Easter Day 2011
Gospel: Matthew 28
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And 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.3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then 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.’
8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’
11 While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. 12After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13telling them, ‘You must say, “His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.” 14If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ 15So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
None of the gospels try to tell us how the resurrection of Jesus happens. It just does. But what they are convinced about is that they have met the risen Christ. Against all expectations, despite his crucifixion, he was still with them.
If we read the gospels carefully, each of the authors present us with slightly odd stories of his presence with them. What I mean is that they are deliberately just slightly unreal. If we stop to think about them we think, “Hang on… that’s odd!” Let me give some examples.
On the Emmaus Road two people walk some 7 miles with Jesus., That's a couple of hours. And they have a long discussion, but do not recognize him! They don’t recognize him until they sit down to eat, and he breaks the bread. How could you not recognize him for so long? In John’s gospel, the men on the boat recognized Jesus at a distance while they were still off shore. Why not the people on the Emmaus road?
In two Gospel accounts Jesus "just appears." He was suddenly among them, says Luke. In john, even though the doors were locked, there is a similar story. A kid in church once said it means he came through the window, but that was just to stir his mum. The boy knew, and so did the rest of us, that Jesus came in a different kind of way.
Mark presents a very y different story. Mark challenges us to find Jesus presence is his absence.
So, apart from Mark, what do you think is going on here. Why one all these resurrection appearances just a bit odd?
Imagine what would happen if someone come in to the op Shop one Friday morning, and told us they'd just seen someone we all know is dead, walking down the street? We'd tell them they were dreaming. Or we would think they were hallucinating or sick.
This is the first thing all these resurrection stories dealing with. They're telling people, "This was real! He ate food. We touched him! He came to us even when we were hiding.”
There were multiple witnesses. A legally valid event needed two witnesses. That' why it’s important that two people agreed that Jesus had said he would destroy the temple in his trial. The theory was that you could trust two witnesses whose story was the same.
There was something else happening, too. By the time the gospels were written down, there was a philosophy in the air where people wanted to say that Jesus was never really properly there! That philosophy thought that God is so holy, and physical matter is so evil, that Jesus would never really sully himself with a physical body.
He came from God, these people said. But he was only an “appearance.” He was like a hologram, of you like. He was not really a body. And he did not really suffer. He only appeared to suffer. These ideas were associated with two heresies called docetism and gnosticism What the early church understood about Jesus was that he WAS human. He was physical. He knew exactly what it was like to be one of us.And God saves all of us, not just some “spiritual bit.”
And so when he was raised, the message was that this really was Jesus. This was the same Jesus. The physical Jesus; there was no room for ideas about ghosts, or appearances. This resurrected Jesus was the real Jesus….
except that he was different. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, a seed is placed in the ground and dies. What comes from the seed is connected to it. It grows from the seed, but it is different.
What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.
So what we have is this situation where people are sure they have met him! He has risen from the dead. He is real. He is not an appearance, or a ghost. He is very real. How do you get the point across? Well, when you tell the stories, you give each one a little tag, a little hint or signal. It's like me telling you a joke, and as I begin, I give a wink. The wink is the signal that something is going on in this story-and you should try and find what it is.
So the two people walk with Jesus for couple of hours on the road to Emmaus. wink, wink. The literary wink is that they don't recognize him- how could that be? That's ridiculous!
So we look at the story again, and see the underlying message. If you really want to meet the risen Jesus you will recognise him in the breaking of bread. It’s great to talk about the bible, but you will really meet Jesus when the church is in communion.
That's a part of Luke's gospel. What about Matthew's gospel, which we read this morning? It has a broad wink as well.
In Matthew's story Jesus is risen, and the women meet him, but only after They begin to carry out the instructions of the angel.
That might be a hint itself. The story we have heard this morning actually suggests to me that the guards and the priests knew Jesus was risen too! The priests only had to bribe the guards, because they didn't want the guards to tell the truth! The guards were sure the body was not stolen.
Do you notice, though, that only the women meet Jesus. Perhaps the message is suggesting that we will meet Jesus if we are about god's work. Note too, that there are two- women in this story. Two people are a valid witness to an event.
But the really odd thing about the story is that Jesus does not say to the women, “Tell the disciples I have been raised from the dead. Bring them back here; I'm waiting for them!”
No, he says “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’”
Do not be afraid has its own message for us! Jesus has been killed, but do not be afraid.
Think about it. He's risen from the dead! It's good news! Tell the disciples? WINK Tell the disciples to walk three days to the north, to Galilee, and then they'll see me? What's going on here?
Galilee was where Jesus did most of his teaching. Galilee was the place of the people. Jerusalem was the big city. It belonged to the rich. It is a symbol for lifestyle and the attitude which rejected Jesus. Galilee was a symbol for Jesus’ way of living.
The hidden message is that if you want to meet the risen Led Jesus, then live the Jesus life. Be his disciple. Follow his teaching.
Is this too fanciful? Look at the story. It says
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.
There’s a big wink here!...to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them? Did he say anything to the women about a mountain? When is there a mountain in the story?
Remember how the first part of the Gospel of Matthew is dominated by the Sermon on the Mount. That’s the mountain Matthew is talking about again. When we stop and reflect on it, the message is plain: Live the way Jesus would live. Live his teaching. That's when you'll meet him.
You'll notice, too, that in the text it says that "some doubted."
It doesn't say they were rejected because of that. It's ok if we don't "get it" sometimes. All we're asked to do is worship him by doing our best to be his disciple. Then we will meet him on the mountain and he will always be with us.
I want to give you my own witness about this. There's nothing very fancy and exciting about my story. I still have troubles. I still get sick, and worried. I doubt. I find it hard to say “I have met Jesus” in the sense that some people seem to mean it, where they had a quiet little chat with Jesus before they had breakfast this morning.
But this following has turned me around. Even though I am not very good at it. Even though I fail. lam so glad to have lived the way I have lived. I have met him. I have been changed. And it is good.
So this is Easter Day. He is risen. He has promised to be with us always. I am not sure what it all means except that it holds me and guides me. God is good. We are not alone. Not even because of death.