“He is Risen?”
Matthew 28: 1-15, Easter Sunday, April 12th, 2020
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now these ancient and holy words recorded in the gospel according to Matthew, chapter twenty-eight, verses one thru fifteen.”
1 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.
2 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.
3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.
4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.
5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.
6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.
7 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.”
8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.
10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
11 While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened.
12 After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 telling them, “You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’
14 If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.”
15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.
“Having heard this Easter morning accounting, let us now consider its relevance in our lives today, here in the Twenty-First Century!”
“He is Risen?”
We all experience Easter in our own special way, just as we each experience personal events, relationships and occasions, in our lives in our own private way. It is wonderful when we can gather-together to celebrate special occasions, as they come up in our lives, as that is what being a community, what being in fellowship is all about. Today, on this Easter morning, so many of us, so many of you, are isolated and apart from family and friends; unable to gather with your church community. It can be hard, and it is difficult. Certainly, we all can agree upon this. Yet, due to technology and some special high-tech members on our staff and one especially technical volunteer who is endeavoring to keep this broadcast in operation, we are together through this technology thing which we call the internet, allowing us to access a Facebook feed and a website. It is as mystical to me as the grace and Spirit of God. I am simply forced to humbly say thank you to our helpers this morning, just as I say thanks to my personal Savior as I drift off to sleep at night.
On Easter, today, like all Easter’s since that first one so long ago, we are remembering, we are lifting-up what occurred way back in the time of the man Jesus. We are lifting-up the stories and narratives of those who were there. All four of the gospels give us the snippets of the accounts, the descriptions of those events based on the accumulation of information orally passed down for several decades before all was written down. It is in these chronicles that we glean our understandings of all that occurred so long, long ago. Some may be surprised to learn there are details that differ in each account.
In Matthew we hear how: “And suddenly there was an earthquake; for an angel, descending from heaven, came and rolled away the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightening, and his clothing white as snow.” /Matthew 28: 123) Yet, in Mark we hear how Mary Magdalene, and Mary and Salome went to the tomb and they said to one another, ‘who will roll away the stone, which was very large.’ Then they saw that it had already been moved away. It was then that they were greeted by a young man, dressed in a white robe.” / Mark 16:3-5/ In Luke’s writing there were two men in dazzling clothes that greeted them. /Luke 24:4/ In John’s Gospel Mary was met by two angels in the tomb. /John 20:12-13/ Even as we recount the testimonies of what occurred that morning, the details become trivial as the astonishing points concur that the tomb was empty, in that the body of Jesus was not to be found. And more astonishing is that Matthew, Mark, and John’s accounting speak of the sighting of the Risen Christ Jesus! “Suddenly Jesus was standing there and greeted them.” /Matthew 28: 9/ The nuances in how this is said are of little consequence, as the miracle of the Easter event is testified to – for us, repeatedly! Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen indeed! Praise God! Alleluia! The Tomb were Jesus was laid was empty!
Let us come back into our present time in history. Together, we are living in an extraordinary time! It shall be an event that will be record over, and over again. There will be multiple versions of this occasion written from various and differing viewpoints. We know this, for this is the way of such things. Americans will remember this and write about it one way or another. Depending on their point of interest these writings will focus on differing aspects of the global pandemic and its ramifications to all humankind! The fullness of this tragic event has yet to unfold. Whatever the count of those who succumb to the virus, we know it will be significant as already we are staggered by its impact.
Grief, shock and anguish shall be a major piece of any historian’s manuscript. Even as we acknowledge this truth, we know there is way more to the narrative that will need to be documented. We see the signs every! However true, let us leave such details for future documents and further discernment by those less bias to the truths that shall most certainly be published for future generations to dissect, study and learn from. May those that read of these current events be wise enough to look for the full story with as many view points and perspectives as they can gather so that they, like ourselves, will be able to glean all there is to be learned from what is transpiring and changing our narrative even as I speak!
