April 12, 2020
Matthew 28: 1–10
There is a story about a young man who was visiting, for the first time in his life, the Grand Canyon, the so called sixth wonder of the world. This magnificent canyon has been formed over millions of years by erosion caused by the Colorado river. As he stood gazing over the incredible vista, he was absolutely overwhelmed by the magnitude of the canyon — so much so that it left him speechless and nearly in tears. The awe and wonder of this site cast the man into a long silence. Finally, he turned to his companion and said, “You know, I do believe something must have happened here.”
Science explains what it took to carve out the Grand Canyon. Countless years passed as billions of pieces of silt and sediment were washed away by the fierce waters of the river. But on Easter Sunday, when Christians across the world celebrate the amazing news of resurrection, how can we explain it?
Easter is difficult to explain. However, the biblical story of resurrection is at the core of Christianity and it is a very simple story, really. Three movements. A cross, a death and a resurrection.
Movement one: The cross we know as a tool of suffering. We all know suffering. There isn’t a person who hasn’t suffered in some way — the cross of a broken relationship, a loved one’s death, a personal addiction, a terminal diagnosis, depression, a passionless profession, an angry child, a parent with Alzheimer’s Disease¼¼ suffering, we know, is a part of life.
Movement two: We all understand death. Not a day goes by in the life of our American culture without the reality of death. We understand the death on the cross, because we are acquainted with violence and physical death. Our nation is fixed on mounting fatalities from the COVID-19 virus. Indeed, the entire world is keeping count. We cannot look at any news these days without death being the top story.
Beyond physical death, we understand the poetry of death in our lives — the death of emotions, the death of a dream, the loss of hope that all of us experience at one time or another. Death is a part of life.
Movement three: It is when we arrive at resurrection that Easter becomes difficult. We try to apply our reasoned and rational minds in an attempt to grasp and comprehend this odd thing — death being overcome by resurrection. It is not that we don’t want to believe it. It is not that we are concerned that resurrection is a true reality. It’s just that the whole concept is so foreign and strange to our daily experience and living of this life.
We know our crosses. We know death is a reality. But resurrection, it’s difficult, isn’t it?
On Easter, we know something happened. The question is, what is it? What has happened? We can be dazzled by the wow of Easter just so long before we settle in to wondering why we need a story such as this to pull us through. But perhaps this is the place where we can begin.
The biblical writer Matthew paints the portrait of the women who arrive at the grave of Jesus two days after his burial. They arrive expecting to visit a tomb of death. Instead, there is a great shaking of the earth, an angel descends out of nowhere to roll the stone away and speaks 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, 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.” Matthew 28:5–7
Matthew provides multiple attestations to the resurrection — the women, the guards, and an angel bringing the message that Jesus will meet them in Galilee. He wants to make it clear: Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.
The women respond with fear and great joy as they run to tell the others. Matthew has Jesus meet them as they are running; “Greetings!” he says, or in some translations, “Good Morning!”
Something happened there, and it is a beginning. The mystery of the resurrection of Jesus has little to do with what the women say and everything to do with what they experienced and how they responded. The power and wonder of this story breaks away when the women are running to tell the disciples what has happened and they meet Jesus on the road.
For those early Christians, the empty tomb was not the most important event of that remarkable weekend; what was important, however, was seeing the risen Christ in their life. Early Christians spoke only of their experiences of the resurrection, not about the story of the resurrection.
Often preachers stand up on Easter morning and speculate about the nature of the resurrection and the individual person of Jesus. Was it a literal event, a spiritual experience, a unique miracle? But when preachers concentrate on the single event of resurrection, they fail to proclaim to you the reality of what resurrection can do for you — for an entire society when it’s governed by God’s power and love first revealed in the resurrection of Jesus. We forget that Christianity is not about the salvation of individuals, but about the whole people of God.
So, I wonder, what would it be like if people of faith flooded the world with resurrection realities and an active, faith‑filled, joyful imagination? Isn’t our world in need of a positive surprise? It has been so long since something wonderful has surprised our world.
Well, something has happened this day which promises wonder and joy, new life and fresh hope to even the most cynical of cynics. It’s a day to approach the world with resurrection imagination!
Imagine the leaders of both American political parties leading our country respectfully, pledging to create a sustainable economy, where all have opportunity and their basic needs within reach.
Imagine Muslims, Jews, and Christians getting together to celebrate each other’s high holy days — acknowledging that among them is the One God who reigns over all religions.
Imagine if what we spend on military operations was the same amount we spend on educating young people to be citizens of the world.
Imagine a resurrected world, in which there is plenty of water and food in Africa — and affordable and obtainable medicine for fighting disease is sent from all over the world.
This is the Easter we need — to let our imaginations and our spirits soar with the news that the world can be reborn into hope and possibility. This is the day that the world as we know it, a world in which death and sin, betrayal and fear have carried the day — this world has been overturned by the power, the grace and the Love of God in Jesus.
Today, God’s power in raising Jesus changes everything. Something has happened this day. So, let resurrection reality start anew in your life and share it widely.
Christ the Lord is Risen today. Alleluia!