…interestingly enough, even after two thousand years we can experience what those two women experienced in the cemetery on that first Easter morning. We can, even today, experience the fellowship that his followers enjoyed on the Galilean shore. The stories recounted in the other Gospels of Jesus coming among his followers – can still be ours today. The living, aroused, Jesus is among us and as he said, is with us until the end of the age. That’s the promise of Easter.
Scholarship suggests that the resurrection we celebrate today occurred on the morning of April 5th in the year 33. That’s based on fixing the crucifixion at 3: p.m. on April 3rd in the year 33. The earliest account of Jesus’ resurrection is reported by the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, written from Ephesus in the year 56, some twenty three years later. All of the Gospel accounts are written even later. The point is, there are no eye witness accounts. At best what we have preserved are stories that circulated within the wider fellowship of the followers of ‘the way’.
You recall that the women in Mark’s version go to the tomb wondering about who will roll the stone away. In Luke and John the women find the stone rolled away and Jesus’ body missing. Matthew’s account of Easter morning starts similarly to John’s. As soon as daylight permits, the text actually says “at the end of the Sabbath”, the two Marys begin their trek to see the tomb…and from that moment on Matthew’s story takes a very different course. Matthew goes for the spectacular. It’s thunder and lightning, earthquake, wind and fire all rolled together. It is the best that nature can muster in response to the arrival of an angel of the Lord.
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And 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. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.
Matthew answers the question that the women in Mark’s version were asking “who will roll the stone away for us?” The angel, that’s who. And he not only rolls it back, he sits on it. His is a commanding presence, shinning like lightning itself. Those commissioned by the authorities, the Greek calls them ‘keepers’, to ensure that Jesus’ followers didn’t steal the body and then claim that the promised resurrection occurred, are rendered senseless, dumb-founded – shock and awe at the sight of the angel that rolled the stoned away and were completely shaken by the earthquake.
Matthew allows us to imagine what happens about the time the women arrive at the sepulcher. The women were afraid. Which is the first thing the angel says to them: But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid;…” Yeah, right. The commanding presence of this brilliant angel looking down at them from his perch atop the stone and they aren’t supposed to be afraid. To complete the picture you have to imagine Mary Magdalene and the other Mary standing in front of the open tomb with the dumb struck keepers looking up at the angel. How different this is from the one young man in Mark and the two men who Luke says ‘stood by’. And you’ll recall from reading John’s version, on Mary’s second trip to the tomb there are two angels in white sitting quietly where Jesus’ body had been laid.
The angel continued: “I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. And he had said. You have to think back to Matthew 16 to when Jesus had tried to prepare his disciples for what lay ahead. He told them that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. “He has been raised, as he said” the angel told them. I wonder whether, in all the Passover activity and then the legal proceedings and then being witnesses to Jesus’ excruciatingly painful crucifixion that they had had time to reflect on what they had been told weeks or before. But the angel knew. He knew why they had come to the cemetery and he was exuberant in telling them the good news “he has been raised…” A better Greek translation is ‘he has been roused’.
And what of us, do we, like those two Marys, still come to Easter morning expecting to find an entombed Jesus? That’s not where Jesus is to be found.
Wrapping up his colloquy the angel says Come, see the place where he lay. Then 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.”
This is the Easter story. It was the message of the effusive angel “He has been roused from the dead.” There’s a great story that still needs to be nudged out of the text but it isn’t the Easter story. It’s the story for next week. The Easter story is simple but is simply beyond my capacity to understand. My brain gets in the way.
When we were in truck driving school and struggling to learn how to snug the DOT bumper of a 53 foot long trailer up against a dock our trainer said, ‘just follow it back’. What? Sitting in that high seat, staring at two rear view mirrors and the dock in the distance and he’s telling me to get out of my head and trust my instincts and allow the trailer to lead me. It wasn’t a matter of belief, that’s a head trip. It was simply a matter of letting off the clutch.
Easter’s like that. Jesus was roused the Greek text says. He was crucified, dead and buried, as the Apostle’s Creed confesses but God didn’t leave him there. He didn’t leave his message there. He didn’t leave his mission – not at all. Matthew says So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly 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 and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
During the Passover meal before the events of the last three days when Jesus ate the night of His betrayal, he informed his disciples, saying, “After I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.” We will explore that next week. Now, the serious challenge of Easter is no different than it was that morning in the garden, but, I think, quite a bit more difficult for us. We really don’t know how to get out of our heads, we don’t know how to extricate ourselves from geography and geometry. We prefer to concoct theories about how things happen and then create belief statements that we repeat and ask others to repeat. You can’t believe it but death wasn’t an end and we get to celebrate it’s new beginnings.
No one witnessed the resurrection – not even the struck dumb Roman keepers – But the witnesses that are most important are the time tested stories of people whose lives have been interrupted by the aroused Jesus. Matthew tells us that the first two were the two Marys. “Jesus met them and said ‘surprise, it’s me’ – that’s a lot closer to the Greek than ‘greetings’. Later Matthew tells of a shore side breakfast and a commissioning. The other Gospels are similar in that regard.
The last words of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel are these: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” We can’t comprehend it. But, interestingly enough, even after two thousand years we can experience what those two women experienced in the cemetery on that first Easter morning. We can, even today, experience the fellowship that his followers enjoyed on the Galilean shore. The stories recounted in the other Gospels of Jesus coming among his followers – can still be ours today. The living, aroused, Jesus is among us and as he said, is with us until the end of the age. That’s the promise of Easter.