Filed under: Sermons, Uncategorized | Tags: cemetery, easter, grave, resurrection
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!
We gathered early this morning in the Cross cemetery. It wasn’t because the cemetery makes a perfect backdrop for a reenactment of the Easter story. It wasn’t a prop. We gathered among markers and bodies of friends and relatives because the good news of Easter is most real there. There our experience of the finality of death, our memories of that moment when the casket was closed, are changed by the proclamation that this is not the end. Graveside is where the good news is most real- and most difficult to trust.
As told by the Gospel of John, Mary Magdalene comes to Jesus’ tomb in the predawn darkness. When she sees the sealing stone has been pulled away from the tomb’s entrance, she goes to get Peter and another disciple. To their confusion, they find the tomb empty. Mary stays by the tomb, weeping in her grief. She believes someone has now added insult to injury, taking away Jesus’ lifeless body so that he cannot even be properly laid to rest. Jesus meets her in her grief. He calls her by name, and she recognizes him. The impossible has happened, Jesus is alive.
As told by the Gospel of Matthew, two women come to the tomb at dawn. Fantastic events begin at their arrival. There is a great earthquake and a blinding, sizzling appearance of an angel, who rolls away the sealing stone from the tomb, and lounges upon it as one who shares in the victory of defeating a powerful enemy. This messenger so frightens the guards at the tomb that they are no longer a threat. But to the woman, he speaks words of encouragement: “do not be afraid.” Jesus is not in the tomb, he has been raised. The women are to share in the joy of Jesus’ defeat of death. They run to tell the other disciples. Jesus himself appears to them as they are on their way. If the angelic messenger was not enough, the reality of this fantastic news that Jesus is alive is confirmed as they touch his living feet and worship him.
Each gospel has its own telling of the disciples’ reaction to the empty tomb as they try to sort out what this surprising good news means. In the disciples’ varied reactions, we see our own struggle, sometimes eagerly rejoicing at Jesus’ resurrection, at other times wondering how such a thing can be possible. Every day, we may trust in Jesus’ resurrection, yet every Easter can be different for us. We come to this good news with whatever heartache is most fresh. Perhaps there are lilies in the chancel that mark a new grief this year. Perhaps there are hopes disappointed in your own heart. Perhaps, this year, resurrection, new life, and hope seem foolish dreams. The gospels give us space to come and encounter this risen Christ with whatever lens our faith and our life allow. The telling of Jesus’ resurrection has the power to build hope, even through our skeptic stance.
God’s action to give life is not dependent on our own work or faith. God has raised Jesus from the dead, the first of all to be freed from death. Through Jesus, all will be raised to life. Death is not the final end for our loved ones. Death is not the final end for you and me. Instead of the cemetery being a place that reminds us how we are severed from our loved ones forever, it is more like a yearbook, through which we are reminded of stories and good times, and which reads out the names of those who now belong to the great gathering of the living saints in Jesus.
These holy days are all about how God gathers us up. God comes to us and embraces us. The cross is God’s ultimate act of connecting with us. On the cross, Jesus chooses to come towards us as we reject him.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus is described with a stronger sense of power as he carries his own cross, speaks with authority from the cross, and gives up his own spirit to die. Throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus has proclaimed that his death will be followed by his rising. Jesus seems most aware in this gospel that through him, God will be victorious over death. Jesus is confident in his path towards us, confident in his path to the cross, and confident that God will work good through death.
In the Gospel of Matthew, we see Jesus’ agony in the garden and sense the weight of pain that he prepares to carry in his abandonment and crucifixion. Through this writer’s lens, we hear Jesus cry out, “My God, my God, why have forsaken me?” How alone Jesus must have felt, putting everything he has into reaching out towards us who push him away, who push him even into death. Jesus stays to his difficult course, faithful to us, all the way to his death.
From either gospel’s viewpoint, the disciples experience Jesus’ death as final, and are overwhelmed by the surprisingly empty tomb. Jesus’ resurrection is God’s validation of all of Jesus’ work. By raising Jesus from the dead, God declares that Jesus’ movement towards us has accomplished its purpose. Jesus goes to the cross to destroy the power of our rejection. Jesus proves that God is so intent on being in relationship with us, that he continued to move forward into relationship even when that meant we would kill him. By raising Jesus from the dead, God destroys our power to make rejection permanent. That God would establish relationship where one side always works towards rejection doesn’t make sense. That a dead man would be raised to life doesn’t make sense. But this incomprehensible work of God is good news for us.
The good news of Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t only change our view when we’re standing in a cemetery. The good news of Jesus’ resurrection changes the way we live today. We do not need to fear our death and so do not need to fill our lives with frantically amassing and achieving other gains to help us forget that death will come. This life is not all there is. We are freed from fear, so that we can spend these earthly days tending God’s creation and serving our fellows in creation.
Jesus’ resurrection means we are not alone. Our immediate community, those people we know and interact with each day, are not the only people to whom we are connected. Jesus has drawn us into the family of God, which spans all generations and nations. When loved ones die, those relationships are changed for now, but they are not broken.
We live as Jesus lives, for the sake of the whole world. Freed from fear, freed from death, forgiven, and given life, Jesus sends you with joy to share the good news of his resurrection with the world. Do this through your work to alleviate fear, to work freedom, to provide for those in need, and to steward all God’s creation.
On Easter, Jesus moves our focus from fear at the grave, to joy at his living presence, to loving service for the sake of the world. Go forth from your encounter with the empty tomb and risen Jesus with wonder and joy.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
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