The Resurrection of Our Lord

by Crossings

A SECURE FUTURE
Matthew 28:1-10
(The Resurrection of Our Lord)
analysis by Lori Cornell


1After 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 worshiped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”


DIAGNOSIS: Insecure

Step 1 – Initial Diagnosis: Sad and Afraid
St. Matthew’s Easter story is a story for people who, when they feel the earth shake, imagine doom and despair. It’s a story for fearful people who look at a grave and only see an end to life. And, perhaps especially, this story is for those who find an eerie comfort in death because – unlike so many other parts of life – at least the finality of death is certain. The story begins with the death of Jesus. While hanging on the cross, Jesus breathes his last and as he dies the earth trembles (as if it too is breathing its last). But after Jesus’ body has been carried away and buried, the religious authorities are still nervous about Jesus’ influence. So they plot with Pilate: How will we see to it that Jesus’ body stays buried (and all rumors of his resurrection put to rest)? Or, rather: How will we make sure that Jesus stays dead? So, in order to make sure that the dead stay dead, Pilate gives his hired guard these instructions: “go make the tomb as secure as you can.” The two Marys who approach Jesus’ tomb a day later share Pilate’s conviction: If the tomb is secured, then the dead will stay where they belong. With the guard stationed securely at the mouth of Jesus’ tomb, they don’t expect to see his body. And, certain that death has dealt Jesus a final blow, the women don’t even bother to bring oil or spices to anoint Jesus body. They only want to be able to view his grave from a distance, remember their teacher and grieve him one last time, and confirm the two-day-old reality of Jesus’ death.

Step 2 – Advanced Diagnosis: Dis-Quieted
This is a story for people who trust the physical reality of death more than the promises of someone who has been buried. After Jesus’ body has been sealed within the tomb, the chief priests and Pharisees begin to recall Jesus’ powerful and provocative promise: “After three days I will rise again.” As far as the authorities are concerned, Jesus is an impostor – a pretend Messiah. But words – especially Jesus’ words – have power. So these leaders deliberate about how to bury Jesus’ promises with his dead body. Putting a guard in front of the tomb, they conclude, will be able to squelch any alternative reports other than Jesus is dead. The presence of the guard will muffle rumors of his rising. What the chief priests and Pharisees don’t realize is that death has done their dirty work for them. Because, unlike the chief priests and Pharisees, the women have totally forgotten Jesus’ promise that he would rise. For them, the truth has been sealed by a stone: Jesus is dead, and their grief is the only evidence of his existence. It appears that death has silenced Jesus and his promises.

Step 3 – Final Diagnosis: Abandoned
Finally, this is a story for people, who think that death, and fear, and sadness are more reliable than life, and joy, and hope. It’s a story for people who trust the reality of death, and who wonder about the God who oversees it all. Has God spoken hollow promises about life and left humanity to face its hopelessness all alone? Or is it worse, even, than that. Has God sealed the story – for Jesus, for us!

PROGNOSIS: Safe and Secured

Step 4 – Initial Prognosis: Christ’s Securing Resurrection
In the face of this sense of abandonment, God makes the earth quake and sends angels to visit the sad and fearful. But, even better than that, God delivers his Son from the grave. And that Son, Jesus personally delivers God’s reply to death. No, God has not abandoned humanity to death. Instead, God has been true to his Word of rising. God remains the same God he was and promised to be in Jesus: Emmanuel – “God-with-us.” When God promises to be with his people, God keeps his word. So the Father vanquishes the Son, raising him from the dead in three days. And Emmanuel (Jesus) rises to complete the work he has begun. His rising strikes fear in death’s guardians (the guard at the tomb), and he delivers a life-giving word to the women: “Do not be afraid. Instead, go and tell the disciples to meet me.” Jesus is alive, as we are also alive with him! And now he also comes to gather the dispersed and fearful disciples. Jesus does not let the Easter gospel be preached only by his angel. He comes, in the risen flesh, to secure his followers who quake in fear and hopelessness. He appears to them: “I said I would rise, and here I am.” True to his word, Jesus has risen. He has won the victory over death.

