A Sermon for Easter Day (12/04/20): He is not here, He is risen

Christ is risen: He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

He Is Not Here, He is Risen
Matthew 28:1-10

Before the sun is even properly up, Easter morning begins. It begins in journey from a still sleeping city, resting after the excitement and terror of the past week. It begins in a journey to a quiet place where all human life seems to end:
After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.
Early on Sunday morning, on the third day of the terrible crisis that they are living through, the two Marys go to the tomb. It is faith that takes them there. We often ascribe their journey to other motives, but it is faith that draws them. Perhaps as yet it is an unformed faith. But it is faith nonetheless. They have taken Jesus at his word. They have believed what he told them. He said that he would be betrayed, and he was. Judas sold him for 30 pieces of silver He said that he would be given over into the hands of sinners, and he was. There in the dark, in the garden, on Thursday night they had come with soldiers and taken hold of him. He had said that he would suffer and die, and he did. They nailed him to a cross and lifted him up for all to see. He said that on the third day he would rise again. The women have watched it all. They have stayed, beyond the bitter end. Now they are here. Jesus has never let them down. They have stayed true to him, even as others have fallen aside. They trust Jesus to be true to his word, one more time. Faith draws them to look at the tomb, hoping that they are not the ones who were mistaken. And their faith is rewarded Their faith in Jesus, as it should, and as it always does, their faith brings them to the right place at the right time to experience the resurrection.

There are many things that can be the opposite of faith. Outright certainty can be one of them. The certainty that the world is the way it is, and cannot change. That death is death and cannot be reversed. That there is nothing to be done. That there really is no alternative.That God can and will do no new thing.
There is also unbelief. The unbelief that declares that Jesus is not the Messiah, and his words cannot be fulfilled. That Jesus was not who he said, and who he appeared to be. That his words were false. That he was lying, perhaps not to his followers, but at the very least to himself. That his promises of new life and a new world are all just fantasy. 
But fear is also the opposite of faith. It was perhaps fear for himself that prompted Judas’ betrayal. It was fear that scattered the disciples on Thursday night. It was fear that kept them away from the foot of the cross. It is fear now that keeps them shut in their room and away from is waiting for the women at the tomb. Fear ultimately is always the fear of death, directly or indirectly. It is that fear that hangs over all of human existence. It is that fear which drives so much of how we see human beings act.
In many ways that fear is natural enough. Death seems to bring an end to who we are. It robs us of our loved ones. It is the greatest, most fearful unknown, the dark abyss we cannot look into. But it is that fear that leads people to try to build lives of security in the face of death. It is the source of the futile attempt to drown out the yawning silence of death with noise and busyness and things, anything to anaesthetise that fear. It is that fear that is used by some to dominate and exploit others. It is that fear that enables the many to be held captive by the few; and both sides of that relationship are equally terrified of dying. It is fear of death that keeps the disciples at home, and away from the place that will remind them of death, the tomb.

The resurrection destroys certainty. If being dead isn’t certain, then absolutely nothing is certain! The resurrection dispels unbelief. Jesus is vindicated, he is exactly who he said, and who he appeared to be! And most of all the resurrection takes away the fear of death. Death does not have the last word over Jesus. Death, in Jesus, need not have the last word over us. Whatever lies in that abyss that we cannot see, it need not be feared, because Jesus can bring us through it.

The two Marys have their faith rewarded. After the earthquake which opens the tomb, an angel descends and announces to them:
“Do not be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised. Come see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ there you will see him.”
The angel’s extraordinary speech contains the whole gospel. The angel proclaims to the women the gospel in its purest and simplest form. Jesus was crucified; now he has been raised. That is the good news which dispels fear. And proclamation leads to exhortation. The gospel always contains within itself the need to pass it on. After fear is gone, one thing is left to be done. The women must carry that good news to those who need to hear it. They must give it to the disciples so that their fear can be dispelled as well. To receive the gospel, to know that Jesus is not dead but alive, to be released from the crushing  fear that hangs over all human existence, always implies the necessity of carrying the message to others who still need to hear it.

Yet just as the gospel dispels the fear of death it puts two different fears in its place. The earthquake which brings the two Marys to life, leaves the guards as if they were dead. The dazzling appearance of the angel terrifies the servants of the forces of death. Their fear of death is still in place. But now it has been joined by another fear. That Jesus overcomes death strikes fear into those who rely on that fear, and into those who are enmeshed in its system. If death is not final, if death is not to be feared, then death’s power has vanished. And those who would use death to control and exploit have nothing left. All that is left to them is the condemnation of the one who they killed but who would not stay dead; Jesus. The good news, even this the best news of all, is always accompanied by judgement. Those who are certain that God can do no new thing, that there is no alternative, those who do not take Jesus at his word and do not believe what he says and those who are motivated by fear to live lives of destruction all stand condemned by the resurrection.

But the two Marys are gripped by another sort of fear.
So they left the tomb with fear and great joy and ran to tell his disciples.
There is not better expression of the appropriate response to an encounter with the power of God: Fear and great joy. The women experience a different kind of fear. They are awed, astounded, amazed by what they hear and see, and now know. The words fall short of the experience. The world proves to be fundamentally different from the place of cold despair we are so often told exists. This fear is a kind of dizzying vertigo. An exhilarating fear that spills over into joy. Nothing else is left to be afraid of. The Marys, and everyone who shares their faith, and goes with them to find that the tomb is empty, are set free. That is a fearful joyful experience. It is the freedom that empowers them to obey. The Marys turn away from the tomb, they leave the place of death for the last time and head back into life with good news. As they do so:
Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings.”
Jesus’ presence confirms the angel’s announcement, and when he speaks he confirms the angel’s instructions:
“Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, there they will see me.”
The gospel in its purest and simplest form, Christ is alive. And if you go where he sends you, he will meet you there. The resurrection is not an idea. It is not a theory nor an explanation nor even a philosophy. It is not simply a moment in history. The resurrection is an ongoing reality. It is solid enough to take hold of for ourselves. On Easter morning we discover and proclaim that Christ is risen. It is good news which dispels our fear and sets free. It is a reality that fills us with fear and joy.

Again many thanks to Sylvia Fairbrass from Normanby who provided the photograph of her Easter flower arrangement which is at the start of this post. She explains it like this:
“This is my attempt to tell the story of Easter using materials from the old railway path and my garden as I am self-isolating.The arrangement is made up the following:
Yew – Trinity, Euonymus – Evergreen, Gold Heart & Variegated Ivy.
Flowers: – Followers, Family & Romans.
Blue, Rosemary, Hyacinth.
Orange, Crown Fritillaria – Crown of thorns,
Purple, Everlasting Wallflowers. 
Red, Tulip & Wallflowers, Pink & Blue, Yellow Kale. 
White Hyacinths & Narcissus, Hellebore – Angels
Purple candle, Palm Crosses, 30 pence in Silver coins.”

Creative Commons Licence
He Is Not Here, He is Risen by Christopher Wood-Archer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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