Matthew 28:1-10 CEB
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the tomb. Look, there was a great earthquake, for an angel from the Lord came down from heaven. Coming to the stone, he rolled it away and sat on it. Now his face was like lightning and his clothes as white as snow. The guards were so terrified of him that they shook with fear and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Don’t be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He isn’t here, because he’s been raised from the dead, just as he said. Come, see the place where they laid him. Now hurry, go and tell his disciples, ‘He’s been raised from the dead. He’s going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.’ I’ve given the message to you.”
With great fear and excitement, they hurried away from the tomb and ran to tell his disciples. But Jesus met them and greeted them. They came and grabbed his feet and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Go and tell my brothers that I am going into Galilee. They will see me there.”
For me, it almost isn’t Easter if we don’t sing Charles Wesley’s classic, “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.” I promise I am not trying to put down the Hallelujah chorus because I enjoy that too, but there is something about this reminder that Jesus Christ is risen today and so are we with him that sticks with me. Right there in stanza four when we sing, “Soar we now where Christ has led [...], Following our exalted Head [...], Made like him, like him we rise [...], Ours the cross, the grave, the skies,” that just does it for me. It reminds me Easter after Easter that we are a resurrected people because our God has resurrected! We are not defined by the things that would weigh us down, but by our Christ who has lifted us up because love has won. Not just us here on this Sunday morning, but all people and the whole of creation are caught in this updraft of love! Death could not pin it down, the grave could not clip its wings! On this day of all days, do we remember that we were made to soar? Not just someday in the future but right now. We were made to fly and live out the love and grace seen in Christ rather than plod along the ground where grave and sin still have sway.
I like Matthew’s account of the resurrection story because it gives us a Jesus on the move. Unlike John’s account where Jesus lingers in the garden, the two Marys instead meet an angel sitting on the rolled away stone who tells them that “[Jesus] isn’t here, because he’s been raised from the dead,” so now, they must “hurry, go and tell his disciples, ‘He’s been raised from the dead. He’s going on ahead of you to Galilee.’” It is only when they are on the move that Jesus meets them on the way, and when they try to stop and grab his feet, he tells them “‘Don’t be afraid. Go and tell my brothers that I am going into Galilee. They will see me there.’” Jesus is almost telling the two Marys that they don’t need to worry that he is leaving them behind, rather he is going ahead, preparing the way, and will meet them when they get there.
More than just the Marys tried to hold Jesus back, as there are always forces that want to hold down resurrected life. Look at Christ’s tomb. It has a large stone covering the entrance, and Pilate has posted guards there to keep Jesus in that tomb. They are not enough though. Just as our hymn tells us, “Death in vain forbids him rise,” for see how the angel rolls the stone back and paralyzes the guards in the sight of the women, meanwhile the tomb is already empty. Jesus has already flown the coop even with every eye on it, as “[it] is futile trying to box in the living God.” Wesley joins Jesus in mocking life’s foe, laughing at death’s empty grave!
The best is yet to come, for not only has Christ risen but Jesus invites us to soar with him. Remember that Christ is risen today, this very hour, so when can we fly, when can we soar in life with love as our wings? Right now, this very instant! Look at that fourth stanza again, where it says “Soar we now where Christ has led.” We are invited to follow, to fly. We are “Made like him, like him we rise.” God has given us all that Christ has promised as our inheritance! Will we claim it? These lines remind us of the “significance of our participation in Christ’s victory over death and the fear of the grave.” We don’t need to sit around and dream about it, long for the day when it arrives, our resurrection is here through Christ and we can live into its promise here and now.
That’s the power of the restored fifth and sixth stanzas of the hymn, for they invite us “to celebrate praise and love as signs of the resurrection power already joining earth and heaven.” Look at stanza six again where it sings out “Everlasting life is this, [...] Thee to know, thy power to prove, [...] Thus to sing, and thus to love.” To know God now, to feel God’s power now, that’s everlasting life. Life is praise, that decision we can now make to orient our whole beings to God. That power is seen in how we can love each other fully and totally now. Life is not life unless it is lived in love. That is the life God promises, not so we can keep on being what we’ve been being so we can keep on doing what we’ve been doing. Christ has prepared a better way.
The author of our Lenten devotional, James Howell, shares in his Easter Sunday devotion a parable by Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. In the parable, Kierkegaard tells about a church for geese:
“Every Sunday the geese waddled into the sanctuary. A gander preached on the ‘glorious destiny of geese, of the noble end for which their maker had created them,’ namely ‘to use their wings to fly away to distant pastures.’ The geese all clucked with glee. But when the service ended, ‘they all waddled home, only to meet again next Sunday and waddle off home again.’ Over time, of course, they ‘grew fat, plump and delicious’ - and got eaten.”
Kierkegaard explains his parable, saying:
“We too have wings, we have imagination, intended to help us actually rise aloft. But we play, allow our imagination to amuse itself in an hour of Sunday daydreaming. In reality, however, we stay right where we are - and on Monday regard it as proof of God’s grace gets us plump, fat, delicate. That is, we accumulate money, get to be a somebody in the world, beget children, become successful, and so forth.”
Why did Christ rise on Sunday morning? Was it so we could get rich? Was it so we could have descendants to carry on our names? Was it to get those same names in newspapers or so that we become the most powerful people in the world? Was it so we could control nations and run countries? Was it so we could finally have all the power, prestige, and wealth we ever wanted or desired? Aren’t these the worries, the things we need freedom from? Don’t they weigh us down, and keep us waddling? Perhaps, just maybe, was the resurrection so that you and I could finally have life and soar? True life comes through making life the priority and love the means.
Our hymn tells us this truth this morning: that our inheritance is “the cross, the grave, the skies.” The cross, death's own weapon, becomes love’s greatest symbol. The graves are empty, and the skies should be full. James Howell says it well when he sums up, “It’s not enough to wait to soar up from the grave after death.” We are meant to soar now. Do not wait. Do not dream it will happen another day. Live the life of love that Christ has given you. Love has won, so celebrate his victory well. Love your neighbor. Love your enemy. Love your family. Love the stranger. Do it now, start today for Christ is risen! Amen.
Pastor Paul Grossman