April 12th, 2020
Gospel Reading: Matthew 28:1-10
Jesus Has Risen
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. 2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Sermon: Angel descended from heaven
An unusual situation has developed in our hometown. The grass is green; spring flowers are blooming; trees have budded with explosions of purples and whites, and now those trees are beginning to display their delicate pastel green leaves. But something is missing. Where are the palms we normally wave? When will we stuff the Easter eggs with candies and chocolates? Where will the community gather for the traditional Easter egg hunt? Will we still have a Maundy Thursday service? Can we still have our Easter morning breakfast and an Easter egg hunt on the church grounds? Where are the glorious Easter lilies, which fill our sanctuary with that fragrant aroma? Why can’t we hear the people rejoicing and singing, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today?”
Imagine the people in Jerusalem. Thousands made the pilgrimage to come to the Holy City for the Feast of Passover. People were crowded along the streets to greet the Coming King. They hoped peace in Israel was also coming—a victory over the Roman soldiers who occupied their land. They shouted loud hosannas and waved palm branches only to find an obscure peasant teacher from Nazareth on the back of a donkey. Their hopes quickly turned to despair; their cheers became shouts of anger. This peasant king was no Messiah; he was an ordinary man. There was no army. There would be no peace.
The Passover Feast continued. This was the first of three festivals of the Hebrew people. It recalled the sacrifice of a lamb in Egypt when Israel was enslaved. Hebrews smeared the lamb’s blood on their doorposts so that the angel of death would “pass over” their houses while destroying the firstborn in Egypt. Perhaps then the Pharaoh would let this people go.
Passover was observed on the 14th day of the first month, Abib, in the evening. It was on the evening of this very day that the Israelites left Egypt. Passover commemorated this departure from Egypt in haste. Unleavened bread was used in the celebration because people had no time to add leaven to their bread as they ate their final meal as slaves in Egypt.
Jesus celebrated the Passover Meal with his disciples in the upper room, establishing the sacrament of Holy Communion, commonly called the Last Supper. Jesus said, “This bread is my body, which is broken for you. The wine is my precious blood, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sin.” Less than twenty four hours later, Jesus’ broken body was nailed to a cruel cross. A Roman soldier’s spear pierced Jesus’ side, as he breathed his final breath and said, “It is finished.”
Now the mystery truly began. Joseph of Arimathea and the Pharisee Nicodemus received Jesus’ body from the cross and carried him to a borrowed tomb. Since the Sabbath was upon them, they hurriedly wrapped his body, placed it in the tomb, and sealed the tomb with a heavy stone at the entrance. That was Friday night just before sunset. For three days, Jesus’ followers hid behind locked doors, mourning that their master had died. They were lost without Jesus, incapable of serving as his disciples for fear that they might also be crucified.
Matthew made it clear that none of Jesus’ disciples left the safety of a locked upper room and came to the tomb. Only two women, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, approached the tomb carrying aromatic spices to properly anoint Jesus’ body. Having observed his burial, they were most concerned about the weight of the massive stone and the Roman soldiers standing guard. They were certainly not prepared for what God had done!
God dispatched an angel to descend from heaven to open Jesus’ tomb for all to see. God’s angel did exactly that and then sat down atop the stone. He was quite a site, like no person anyone had ever seen. His clothes were dazzling white! God’s angel accomplished another remarkable feat. The guards trembled in fear and shock at the appearance of God’s angel. They were so stunned with fear that they seemed to be frozen in place. So much for tight security by armed guards!
God’s angel fully anticipated why the women had come. Jesus’ body no longer needed to be anointed. He no longer needed to be wrapped in proper burial clothes. With this in mind, God’s angel made the first pronouncement that Christ was risen. Listen carefully to what the angel said, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
Did you hear his complete disclosure? Just as leaders tell us every day, “Do not be afraid!” The angel knew why they had come to the tomb, but those difficult tasks were no longer necessary. Why? Because Jesus who was crucified is now risen from the dead. Was the angel singing? Probably not, but his message was totally glorious: “Christ the Lord is Risen Today; Up from the Grave He Arose; We Serve a Risen Savior, He’s in the World Today.” Will you join me as we celebrate that Christ is Risen?
Whenever I go to a cemetery to visit a gravesite, I find this angel’s words to be words of tremendous comfort. “I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.” So instead of looking down or reading the words inscribed on the stone, I look up toward heaven and thank God for saving us from the grave. The Apostle Paul echoes the angel’s assurances in 1 Corinthians 15:20-22, “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.” Christ’s resurrection was glorious; the hope for general resurrection is made possible because he lives.
So we sing on Easter and every other Sunday a great hymn which celebrates our hope and stay—he is Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Sing these words with me this morning:
God sent His son, they called Him Jesus. He came to love, heal and forgive. He lived and died to buy my pardon. An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives.
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future and life is worth the living, just because He lives.
The Bible confirms that Jesus met with the women at the tomb, with ten disciples behind locked doors, with eleven disciples when Thomas joined them, and later with more than five hundred eyewitnesses before gloriously ascending into heaven. These men and women touched his hands and side. They heard him teach. They joined him for breakfast along the coast of the Sea of Galilee. They received his Great Commission. They waited in Jerusalem until they received the power of God’s Holy Spirit.
We are Easter people because we preach Christ crucified and risen from the dead. Because he lives, we can face every tomorrow until we are raised to new life for all eternity. Do not be afraid.