After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “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.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
If you attended our Sunrise Service, then this scripture is likely hauntingly familiar to you. Matthew, using Mark’s Gospel as a template, adds additional details to Mark’s account. The women arrive as the tomb is opened, they receive their message from the angel that Christ is risen, but before their fear can silence them, Jesus appears and reassures them that they really are to go and proclaim what has happened at the tomb. He truly has been brought out of death and into life, from shame into glory. Matthew and mark carry the same event on similar but markedly different words. They provide two different views on what Christ’s resurrection mean.
This morning we looked at the amazement and fear that the resurrection sets in our heart. Flabbergasted that Jesus told the truth, that death really could be swallowed up by life, we silently praised the wonder of our risen God. Yet, Matthew looks beyond the moment that fixes our choice to believe toward what our belief can do. We are not just passive recipients of a static salvation, but active participants in a relationship with our God and savior.
The first Easter morn was begun when a group of women went to give their beloved friend and teacher a proper burial. The haste of is burial meant no time could be given to embalm him. Taking up the costly spices and oils needed for the process, they came to the tomb, ready to say one last goodbye. Yet, as they arrived an earthquake shook the ground, and a flash of lightning filled the air. An angel had arrived, scaring off the tomb guards and ripping away the seal of the tomb.
The women do not have time to respond to what they have seen before the angel cries out to them, “Do not be afraid!” As if anyone could be calm when a bolt of lightening talks to them after an earthquake. The angel tells them that Christ has risen and that they must go to the other disciples and tell them the news – that they are to go to Galilee and receive their Commission.
The women rush off, filled with equal parts fear and joy. “Jesus is really back! He was telling the truth! Every bit of it was real!” They were caught up in the thrill of it all and ready to do as they were called to do. Peter, John, Thomas, and all the others would be ecstatic to know the good news. The journey of the disciples wasn’t over, the Gospel hadn’t been silenced – the work of the Church had just begun.
If we look at our own life, we can see moments where we felt the same rush of energy and mission. When something clicks within us and God seems close to us like never before. When the clouds break, and the light of Heaven shines down on us. When we find ourselves uncertain of what is to come but thrilled at the possibilities. In these moments, the Kingdom seems within our grasp, the resurrected life overwhelms our doubts, all is right in the world.
Easter is a celebration of life and of what God has in store for all of creation. As Christ suffered and died once for all, we are all able to experience a foretaste of Heaven and see that it is good. The free gift of faith and salvation is offered to us all. We are raised up with Christ into glory and given, not only a new lease on life, but an entirely new life. Like the sun which rises each day, the night of our own despair comes to an end in Christ’s resurrection.
Yet, what if our zeal blinds us? What if our work consumes us rather than rebuilds us? What peril can our mission hold for us? The answer is that we may, in pursuit of serving God, forget that our own goal is the presence of God within us. When we look for life, we must look to its source and not simply be caught up in providing it to others ourselves.
Our scripture gives a powerful image of this ability we have to lose our goal while keeping our work. The women are running from the newly opened tomb without looking back. They want the others to hear what God has done. Yet, in running off to do so, they have forgotten something important. If they saw the stone roll away, then that means that Jesus is probably still nearby. If they had waited only a moment longer, they may have seen him emerge immediately.
How tragic it would have been if this were the case. The women, overjoyed at their mission, somehow would have missed out on seeing God. Certainly, it happens to us sometimes. We want to be the shining light in people’s lives, tow rite all we can or give all we can or testify all we can. Yet, somewhere along the way, work supplants Christ as the object of our life. We no longer labor for the sake of the Kingdom, but to check another box on the to-do list. We succumb to the idol of business, we become busy-bodies.
Praise God that we are not left to our own devices. Our scripture tells us that Jesus catches up to the women. Using the same words, he used to describe the crowd greeting Jesus, John tells us that Jesus meets the women. Jesus offers and abrupt, “Hello!” The blessing of that, “Hello,” cannot be taken lightly. In the midst of their fervor, in the excitement of the life that had been offered to them, the first evangelists were running off as quickly as they could. Ironically, in doing so, they had left Jesus in the dust. Yet, Jesus ran after them, to be with them and to recenter their goal on knowledge of him, to reconnect the work they did with the love he gave.
Faith, mission, all the essential substances of our life, are found in pursuit of and enjoyment of God. As we go through life, we must constantly return to Christ as the center of our life. When we look to do the work of which we are called to, it can become all we are concerned with. We remove the core of the Gospel and transform it into vague well wishing. We remove the goal of our mission and reduce it to recruitment to our social club. God alone fulfills the life we receive through faith. We cannot, having been called by God, take back the reins of our life. We must start and end all our work, our hope, our life itself, with God.
Today we celebrate Easter, the day that God made good on the promises of new life. The seal of our future resurrection was found in Christ’s own resurrection. We are sent out today with the reassuring voice of angels telling us, “Do not be afraid!” We have the certainty of Christ who goes before us into the world. With our mission clearly stated, to proclaim Christ’s resurrection and to serve one another as siblings in one holy family, we cannot go wrong. We do al things with God as our eternal goal, and as the sustaining presence on which we depend.
Let us go forward, active and unafraid, rushing off in haste but not in a hurry. The work ahead is not easy, but God is leading us into the Kingdom. The struggle is well worth it. Rejoice! Christ is Risen today! – Amen.