... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

EASTER MESSAGE - April 24th, 2011

The Comfort of the Resurrection

Text: Matthew 28:1-10

This morning we began the service with the declaration, “Alleluia! Christ is Risen!” And this is indeed the shout of triumphant joy we proclaim every Easter and every Sunday during the Easter season. It is the exclamation of a realized completed promise of salvation. Yet on the very first Easter morning such was not the case. In fact, at its outset, that first Easter dawn was anything but joyous. We are told that early in the morning, at dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary walked to the site of the tomb. Why so early, and why they went there is probably familiar to anyone who has experienced the hard blow of death’s taking a loved one. In all likelihood, neither of the women had slept since the crucifixion, and this would be their first opportunity to revisit the site. They also would have wanted to convince themselves that it had not been just a dream and they in all probability would have wanted to make sure that all the decencies and funeral/burial ceremonies had been done as required by tradition. To those who have experienced a death of a loved one, you know the emotional state: the sense of numbness, the fog-ice semi-awareness of visitations, funeral preparations and logistical planning. You have experienced the sleepless tear soaked nights and the surreal feelings of time moving in slow motion. Then there is the need to be present with the body, the thinking that the person is just sleeping and will awake at any moment. But beneath it all you know that there is the certainty of the event and you just have to visit the grave side to say yet another farewell. Such were the emotional states Matthew wishes us to empathize with both Mary’s as they trekked to the tomb.

But what started as a day of mourning their loss, of sharing their loneliness and despair, would morph into a much more exciting turn of events. Matthew not only tells us of the resurrection, he does so in a way which draws us into the sights sounds and emotions of the people. There is no cut-and-dried description of an empty tomb or a curt declaration of, “He is risen!” No siree! Matthew paints the story of an experiential emotional encounter of the miraculous so that we might truly enter into the ambience of the day.

Having laid out the reasoning for the sealed tomb and the guard posted there at the end of chapter 27, Matthew draws us into the feel of the day by connecting us with the two women in their grief. Then he suddenly awakens our senses with the topsy-turvy experiences about to befall the women. In the grey dusk before the sun has breached the horizon an earthquake shatters the calm and at the same time an angel from heaven rides the shock wave to roll the huge stone from the opening of the tomb. The scene is chaos; the guards shake and fall over as if dead and the angel calmly sits on the stone, turns to the women and says, “Do not be afraid!” As if! I don’t know what the rest of you but when someone says to me, “don’t worry!”, I worry! When I fly and the pilot comes on the overhead and states we will be experiencing a little turbulence and when that is combined with seeing lightening out the window – I worry. When on board ship and the captain come on the intercom and say, “don’t panic” the seas will be a little rough”. I start to be anxious. I think, “What does he know that he isn’t telling us and warning us not to worry or panic!

So here we see two women experiencing an earthquake, the appearance of an angel, the huge stone blocking the entrance being rolled easily away and the guards – seasoned soldiers – just keeling over and then the angel says, “Don’t be afraid!” They were probably scared silly. Yet they heed the angel. They see the open tomb, the emptiness of it and obey the direction to go and tell the disciples. Their emotional state is a jumble of fear and excitement, of anxiety and joy, and of uncertainty and expectation.

Then on the way they meet Jesus, and his first words to them after the greeting are, “Do not be afraid.” This time all the fear anxiety and uncertainty are gone. They are left with excitement joy and expectation. The authority of Jesus’ do not be afraid has dispelled all doubts, all ambivalence and all questions – He is risen indeed.

The story doesn’t end here, for we are told that the women do tell the disciples, the disciples do go to Galilee and there meet the risen Lord and receive the commission for their own ministries. Jesus tells them, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and etching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”

Today the commands still ring true. “Do not be afraid” the reassuring not of authoritative comfort: “Go make disciples”. The directive command of vocation and “I am with you always” the promising covenant of security all envelope those who believe. The comforting words Do not be afraid are not the words of a human airline pilot or ship captain but of Divine origin and authority and bring a truly calming sense to the soul. The commissioning words are directives for all of us to carry out in our daily lives, the witness to God’s presence with us and the source of strength to see us through every difficulty.

[Part of that commissioning directive we witness and celebrate today as we welcome our newest sister in Christ Gracey Eileen Land into the family of all faithful believers. As Christ descended into the dead and rose triumphant on that first Easter Sunday so too do we commemorate it with the immersion into and out of the waters of baptism reborn into a new family, a spiritual body of the whole people of God.]

May we like Mary Magdalene and the other Mary find reassurance strength joy and direction in the comfort of Jesus’ words and teachings, going from here renewed by the strength of the Holy Spirit ruly declaring the response, “The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!”