Matthew 28: 1-15
This morning we come together to continue the celebration of Easter, a celebration that lasts not just the Sunday of Easter, a celebration that is by no means over but rather simply began last week during the beautiful service we celebrated. Eastertide will be celebrated over the 50 days following Easter – days where we remark on and enjoy the experiences and encounters of the risen Christ! Throughout these 50 days the risen Christ met his disciples, his friends, prayed with them, lived with them.
Steve and I will reflect on this time in our sermon series “Postscripts” where we will visit the stories of the encounters that Jesus had following his resurrection – times when our risen Christ meets with his disciples, friends, and followers. How do these stories of the risen Christ help us to recognize the risen Christ in our midst, to witness and lift up in our life the truth, joy and hope that lies in the resurrection? This morning we begin this series by looking at one of the first meetings of the risen Christ and his disciples – the story of the women, the first missionaries, the ones who go to the tomb to weep and mourn and instead, are met with the risen Christ. Listen now to God’s word to us this morning:
It is the women – in all 4 gospels and in our reading today, who come to the tomb first, they come to the tomb in some gospels to anoint Jesus’ body with oils and spices, an act of respect for their teacher, or in the gospel of Matthew which we just read from, they come to see the tomb, to weep at the tomb of their friend, teacher, son, Jesus. Whatever the reasoning, according to all accounts it is the women who first make the realization of the empty tomb. It is the women who, unlike the disciples, did not betray Jesus, did not deny Jesus, who come still to pay respects to their believed-to-be-deceased rabbi.
Rachel Held Evans, an author and blogger who writes about the Christian experience makes the point in her blog that when the writers spoke of the earliest followers of Jesus, they spoke of them in two different groups – there are the 12 disciples who signify the 12 tribes of Israel and there are the women. The women are often a nameless bunch not given much distinction, no number is assigned to them, there are varying accounts of who the women are and even what they’re names are. Rachel writes, “The Women are an unspecified number of female disciples who also followed Jesus, welcoming him into their homes, financing his ministry, studying his teachings, and often instructing the Twelve (the disciples) through their acts of faithfulness and devotion.” And the women, the women, do not abandon Jesus after his death, as do the 12 disciples. The women go to the tomb to weep for their crucified rabbi, the one that they seem to not have given up on yet, they seem to not have given up on the memories they shared with him, the lessons they learned, the time they shared, the sacredness they experienced. The women in someway must still cling to this as they go to the tomb early that first Easter morning.
And when the women arrive at the tomb, arriving simply to weep, simply to visit, not visiting with expectations, when they arrive at the tomb, something happens. Something happens to the world and something happens to those faithful women who came to weep at the tomb of their crucified teacher…
The earth shatters, the ground shakes, the dust crumbles beneath, the stones tear apart, our steady feet waver, and all that is known shifts. As the women walk to the tomb, silently, I imagine, solemnly, filled with sadness and filled with love for the teacher they lost. As they approach the tomb they’ve come to visit, the tomb where Jesus ought to be lying in rest, as they reach the tomb the earth shatters and the grounds shake and everything changes. Matthew calls it an earthquake- literally an earth-shattering moment. Not an earth-shattering moment as we tend to use the phrase now, but literally an earth shaking moment – the moment that the fateful discovery is made: the tomb is empty.
In that moment the world changed, the women changed, the tales of what is to come change, expectations shatter, the world shifts.
Tom Long, a preacher extraordinaire and professor of homiletics at Candler Seminary, wrote of this moment: “The earthquake signifies that the fault lines of human history have shifted dramatically toward grace and hope.”
The earthquake is the earth shattering moment when the world changed when things no longer are bound to their prior expectations, their previous necessities, the world no longer lives by the same rules.
The moments following, following the earthquake and the realization of the empty tomb – the realization that the world has been forever changed, the unbelievable has happened. In those moments that follow come the brief but sacred meeting of the women and Jesus.
