The Resurrection of Jesus
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.
Friends, we made it! It’s Easter Sunday! Shout “Alleluia!” Our preparations during the season of Lent are completed. Our emotional journey through Holy Week is over, and the prophecies of old have come true. The tomb where Jesus was laid is empty. Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Let us shout “Alleluia!!”
But friends, as I have confessed to you before, as a preacher, I always struggle on Easter Sunday. Because, though Easter is central to our Christian faith. I always find the Easter message to be a strange message to preach. Because to us, Easter is a day of great joy. A day of amazing inspiration. A day when we are assured of God’s grace and God’s forgiveness and God’s unconditional love for ALL. It’s a day of celebration when we learn that death never has the last word and that because of our faith, we are called to live NOT in fear but to live lives of abundant hope.
After all, the tomb is empty, my friends! All that the prophets foretold came true! Jesus is risen! And we are called to go out and share that good news with the world. Alleluia? Alleluia!!
But it is also a day filled with extreme emotion. We are filled with such joy and celebration and excitement, that all we want to do is praise God and wave our fabric strips and shout “Alleluia!” And yet, on that first Easter morning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary and even the disciples were filled with fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear because they didn’t fully understand what was happening. Fear because they were unsure of what would happen next.
I remember when my kids were very young, we had a routine at bedtime. After we read a story or two or three depending on the night, then we would say our prayers together, and we would walk around the room and look: nothing in the closet, nothing under the bed, nothing behind the bureau. There is nothing here. Then my kids could go to sleep knowing all was well. And folks, that is the Easter message. Isn’t it? “There’s nothing here! Do not be afraid, all is well!”
But unfortunately, we tend to live our lives looking in the closet and under the bed and behind the bureau. Because that is our human story. It’s the story of a life lived in fear of darkness and death. It is a story, I suspect, each of us knows well. We fear for ourselves and we fear for our loved ones. We sense that something is out there lurking around the corner, just out of sight, something more powerful than ourselves. And my friends, we are right, but it’s not at all what we think!
Today, we heard the story of two women, both named Mary, who go early in the morning to see the tomb. They know something is there. They saw it all. They watched the crucifixion. They saw Jesus die. They saw Joseph take Jesus’ body, wrap it in a cloth, and put it in the tomb. They saw several men roll a great stone in front of the opening. So, on Sunday morning when they approached the tomb, they knew what to expect. They knew that just around the corner they would find death, and fear, and pain, and sorrow, and grief, and loss.
They knew that in that tomb they would find the body of their friend Jesus which they had gone to anoint with spices and precious oils. But here is the good news, my friends. Something was there, but it was not at all what they expected! Because a new sunrise and a great earthquake signaled the dawn of a new creation; one in which death no longer rules. They quickly learned that God, not death, will have the first, the last, and every word in between. “Do not be afraid,” the angel announces. “He is not here; for he is risen, as he said.” “Come and see…then go quickly,” the angel tells them, “and you will see Jesus.”
My friends, this Easter story is the Church’s story. It is the same old story told year after year. Now some of you have heard this story only a few times. Others, I’m sure, have heard it seventy, eighty, maybe even ninety times. But here is the important part. The story never changes. Instead, the story changes us. Did you hear that? The story never changes. Instead, the story changes us. Each year, we gather to hear this story for only one reason, so that we can leave. So that we can leave the darkness and tombs of our lives and live. We want to be reminded, “There is nothing here. Do not be afraid. All is well.” But too often, we think resurrection is about what happens to us after we die. We limit resurrection to nothing more than a promise of life after death. But the truth is, my friends, the power and the gift of the resurrection is not so much in what happens after death, but right here, right now, today. Perhaps we should worry a little less about whether there is life after death and a little more about whether there is life before death.
My friends, the joy of Easter is not only that God has raised Christ from the dead. No! Easter joy is also about the possibility and the promise that, regardless of what our lives are like now, new life is available to each one of us here and now. God has raised Christ from the dead, and we are now free to claim his life as our own. But what matters most about Easter is not the empty tomb as much as it is what we decide to do because of the empty tomb. It’s what we choose to do when we leave church today, tomorrow, the day after, and the day after that. How will we now live differently? Jesus did not die and rise again so that we might come to church, shout “Alleluia” and then continue life as usual. Folks, if this new life and freedom do not change us, we might as well put the stone back over the tomb. If we leave here today and don’t think about Easter again until next year, then we’ve entirely missed the gift.
Our lives are the evidence of the resurrection. We are no longer prisoners of the power or fear of sin, darkness, and death. We don’t have to be worried about how all of this is going to turn out. Life is eternal, my friends, and love is immortal. We are free to live, and we are free to love. Because the end of the resurrection story is the beginning of our life. My friends, Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. So, live fully alive now! Why wait until after death? Because of the empty tomb, darkness has become light. Sin has been forgiven. The tomb has become the womb of new creation. There is no more death. Life is everywhere.
Friends, I am so thankful that you have decided to worship here in Oldtown this morning. You have decided to come, and see, and worship, but as the angel told the women at the tomb, now it is time to “go quickly.” There’s nothing here. Run for your life! For Christ is risen. Go and tell others what you have seen and heard, and keep your eyes open, because you will see Jesus out in the world in the most unexpected places!
So brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, go quickly and share the good news. Don’t wait for someday, live your life today! Let your fears become great joys and, if nothing else, be assured that God loves you just the way you are!
May it be so! Thanks be to God! Amen!!