The Resurrection of Jesus
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.
But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. 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.”
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. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Throughout this season of Lent we have been challenged to imagine ourselves in familiar gospel stories. We went into the wilderness where Jesus faced temptation. We met Nicodemus and worked to understand our own encounter with Jesus. We met the woman at Jacob’s Well and realized that Jesus reaches out to us as he did to her. We watched as Jesus gave sight to the man born blind. Last week Bishop Hayes helped us to imagine King David and what he saw looking into the past and envisioning the future. Today we come to a moment in history that asks us to imagine one of the most incredible events of all time…The Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It is Easter Sunday…Lent is over and the church is decorated with bright colors. In churches all across America people are attending in record numbers; this is usually the highest church attendance of any day of the year. It looks like spring may finally have arrived to stay awhile and everyone looks great in their new Easter outfits. It is a great day to gather together for worship. But here’s the deal…It is Easter…this is the most people we will have in church all year long and we ask you to come in and listen to what may be the most unlikely story in all of Scripture. This is our big chance to tell a bunch of people about our church and we have this one message that seems so hard to believe. And yet, year after year you come back on Easter. Why?
Theologian Karl Barth said that what brings us here is an unspoken question rolling around in our hearts and minds…That question is simply this: “Is it true?” Is it true that God lives and gives us life? Is it true that God not only established a routine… what we call the laws of nature…but that one day God broke the routine and somehow raised Jesus from the dead? Is it true that something so extraordinary happened on that morning that we can only re-build our lives on its foundations? Is it true? [i] We come back every Easter to hear the answer. We come back every year to imagine how this most incredible event could happen.
So what really did happen that first Easter morning? Let’s go back to the text and find out…First thing in the morning a small group of women set out for the tomb where Jesus was placed on Friday afternoon. Their intention is to anoint his body. Because the burial happened so quickly, nobody had the chance to really prepare the body, so these women want to perform this ritual. As they arrive at the tomb there is a massive earthquake. Now, we have some little earthquakes here in Oklahoma, but nothing like this one. This is so big and so loud because it is caused by an angel descending like thunder from heaven and rolling away the entrance stone as if it were a pebble. The ground shook so hard that the big brave Roman guards were so afraid that they froze as if they were dead. Now this part of the story may seem a little far-fetched, but we are reading an eye-witness account. So, here are these women, scared half to death and staring at some sort of being that shines like lightning. They expected to have to beg the Roman guards to roll the stone away, but they are frozen stiff over there and the stone is already moved. This is not the way this was supposed to go. It’s no wonder they were afraid. The angel has an answer for that too: “Do not be afraid,” he says. Easy for you to say! But, there is more…The angel tells the women he knows why they are there – and he is right! He knows them and that is why his words are reassuring. He tells them to come, look inside the tomb. Three days ago Jesus lay dead in there; the women knew that, they were there. Today the tomb is empty; they can see that for themselves too. The women listen carefully to the angel’s instructions and head back to town to tell the guys what has happened. On the way, who do they run into? – Jesus himself! There is no doubt now – this story is true! It is hard to deny the Resurrection when you stand face-to-face with the resurrected Jesus. The Bible describes twelve separate occasions where Jesus appeared to as few as one person and as many as five hundred (1 Corinthians 15:6)
This message is titled: “Imagine the Joy”. It is about us imagining what it must have been like for all those people. They had followed Jesus all over the country-side for a long time. They watched him perform miracles; they ate countless meals with him; and they heard him teach about the Kingdom of God. Many of them misunderstood the message and thought that Jesus was going to overthrow the Roman invaders. In the end, most of Jesus’ followers ran in fear as he was executed and laid in the tomb. They were still hiding on that first Easter morning when the women came running with the joyous good news.
Now – imagine the joy! My guess is that their joy came fast, but their understanding came more slowly. Their joy came from the realization that Jesus was not dead; that the world could not stop him. They were happy they would be able to see their leader again and continue their mission together. Their understanding formed gradually over the next forty days as Jesus explained what had happened and what was going to happen. He gave instruction about how he uniquely fulfilled the writings of the prophets. He appeared suddenly among the disciples and offered them proof of his resurrection and gave them the gift of his peace. He travelled to Galilee and met his disciples on the lake shore where he offered Peter forgiveness for his betrayal and commanded him to tend to the flock of believers now growing. He challenged them to go into the world and make disciples of all people and told them to baptize and teach in his name. Finally, he ascended to heaven in view of his disciples and promised them the power of the Holy Spirit to carry them forward. Through it all, the disciples’ joy was not dampened; it was forged into their resolve to tell the good news of Jesus to everyone. And their telling brought joy to those who listened. Imagine all that joy!
Here’s the thing…Jesus offered people hope. He showed them ways to care for one another and overcome the world. He gave them a vision for eternity spent in the presence of God; where “mourning and crying and pain will be no more” (Revelation 21:4). His death took their hope away; his resurrection brought it back. Imagine Jesus’ sudden appearance and hearing his words of encouragement inspire the joy that came with their fulfilled hope.
Now – imagine the joy that our world can experience as we continue to share this story. As we show the love of Christ to the world hope replaces despair and joy begins to defeat sadness. Last weekend our church helped provide clean clothes for hundreds of homeless people in Tulsa and gave them the chance to have a hot breakfast…There is hope in this effort. Each time you introduce someone to your friend Jesus, you offer them the hope of a life-changing relationship. Imagine the joy that your efforts can inspire in people you know and those you have yet to meet. Earlier I asked why we keep coming back every year to hear the Easter story. I believe we come back because deep down we know that the story is true. All year long stuff gets in the way of us attending church regularly and getting involved. We are very busy people. But deep down we know that God’s story is true and we want to experience its joy. We come back to hear the story again and to be reminded of its truth. Now, imagine God’s joy this morning to see you sitting here. … In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[i]i [i] “Feasting on the Word”, Year A, Volume 2; EASTER DAY, John 20:1-18, Page 371-374, Martin B Copenhaver.