APRIL 12, 2020
How easily that Easter greeting rolls off our tongues during worship but have we any idea exactly what we are saying? If we did, would we reconsider how casually we say the words? Or perhaps, would we say the words in a whisper so that people don’t think we are crazy – because it really isn’t something that makes a whole lot of sense?
Oh, sure, we know the words say that Jesus died but now is alive. That He was crucified but is now resurrected! That’s what we learned in Bible class – but really? Do we believe it is so? And if we do believe….do we know what this miracle we claim to believe means for US? The whole thing is so uncomfortable to grapple with isn’t it? – maybe that’s why we like centering the day around bunnies, baskets, jelly beans, and Easter bonnets! Overwhelm the miracle with the superficial commercialism and we don’t have to think about it – just one more day to party and then go back to life as it has always been….
But what if we took the time to consider Easter through the eyes of those first believers by considering the Easter account in the Gospel of Matthew. We will look at the account in the gospel of John in another posting, but for now, let’s look at Matthew, because this is Year A in the Lectionary.
Truth be told, the women didn’t expect Jesus to be resurrected…until He was! After all, dead is dead! Sometimes we forget that these are real people – real events – and the women surely had more experience with the realities of death up close and personal than most of us thankfully will ever have! Again…dead is dead – it’s just the way things are! So consider…
The two Marys had gone to the tomb early in the morning on ‘the first day of the week’ to grieve their loss and prepare their Lord for a proper burial. Jesus had been crucified and died on Friday; had been removed from the cross Friday before sunset and then hurriedly laid in the tomb. There had been no proper preparation of His lifeless Body because the Sabbath (Shabbat) observance would begin Friday at sunset and last until sunset on Saturday. During that period of time no one was allowed to work or walk more than a half mile from their homes. They experienced 25 hours of silence – unable to lovingly honor His life by caring for His Body in His death.
The two women had no expectations beyond what they had always done when people died. They never imagined what they would encounter this particular morning: an angel telling them not to be afraid, an invitation to look inside an empty tomb, and the puzzling words –
‘He is not here! He has been raised, as He said.’
Creation seems to be turned on its head! And they left the tomb with fear and great joy.
The fear part I absolutely understand!, But joy? Was their joy just because their Lord was alive? I imagine initially the answer might be ‘well, duh! of course!’ But over the course of the rest of their lives, don’t you imagine they might have remembered the words: “just as He said” and be filled with joy beyond all understanding! Those words carry such Easter impact. Why? Because, if He is raised just as He said – then that would mean that everything else He said was true as well! What did that mean for the women? What does that mean for each of us?
Let’s focus on Mary Magdalene. By tradition, she is assumed to be the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11). [There are theologians who disagree, believing she is merely Mary of Magdela, but for our purposes let’s stick with tradition.] She first met Jesus when she was thrown in front of Him by the Pharisees for condemnation. The Lord refused to condemn her but instead forgave her. We will perhaps talk about that account somewhere down the road, but let’s just focus on her past as a harlot, her present as a forgiven woman and why the empty tomb would bring her such fearful joy.
Jesus had forgiven her in the past! Other men had used her and beaten her down. Jesus sought to lift her up, affirm her humanity, and show her a different way of living.
The community had shunned her. Jesus brought her into His community of followers.
New life, new beginnings for her as she followed Jesus from that terrible wonderful day forward….but now, was her life over? She had watched Jesus die – what was left for her? But now in the morning light, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! The new life offered her as the Lord had forgiven her in the past would continue for all time.
She was forgiven and free to live the life Christ taught her – the life of unconditional love of others, the life that chooses not to judge others, because she would always remember her own past. That remembering of what Christ had done for her would empower her to lift up others so that they too could live a new life – a forgiven life – a life made free by the love of God in Christ Jesus! The One Who was risen from the dead had forgiven her and opened up new life to her – not just while He was on earth – but for all time! Now that’s a reason for JOY!
Mary’s eyes were opened to see Jesus for Who He is – the Christ – and she worshipped at His feet! In Christ’s eyes, she was among His beloved and that first Easter morning He once more lifted her up and included her in the family of God as His beloved child.
And what was true for Mary is true for us.
Easter is about the unconditional forgiveness and new life our Lord offers each of us – no matter what is in our past. We have only to believe the truth that is Christ and accept that incomprehensible love. We ARE forgiven – we can begin again – just as He said! And as we believe these truths, we are lifted up and included within the company of all who believe – we are the beloved sons and daughters of God. Not because of anything we have done to deserve it – but because Christ loves us – loves us enough to die for each and everyone of us! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen, indeed!
There is nothing casual about these words! Shout the truth, no need to whisper – everyone needs to hear this past forgiving, new life-giving truth! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen, indeed! Happy Easter joy!
And to God be the glory! AMEN.