Sunday, April 24, 2011

1st Sunday of Easter - 04/24/11

And so we come to this day of triumph, Easter Sunday.  For six long weeks we have been moving through Lent.  For the past seven days we have been in the darkness of Holy Week.  Finally, blessedly, we have come to Easter morning when we can celebrate with Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, when we can cry out, “Alleluia, Christ is Risen!”  (He is risen indeed.)  But it is worth noting that the first Easter morning did not begin with “Alleluia, Christ is risen.”  The first Easter morning did not start with joy.  Quite to the contrary.  So this morning, I would like to move through our gospel lesson with these two women of faith, spending some time in the moments that they experienced on the way from sorrow to joy. 

I. “After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.” 

When the two Marys awoke that first Easter morning, joy was the furthest thing from their minds.  Jesus was dead; they knew this.  They had spent Friday watching him die.  The suddenness and the cruelty of it all made them sick.  How could darkness and evil win?  How could Jesus die?  It didn’t make any sense.

His ministry was dead too.  The healing of the sick, the mercy for the outcasts, the teachings, the hope for God’s kingdom.  It was all over.  Had it all been a lie?  Or had it just gone terribly wrong?  It was difficult to say.  One way or the other, hope had died along with Jesus on that cross. 

After he had breathed his last they had to get back indoors to observe the Sabbath.  You couldn’t work on the Sabbath and so they were condemned to think about the horror that they had just experienced all day long with nothing to distract their minds.  At least there was that mercy this morning.  They could at least go to the tomb and try to prepare his body for burial.  Better late than never.  And so they went. 

II. “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 as dead men.” 

From our perspective after the fact, this might seem like good news.  This was not good news.  The appearance of an angel is reason for fear, pure and simple.  Have you ever noticed how in the Bible, angels are always saying, “Do not fear?”  There is a reason for that.  The appearance of an angel is not a comforting sight. 

When we talk about angels we might call to mind a so-called “guardian angel.”  This is a comforting thought.  We might call to mind those little figurines, Precious Moments angels.  These are cute, darling little angels that wouldn’t harm a fly.  We might also call to mind the way we use the word angel as a metaphor.  When we traveled on the plane with our son last month, he was such an angel.  That is to say, he was well-behaved. 

Bible angels, real angels, are nothing of the sort.  Bible angels scare people to death.  You can see that with the guards, who fall over as if they were dead.  You can be certain that Mary and Mary were frightened too.  The appearance of an angel is not good news; it is reason to be afraid.

III. “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.”

This is starting to sound like it might be good news; the angel says, “Don’t be afraid.”  Better yet, “He isn’t here.”  But wait a second......  What happened to him?  Why isn’t he here?  Has someone stolen him? 

When we look at the empty tomb, we think that this is good news, but it isn’t necessarily the case.  An empty tomb could mean any number of things.  It might mean grave robbers.  It might mean that they had gotten confused and had come to the wrong tomb.  It might mean that Jesus body has been destroyed somehow.  An empty tomb isn’t good news.

“’For he has been raised.’  Raised?  Does that mean that he isn’t dead?  Yes, that means he isn’t dead!  Hadn’t Jesus said something about this?  Yes, yes he had!”......  Now hope is beginning to dawn. 

III. “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.”

Now this is getting better.  Not only is Jesus not in the tomb.  Not only is he alive.  They are going to be able to see him!  The women might have been thinking, “Jesus has come back from the dead for me!  He is going to come and see me!”  Can it possibly be true that death hasn’t won?  Can it be true that there is still hope?  Will there be light instead of darkness?”  They run from the tomb with great joy because of the word of promise that has been spoken to them, but also with fear, “Can this be true?”

IV. “Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’  And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.”

“Oh my God, it is true.  You are alive.  It’s real.” 

Defeat, sorrow, darkness, death.  These dark forces were powerfully present in the lives of Mary and Mary as they went to the tomb that morning.  What they discovered is that defeat, sorrow, darkness and death do not win.  They do not win.  Jesus Christ wins.  Jesus Christ takes defeat, and he defeats it.  He takes sorrow and infuses it with joy.  Darkness flees before Jesus who is the true light of the world.  And death?  On Easter morning, it is death that lies dead in the tomb.  The two women whose morning had begun with hope in tatters and sorrow like a heavy garment upon their hearts,...... these women had been set free. 

But that wasn’t enough.  Good news is only good news if you hear it, if it is given to you.  And that is why the gospel account continues.  Why it MUST continue.  For only two have heard the good news.......

V. “Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

This good news must be told.  People must hear that Jesus has overcome the defeat of the cross, that he has turned sorrow into joy, that he has vanquished darkness with light, that he has put death to death in order to give life. 

We really aren’t so different than the two Marys.  We all come here this morning with some measure of defeat, sorrow, darkness and death in our lives.  Sometimes we’re aware of exactly what afflicts us and sometimes we don’t know exactly what it is.  Some of us struggle against it mightily and others have made their peace.  One way or the other, we come here needing to hear the promise of good news.  And so I tell you, Hear the Good News: Jesus Christ has been raised.  He has been raised for you.  He has been raised to set you free.  He has been raised to give you life.    

Alleluia, Christ is risen!  (He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!)

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