I strongly believe, it is imperative that we focus on the personal aspects of life, our lives and the lives of others, if we truly want to know the meaning of an event. Many shall remember the agonizing grief of the families and friends that lost a loved one, a friend, a child, a sibling or parent. Remembering the feeling of helplessness as events have unfolded and continue to do so. Just as Mary, Mary Magdalene and the other’s experienced when Jesus, the innocent lamb, was slaughtered. Jesus was crucified by those that were more concerned about their own needs – than the greater good – than the needs of the many! The story behind the story of the Resurrection of Jesus, is crucial for us to honor as well. The story behind the story of this pandemic virus, which is all too real, has yet to be told, but, in time, it shall be.
This time is surely helping us to clarify what is important and what is not. In one news feed or another, this morning there was a discussion about the varying degree of work which is considered essential, and what things are not; it may have been an article in the New York Magazine by Eric Levits. We, you and I, we have learned we are more concerned about where we will get our next meal – than we are about so many other aspects of our communities. Many of us, sorely miss being able to go to restaurants where we are served by waitresses and accommodated by the unknown workers in the shadows. Seems that if you want fresh fruit or vegetables, you need to count on some low paid farm workers, considered essential jobs right now. If you want to find the ‘basic’ necessities of life for modern Americans, you will need to count on low wage earners from stores such as Wall Mart, Publics, or a Winn Dixie. Let us not forget the local convenient dollar stores, our pharmacies and gas stations with their attached stores. Even in a pandemic we count on someone to pick up the trash helping to keep sanitation issues under control. Care givers and nurses, nurses at every level. Look at those who are on the “front-lines” taking care of our day to day needs. Essential jobs, most of whom are at the lower end of wages in our country.
As was so clearly stated in the Florida Conferences Easter Call to Worship, the people back in the time period of Jesus’ execution, they were faced with, isolation, confusion and anger, and so are we! Their time and our current time are trying and difficult times. Yet, we are struggling to move forward with our life journey’s. It is difficult to not get discouraged, yet, we must persevere as life continues. We must push through the turmoil and confusion which clearly fuels the fear. How are we going to persist and move forward? The answer is in our Easter narrative. The story of Easter is an account of how a broken people, desperate for salvation, finally encounter first hand the Messiah; having seen his powers and felt his love; only to have them shattered in his brutal execution by the corrupt leaders at the time. Then the impossible happens! This is what Easter is all about! Believing that God, our Creator God, has not deserted us! Jesus, the Living Spirit of the Resurrected Christ… rose-up from the pangs of death!
Some, like the priests and elders of old, would try to suppress the truth, but the truth is evident! The love of God through Jesus, the Christ, lives on! Alleluia! Some, like the pessimists and nonbelievers, say that there is no hope, no life after death, no promise for a “Morning After”! Pastor Alan Brehm says it well. “I may never understand Easter, but because Jesus is alive and well in the community of faith, I believe in a God who is working to bring grace and peace and mercy and love and freedom and joy and life into every life.” Let us raise up the truth of Easter. Easter is the promised love of God, a God who has not forsaken us! Yes, our God walks with us! Our God is good! Our God will raise us up from the pits of life. Our God will drag us out from under the quagmire of life itself! If we want to honor the celebration of Easter, we must not fear! We must fully live the life which our Creator has gifted us with!
Neil Chappell speaks to us: “From despair to bewilderment, from fear to faith, from sadness to joy. What an Easter journey.” Our gift today is the tenacity, the resolve, which we each bring to life today. This Easter is our new beginning into a future which has not been charted on a map anywhere. Let us allow the new life of Christ to propel us ever forward! Let us rejoice that the Living Spirit of Christ is with us today! Let us allow God’s grace to fill us and propel us into our new destiny! Let us remember the Easter promise which was brought to us by the love of God; and tells us that: Life, always, wins. And the love of God, is the power that shall unify us!
May Easter reign in our hearts today. Alleluia! Amen.