The women leave the tomb “with fear and great joy.” When I see this scene, painting a picture of it for myself, I see the women running the almost run/walk we do when we need to be somewhere but running seems a little excessive. Walking so quickly their legs begin to think they’re running. And as they do this their faces covered with slight smirks and eyes filled with terror. But nonetheless, the women leave, they run to do just as the angel told them, the emotions Matthew tells us of “fear and great joy.” Because witnessing the empty tomb leaves us all with the same chorus of emotions “fear and great joy.”
The Last Battle, the final volume of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia chronicles, pictures the end of time. Aslan the great lion who throughout the books is marked by his wisdom, strength, kindness, justice and greatness – a known metaphor for Jesus – has returned, folding all of culture and humanity into his kingdom. In the novel’s lasts pages, he tells Lucy, the youngest child of the 4 who slipped through a closet and into the ethereal world of Narnia; Aslan tells Lucy that everyone she knew back in Blighty, her real world home, is dead and raised to new life.
And as Aslan spoke, writes Lewis, “the things that began to happen…were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better that the one before.”
The resurrection is both the end and the beginning – the end in that it is that final authoritative statement on what wins, on what is great, the final authoritative statement that love wins, that God conquers all, that hope is alive, that no powers of evil, sin, death, or hate can ever, ever overcome the love of Christ. The end of everything we thought to be true and in turn all that we thought not possible, becomes possible, the joy in the end of the old.
And yet, it is the beginning of the story, the beginning of the story that we write, the story that we live, the story of our lives that are lived completely differently because of the empty tomb those women found that Easter morning. Indeed, in that moment, everything changed, just as Tom Long wrote: “The earthquake signifies that the fault lines of human history have shifted dramatically toward grace and hope.” Easter marks for us both the beginning and the end, the end of all that we thought to be true, and the beginning of life lived with the truth that grace and hope now reign, the beginning of life lived in the light of that truth.
Everything changes but make no mistake: with the resurrection came no ultimate perfect reality or the pinnacle of humanity or the clear and perfectly understood relationship between God and humans.
The earliest missionaries, the women, tell this story, the early disciples tell the story as well. They struggle with the message of the empty tomb, they struggle with the reality of the changed world they live in. Just as we do.
The women leave in fear and great joy – a great chorus of life lived in faith. And later the disciples gather together to meet the risen Christ and as they gather together Matthew writes, “they worshipped, but some doubted” part of the symphony of the emotions that come with life lived in faith. A life lived faithfully is filled with both fear and joy, worship and doubt, understanding and confusion.
The joy the women are filled with, the joy at the realization that their savior lives, their friend is alive, their teacher will continue to teach, the realization that their world had not be ruined, but instead their world has been shattered in the most beautiful of ways. That joy comes too with fear, with fear for what is to come, what is the new reality they live in, how has their world been fully re-done, re-shaped, what is the beginning of the story which they are to write.
We too enter with fear and great joy—great joy which we celebrated together on Easter Sunday, joy in a sanctuary filled with visitors, friends, family, old friends, joy as the light began to beam into the once dark sanctuary, joy as musical harmony and beauty filled the quiet of our sanctuary, that joy is undeniable, unbelievable, the joy similar to the joy I believe the women followers and friends of Jesus felt when they first saw Jesus again.
And fear, fear for the shift that has come to our world, fear for the realization that the ease of understanding the world before, has gone, fear that comes with change, the unknown, the loss of what was before and the uncertain future that lies ahead, the fear of what we do not know. The fear of what the world looks like in this world that we cannot fully understand, playing by rules that don’t make sense, rules that are too gracious to make sense.
The chorus of the women’s emotions fear and joy – a foretaste of the coming church – the constant mix of fear and joy that come alongside faith. The constant symphony at play in the heart of every Christian – fear and joy, worship and doubt. Buy lasix online. They are not mutually exclusive, one goes with the other, one strengthens the other. It is the reality of our new earth-shattered world that lives outside the boundaries of expectations.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
* Because sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation, the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.