Alleluia! Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
We return once again that joyful refrain: Alleluia, into our worship! Our Lenten journey was marked by that refrain’s absence. In it’s place, we adopted new refrains- “Return to the Lord” and “Holy God… have mercy on us.” Now we once again adopt our joyful refrain- Alleluia! And we declare the reason for our joy- Christ is Risen!
Our Gospel reading from Matthew picks up the story where we left it last Sunday. We heard of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, when crowds welcomed him in with palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna!” We listened in to Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, when he predicted his death was soon to come, and that even these faithful followers would turn away. He lifted bread and wine, declaring it to be his body and blood, given for the forgiveness of the world. We followed Jesus to the Garden, where his closest disciples slept as he struggled in prayer to accept the path towards his death. Then the darkness began to close in, as Judas led the authorities to arrest Jesus. Jesus was tried by the priests and governor, and all the people shouted for his crucifixion. Finally, he was nailed to the cross and died. His friends and disciples laid him in a nearby tomb and the religious authorities set a guard so that no one would steal away his body and claim that he was resurrected as he had predicted.
This morning, we find the guard still at the sealed tomb, and two of Jesus’ female disciples coming to anoint his body in a final goodbye. Then the earth physically shakes under their feet as their expectations regarding Jesus’ death are shattered. An angel declares the good news and the women peer into the tomb to confirm it: Jesus is not there, he has been raised. On their way to tell the other disciples, Jesus himself greets them! They are able to touch him, and confirm that he truly has been raised from death.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen indeed Alleluia!
Where does this Easter morning find you? We knew that the tomb would be empty. We journeyed through Holy Week, experiencing each day, but always knowing that Jesus’ sacrifice was a triumph that would be affirmed on Easter morning. Even so, each Easter morning finds us in a new place- the joys and griefs of the past year, the past week, have changed us, so that our hearing of this good news falls on fresh ears.
So, this morning, are you feeling reading to exchange your refrains and welcome the risen Christ? For some of us, it’s been too long a Lenten season. It’s been a year in which we’ve witnessed the tragic deaths of young people in our community. The year’s brought it’s share of sickness, death, worry, and war. Even the natural weather seems to be determined to keep us in an austere landscape. We are in desperate need of declaring the power of God to give life in the face of death! It’s time for some sunshine and some hope! It’s time for that alleluia again!
But, for others of us, this movement into Easter is all too expected and ordinary. We no longer feel the earth-shattering power of the proclamation. Easter comes every year, with the expectation to attend church, to host family, and to fill an Easter basket. The story of Jesus’ resurrection is distant, if not dubious. It doesn’t seem to have any relevance to real life.
Our hearts and minds, our lives have been variously prepared to hear the proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection.
I find each different gospel’s way of telling the resurrection story helpful. If you were able to come to worship throughout Holy Week, you heard the story of the passion and last supper from both Matthew and John. Each gospel has its own way of telling the story of the resurrection. The differences give us room to find resonance with our experience this Sunday.
In Matthew’s, the two Marys are met by an angel whose declaration leaves them in both fear and joy, and then they are able to meet Jesus himself and worship him before telling the news to the other disciples.
In Mark’s, three women come to the tomb, find it empty, are told to tell the other disciples, but don’t, because they are afraid.
In John’s, Mary sees the empty tomb and tells two disciples about this strange occurrence. They race to the tomb, where they find it empty and believe Jesus’ word that he would be raised. But Mary remains in grief and uncertainty. Jesus comes to her, unrecognized at first, but is able to change her grief into certain joy.
In Luke, women come to the tomb and are met by angels who ask, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” They tell the apostles how Jesus’ word has come true, but the men will not believe them, all except for Peter, whose glimmer of hope leads him to search the tomb for himself, and leave for home, pondering what its emptiness might mean.
Each of these tellings of the same event allow us to be honest with who we are and how we experience the news of the resurrection today.
Death and sin, broken relationships with God and each other, are real in each of our lives, but the depth to which they are affecting us today is different. Some of us are ready to turn our grief into the joy of the promise of resurrection. Some of us are just maybe open to the first fingers of dawn. Some of us have lived our lives feeling the sunshine of life and joy all the time. For all of us, Jesus’ death and resurrection breaks the power of death and sin. Jesus was the first to be raised from the dead, to never die again. Jesus has taken away our sin and our brokenness and makes it possible for us to live in loving relationships with God and each other.
Jesus’ death was the result of his faithfulness to his mission of declaring the kingdom of God. He showed God’s love and welcome for those whom the world tends to ignore and reject. He called people into a new way of relating to God and each other that challenged the way things were. Jesus served and died for the very people who abandoned and rejected him, to show God’s love and forgivness. God raises Jesus from the dead in an affirmation of Jesus’ faithfulness to his mission. All that Jesus did was according to God’s mission in the world.
In raising Jesus, God embraces and experiences all that Jesus did. Even Jesus’ entering the experience of suffering, death, and the absence of God is made known to God as Jesus ascends to the Father. God’s mission in Jesus was to be reunited with a humanity that had become distant from its creator. Jesus bridges that gap to join even the most distant, those trapped in suffering, sin, and death. Now no one can ever be separated from God.
Jesus’ death and resurrection are for us. Jesus is raised from the dead as a sign of the promise extended to each of us through Jesus. The promise we receive is that of raised life forever. Not even death will separate us from God.
Resurrection and forgiveness have already been won for us. These gifts are already yours. Jesus’ faithfulness on the cross was a one-time event, as was his resurrection to life. But this event affects all the generations. You have entered Jesus’ faithfulness through your baptism, and your life is already a resurrected life. The day you die will not be your ending, but Jesus will continue to hold you in the promise of resurrection.
We experience the joy of Jesus’ gift of life and forgiveness for us as we celebrate communion. Today, Carter, Connor, Josie, and Betsy, are welcomed to the Lord’s Table for their first communion. As we smell and taste these gifts of bread and wine, we also remember that they are the body and blood of Jesus, broken and poured out for us. Jesus’ sacrifice gives us life. We take in this promise through our senses.
Rejoice in the promises of God- they have been fulfilled today! As Jesus promised, after three days he was raised from the dead. So shall Jesus’ promises to us be fulfilled. Jesus gives you life, forgiveness, and a hope after death!
Alleluia Christ is Risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!
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