Step 5 – Advanced Prognosis: Secured in Great Joy
No one but Jesus expected to see life come after death. No one but Jesus expected their fear to be washed away by joy. No one – not Pilate, nor the religious authorities, nor even the women – expected Jesus to keep his word and bring hope out of a hopeless situation. In fact, they all were expecting the opposite to be true: They expected death to have the last word. But hope, in the form of Jesus, has sprung from the grave instead. Jesus had risen as he promised, and that made every promise Jesus made trustworthy and true: Forgiveness, new life, resurrection for sinners – all were true. ON EASTER MORNING JESUS VANQUISHED DEATH AND THE GRAVE. Jesus proved that what he says is true. Not only is Jesus reliable, but so is his Word. His resurrection vindicated him, and it secured humanity’s future with God. What Jesus promised, he would deliver. And so Jesus delivered his fearful followers (the women and disciples then, us now) from the grip of death and from the fear of abandonment. They depart the tomb “with great joy.”

Step 6 – Final Prognosis: Securing in Christ
Having accomplished our salvation, Jesus points his followers toward the future – to Galilee and beyond. When Jesus rose from the grave, he recalled the fullness of his promises to the women. Then he sent them to tell others: “Jesus is alive. Here is where you can find him.” And armed with the promises of Jesus, the women went — no longer in fear but in faith. So too Jesus carries us from fear to faith by his promise: He is alive. God is with us in the flesh (at the table), and his Word is absolutely reliable. Totally secured in Christ, we learn to expect the unexpected from God: we look for life out of death, hope out of despair, joy out of sorrow. And not only do we look for the unexpected, but we are empowered by Christ to do the unexpected – to go where life is otherwise hopeless and recall Christ’s promises to others.


Dear Friends in Christ,
Whenever I visit with my parents in Maine, we invariably end up taking a trip out to the cemeteries where many of my relatives are buried. Why is that? I don’t know, really. It’s probably ’cause we don’t have anything else better to do, or we were just talking about so-and-so, and decide to take a trip out to see where they lay. Or maybe it’s more than that. To refresh our memories, maybe about them, maybe also about ourselves, too, who are dust and ashes, and maybe a bit more.

One morning long ago, two Marys “went to see the tomb” where Jesus was buried. Why? Mark and Luke say it was to bring prepared spices to anoint the body of Jesus. But in Matthew’s gospel, it doesn’t say.

One thing’s for certain. They weren’t prepared to see an angel sitting on the tomb, at least not the kind that talks and says, “He is not here. He has risen.”

Leave it to Jesus to go and change the rules, even the common laws of the universe. We might as well add the Law of God as it applies to humanity. Not so much changing it as overcoming it really, rendering it passé.

I must say, in my own experience, when I go to see my dead uncle or aunt, I’m expecting that they’re still there where we last left them. Dead people usually stay dead, except in some movies that my kids like to watch. But I’m talking about fact, not fantasy.

Nonetheless, consider the fact of faith-not fantasy, but experiential fact-that there’s something about us-just as there was something about Mary (take your pick)-that when others see it, it may make them wonder. Oh, sure, they may see the ugly side of us, maybe even better than we do. But they also see that, in spite of the ugly truth about ourselves, or in spite of the mortally real tragedy or crisis we are facing at any particular moment, there’s more to us than that, as if the rules of ugliness or mortality don’t apply. Perhaps they even wonder about our sense and even overt witness that we wouldn’t be surprised if someday we were to meet uncle or aunt or whomever again someday. All of this in the face of plain, deadly evidence. Why? You’re probably already smiling with the answer. It is the fact that whatever the fear the Marys had when they left that tomb, or we have when just living day to day, they and we also are carrying along something else-great joy. So great, in fact, it invariably ends up getting shared.

It must have. I can see it on your faces and in your Easter-like lives.

He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Mike Hoy

Author

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