Today we celebrate the very heart of the Christian Gospel.
Today we get the good news that is
the foundation of all the good news there is.
Our reading for this morning, our entire service this morning
all boils down to this:
The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia, alleluia!!
But what does that mean?
The idea of a dead person coming back to life is amazing enough.
But Christ’s resurrection is a LOT bigger
than just coming back to life.
At no point in any of the Gospels is the resurrection itself described.
I mean the very moment when Christ crossed the line
from death back into life, eternal life never to die again.
Silence on the moment itself is as it should be.
Resurrection is a mystery too deep for words.
But what is described is dramatic enough.
It was dawn.
Roman soldiers are there, watching the tomb.
The two Marys show up.
And then things get interesting.
There’s a great earthquake.
An angel appears,
who looks like lightning, with clothes as white as snow.
The angel easily rolls away the enormous stone
blocking the entrance to Jesus’ tomb.
And then—I love this detail—the angel sits on the stone and waits.
Try to picture that in your heads.
Think about how you might react.
The first reaction Matthew describes is the soldiers’.
A few days before that first Easter morning,
the Roman Empire had killed Jesus.
Just to be on the safe side,
the Roman governor had stationed guards at Jesus’ tomb
to make sure that Jesus stayed dead
and that everyone knew Jesus had stayed dead.
It was supposed to be Rome’s decisive victory
over Christ and his movement.
But it didn’t work.
These soldiers, representing the most powerful empire on earth,
shook with fear and became like dead men
as soon as they saw the angel,
who was, remember, just Christ’s messenger,
the one charged with announcing the resurrection.
It’s a good thing the soldiers passed out when they did.
They would have literally died of fright
when Jesus himself showed up.
The two Marys were almost as shocked as the soldiers.
They had come to Christ’s tomb to grieve their dead friend,
and, if possible, to care for his dead body.
Instead of a quiet morning of mourning,
they got an earthquake and an angel.
But the Marys were braver than the Roman soldiers.
The Marys were scared.
We can tell that from how the angel greets them.
But the women didn’t shake with terror,
and they didn’t pass out.
The women were able to stand and hear the amazing message
the angel had come to deliver.
But something, or rather someone, considerably greater than the angel is here.
Jesus appears to the two Marys,
Jesus, their old friend and travelling companion.
But when they see Jesus alive again,
the two Marys don’t give him a hug.
No. A hug might have been appropriate
if Jesus had come back exactly the same as he was before his crucifixion.
But he didn’t.
It was still Jesus.
But more, too.
This was their risen Lord.
who could stand before an angel so terrifying
that Roman soldiers fainted at the very sight,
they fell at Jesus’ feet and worshipped him.
Here was power and glory beyond any earthquake or angel.
It turns out, Jesus really wasn’t just another street preacher
the empire could shut down at will.
Jesus was who he said he was.
Jesus was God incarnate.
Jesus’ opponents had refused to believe it,
and even his friends and disciples never really took it in.
But it was true.
And face to face with God, we rightly fall down and worship.
But there is still more to the resurrection.
The power on display in that place and time
was not limited to that place or time.
Christ had won a total victory over death.
And Christ’s victory over death exploded outward
like a shock wave of divine power and love,
changing the nature of creation itself.
Death had been the end of the story for all mortal creatures.
But after the resurrection,
death is no longer the end of the story for us
any more than it was for Jesus.
As we will pray in just a few minutes,
“By his rising to life again, Christ wins for us everlasting life.”
As Paul says in our reading,
“when [at the last day] Christ…is revealed,
then we also will be revealed with him in glory.”
That is the Easter good news, the good news of resurrection.
That’s good news for us especially when we are hurting,
when we have lost people we love,
as has been true for us here at Saint David’s
in the last few weeks and months.
We come together this morning to hear again that good news,
to let the good news of resurrection sink in and change us,
to help us become true resurrection people.
Back on Ash Wednesday,
at the beginning of Lent seven long weeks ago,
many of us were anointed with ashes,
and we heard the grim words,
“Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return.”
It was a reminder that we will all die.
But the Ash Wednesday reminder of our mortality is incomplete without Easter,
without the good news of resurrection,
the good news that Christ died and rose again
so that we, too, might live.
So today, immediately following communion,
I invite you to linger for a moment at the altar rail
so that we can finish what we began on Ash Wednesday.
I will anoint you with holy oil
and bless you with the good news of this morning:
“God’s love is stronger than death,
and to God’s love you are returning.”
That’s a statement about our future, when we will rest in God’s love.
And it is a statement about our present, too.
God’s love is stronger than death, even now.
We are in the process of returning to God’s love, even now.
Christ is alive, and with us, always.
God’s love is revealed in our risen Lord, always.
God is at work bringing about resurrection and new life, always.
That is the good news of Easter.
On that first Easter morning,
Christ shared the good news of resurrection and divine power
with the two Marys.
And Christ told the two Marys
to share that good news with everybody else,
beginning with those closest to them.
The risen Lord is here this morning, too, with the same good news.
And so we bow down in worship.
We hold tightly to Christ’s promise of resurrection.
We strive to enter ever more fully into God’s love.
And we share the good news of resurrection with our world.
Thanks be to God. Amen. Alleluia!
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Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan