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Easter Sunday A Sermon
Matthew 28:1-18
April
12, 2020

 

Sermon Archives
 

 

Matthew 28:1-18

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. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’

Christ is Risen!! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! The grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us in the name of Jesus Christ, our risen Lord and Savior; Amen.

There is a story I like to tell about a large family getting ready for their Easter dinner. A young daughter is helping her mother prepare the ham for baking. Just before putting the ham into the roaster pan, mother cut about a half-inch off of each end. “Why do you cut the ends off of the ham, mother?” the little girl asked. The mother thought for a moment and replied, “Well … I guess because my mother, your grandmother, always did it. Why don’t you ask her!” So, the little girl went to her grandmother who was seasoning potatoes, “Grandma, why do we cut the ends off the ham before we cook it?” Grandma also paused to think. “I did it because I always watched my mother, your great-grandmother do it. She is sitting in the living room, let’s go ask her.” So, the two ladies approach the matriarch of the family and asked, “Nanna, why do we cut the ends off the ham before we bake it?” Nanna raised an eyebrow, took a sip of her wine and said, “Well, I don’t know why you do it, but my pan was always about an inch too short!”

I tell that story as an illustration of how easy it is for necessary actions from one time period to become traditions which are lifted up to being sacred in our homes and especially in our churches even after those actions are not necessary anymore. Even the most well-pleasing of traditions can replace the truly sacred in our faith lives. Take for example, getting dressed up in your finest and going to a church building on Easter Sunday morning. For some, that is THE way to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. If a person is able, this is the one Sunday of the year that a priority is placed to be together, to pack the church and to hear the gospel proclaimed. Anything else can be considered UN-Christian.
I must admit, the music, the breakfast, the flowers, the people on Easter do make it a very joyful time for my family and me. Even though this year we are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus in a different, strange way, it is not un-Christian. Maybe it is actually good for us during this, hopefully once in a lifetime crisis, to be stripped of the regular Easter trappings, traditions and rituals that we have come to hold so dear and mark this day the exact same way that those first Christian men and women did – alone, quiet, afraid, and mostly hiding behind locked doors. The two Mary’s in our story are doing something that is very normal – visiting the grave of a departed loved one. While going about that holy ritual, they experience something that is very counter-normal: a second earthquake in three days, an angel who has rolled back the stone in front of Jesus tomb and sits there observing these guards who have passed out, and finally, Jesus himself, once dead and now walking around, very much alive. Wanting to get back to their normal, everyday lives, these two women – and then the men disciples – are confronted by the one who loves the world so much that not even death will deter him from sharing that love with all. And their response is to fall to his feet in worship … just the two of them, as they are – alone, afraid, silent … dressed in everyday clothes trying to get back to their everyday lives.

Do we take this gospel message for granted? Do we take it for granted when we get stuck in the routines of home, work or school, so that when something like this pandemic strikes, we have a hard time experiencing the risen Christ among us? Maybe we even take it for granted on the Holiest day of the year, being too concerned about our clothes or the anthems or the length of the ham to experience the presence of our Lord!! Those first witnesses of the resurrected Christ certainly did not. Mired in isolation and fear, not being able to imagine what life might be like when they were able to once again leave their homes and roam freely and openly in public, they were open to this new disruption in their lives. They were able to experience the promise that a newly raised Lord shared with them – that he goes on before them, to Galilee and wherever they will travel – to remind them that fear and death are not the final words in any age or circumstance.

This year, we are reminded in ways that are very uncomfortable and frightening that God never promised to appear only in what we have come to know as normal - overflowing buildings with grand worship services during times of growing economy, good health and a future that is unfolding just as we planned it would. God has never promised us any of those things – but God has promised to be with us and for us at ALL times: in sorrow and in joy, triumph and tragedy, gain and loss, peace and fear, scarcity and plenty; and because of the cross which preceded to empty tomb, we especially know God’s promised presence in those times of hardship, struggle, loss and the deaths of our existence.
Every morning I read an email devotion written by Father Richard Rohr – many folks from Clinton Heights have heard me mention his name and share his words. A week ago, each of his five devotions were drawn from five lessons that he learned from studying the male initiation rites of certain cultures. He claims that there are five consistent lessons or truths communicated to the initiates which are meant to strip them of what they believe is important and connect them to the reality of life around us. He shared them and wrote about them because during this global disruption, we have an opportunity to realign to reality, our own belonging to it, and to remain grounded in the presence of the risen Christ. Now some of these might shock you … consider them the “Cross of Good Friday” part of the Easter story:
1. Life is Hard.
2. You are not important.
3. Your life is not about you.
4. You are not in control.
5. You are going to die.

When we experience what we are going through right now as a society and world, we are reminded of this reality. But Father Rohr went on the next week – this past week – what he calls the Five Consoling Messages, or the “common wonderful.” These five messages hold us and help us to grow into new birth through the trauma of our shared experience. Here they are:
1. Life is hard – and yet Jesus promised, “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28
2. You are not important – but do you not know that your name is written in heaven? Luke 10:20
3. Your life is not about you – and yet Paul said, “I live now not my own life, but the life of Christ who lives in me.” Galatians 2:20.
4. You are not in control – and yet, “can any of you, for all of your worrying, add a single moment to the span of your life? Luke 12:26
5. You are going to die – and yet, nothing – not even death or life – can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

We can see this Easter as an aberration – a necessary evil so that we can get past the present dangers and get back to “normal.” Or we can experience it as a time to re-connect with the realities of life, bad and good, with God present as our spiritual guides. These truths and consoling words are for us always, regardless if we are dressed in our best in a crowded building, or watching a screen alone in our home, apartment or care facility wearing a nightgown or shorts and a tee shirt. The promise of the resurrected Christ is that God’s time has come – the Kairos, the season of God’s redemption is here. Just as some may yearn for God’s time for healing in the midst of brokenness, so also some may wonder why we rejoice when our world is still sick. This is God’s appointed time – it is not our time. Like those first women and men, we have shuddered ourselves away from the dangers of being in public in fear and silence. And like them, we continue to hope that the faithfulness of Jesus Christ does indeed conquer our fear, our brokenness, and finally, death itself. In this time of interruption of life, the risen Lord has broken into your dwelling places with good news – that Christ IS Risen! He is risen indeed! Amen!