, as He said.” What they saw was an empty, open tomb.
I love Matthew’s rendering of it. “So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell His disciples.” Fear and great joy. How else can you react to this kind of news? Dead Jesus is risen. That’s scary, creepy even. It makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up if you think about it. And yet there’s joy. He was dead and now He’s alive again. Could it really be true? Were they hallucinating? Hysterical?
And then they saw Jesus who meets them on the road. “Greetings!” I love it. He uses the usual street greeting. “Hi!” As if to say, “What did you expect? I told you I would rise on the third day. Here I am.” They took hold of His feet and worshipped Him. You might worship a hallucination, but you can’t grab his feet. And instantly their fear gives way to unbridled joy.
Do you fear death? Then fear no longer. Christ has conquered.
Do you dread the grave? Then dread no longer. Christ has made the grave a place of sabbath rest.
Do you grieve the death of someone you love? Then grieve in hope and trust in Christ. He is risen, and in Him the dead will rise too.
Are you suffering and despairing in this life? Then rejoice even in your suffering. Christ is risen. His suffering is vindicated, and in Him, your suffering will be vindicated too.
Do you harbor doubt? Then doubt no more. Christ is risen. His words are true; He is the truth and the Way to life with God.
Come, you faithful raise the strain of triumphant gladness. God has brought His Israel into joy from sadness.
Come, rejoice in the Baptism that joins you to Jesus’ death and life.
Come, eat and drink the Body and the Blood that conquered Sin and Death.
Come, let us eat and drink for tomorrow we live.
Christ is risen! Alleluia!
In the name of Jesus,