Sunday, March 23, 2008

Out of Slumber - March 23, 2008 (Blackburn's Chapel)

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.”

It was early Sunday morning – the day after the Sabbath. Mary lay in bed, somewhere in that place between asleep and awake, relaxing out of slumber before beginning the day. Suddenly, the events of the past few days startled her into sober alertness. She remembered it all, and she remembered it so clearly it couldn’t have been some horrible dream. They had arrested her teacher, her guide, and her friend. They had trumped all sorts of false charges against him, beaten him, held his trial, sentenced him to death and carried out his execution. Now, he was dead. She couldn’t believe it. He was such a good teacher. He performed so many signs and wonders. He taught as one with authority. He had placed a glimmer of hope in the lives of so many people. And we killed him for it.

It was early Sunday morning – this morning. Mary lay in bed, somewhere between asleep and awake, relaxing out of slumber before beginning the day. It was still dark, but Mary got up and prepared to go to the tomb. She, with the other Mary, walked down the path that led to the base of the rock. Thinking about the events of the past few days, they began to weep. Words could not describe their grief. Words could not describe their anguish. Words could not describe their fear. As they came near the tomb, the ground shook violently. They arrived, and found the stone rolled away, and an angel sitting on top of it. Mary was not half asleep now; she was wide awake. The angel’s message was simple, yet so profound. “He is not here; he is risen.” “Well,” thought Mary. “This changes everything.”

This changes everything
He is not here! He is risen! This is news that changes everything. The text says the women went and told the other disciples the wonderful news. And what did the disciples do? They pretty much went about their normal business. Are you kidding me? This news shook the earth, for goodness’ sake!!! This is the day of victory! This is the day when history will never again be the same.

Only the disciples of Jesus could learn about an empty tomb and not let it spoil their plans for lunch. Throughout history, there have been people who wanted to deny the reality of the resurrection. They say the disciples sort of made the whole thing up. “Wasn’t it great being with Jesus before they killed him? You remember those great stories he told? The lectures, er, sermons? Just thinking about it makes him seem almost still here. Yep, by God, he is still here. Let’s all close our eyes and believe real hard the he’s still here. Okay?” But you know what? The disciples weren’t that creative. These were not imaginative minds we’re dealing with here. You don’t get the bodily resurrection of Jesus out of people with brains like Simon Peter’s.

In short, the disciples were people like us.

People like us like to believe that you can have resurrection and still have the world as it was yesterday. We want to have Easter and still have our world unrocked by resurrection. We are amazingly well adjusted to the same old world.

But today, on Easter, everything is changed. Today, on Easter, God is doing a new thing. Today, on Easter, God says the world is no longer the same as it used to be.

Why do you think the ground shook?

According to our text from Matthew, Easter is an earthquake that shook the whole world. We modern types try to “explain” the resurrection. One says that Jesus was in a deep, drugged coma and woke up. Another said that the disciples got all worked up in their grief and just fantasized the whole thing.

You can’t “explain” a resurrection. Resurrection explains us. The truth of Jesus tells on the faces of the befuddled disciples who witnessed it. Not one of them expected, wanted Easter. Death, defeat, while regrettable, are utterly explainable.

The world is in the tight death-grip of the “facts.” All that lives, dies. The good get it in the end. Face facts. It may be a rather somber world, but it is our world where things stay tied down and what dies stays that way. And there are few surprises. This is us.

But Easter is about God. It is not about the resuscitation of a dead body. That’s resuscitation, not resurrection. It’s not about the “immortality of the soul,” some divine spark that endures after the end. That’s Plato, not Jesus. It’s about God, not God as an empathetic but ineffective good friend, or some inner experience, but God who creates a way when there was no way, a God who makes war on evil until evil is undone, a God who raises dead Jesus just to show us who’s in charge here.

I wonder about that angel, sitting there on top of the tomb. I wonder if that’s the same angel who shook Joseph awake one night back in Matthew Chapter 1 and told him his fiancĂ©e was pregnant. At Christmas, God invaded a virgin’s womb. At Easter, God invaded a borrowed tomb. The tomb belonged to Joseph of Arimathea. Some have said that when Joseph was praying about whether or not to allow Jesus to be placed in the tomb, God spoke to him. “Don’t worry,” God said. My son only needs it for the weekend.”

At Christmas, an angel was sent to tell Joseph, “Name the baby Emmanuel, God-with-us.” At Easter, an angel said to the women, “He is not here.” Little God-with-Us grew up, got crucified, made the earth shake, and is on the move to take back the world.

On the cross, the world did all it could to Jesus. At Easter, God did all God could to the world. And the earth shook. Why the cross, you ask? The cross was the inevitable, predictable result of saying the things Jesus said, of doing the things Jesus did, and being the Savior Jesus was. He had taught, he had healed, he had loved the poor and attacked the rich, in short, he had threatened to overturn the world’s entire value system. And so the world crucified him. This is simply what the world always has done to people who threaten it.

But on Easter morning, God inserted a new fact. God took the cross – the cruelest instrument of suffering and shame, and made it an instrument of triumph. God, the same God who made light out of darkness and formed the earth from a vast void, took the worst we could do and made the whole thing about life. And the earth shook.

On Easter, God shows us a world in which nothing will be the same. Jesus came back to forgive those who had forsaken him. And Jesus came back to love the world who despised and rejected him. And Jesus came back to let us all know that the world is really about forgiveness, and not vengeance. And the earth shook.

On Easter, the rules changed. On Easter, the rules changed with this simple pronouncement: “He is not here. He is risen!” From the hopeless fog that descended upon the earliest followers of Jesus Christ, to the stunned victims of the worlds worst tragedies - these words change everything. No matter how long the road or dark the way, the Easter faith proclaims hope in the face of despair, light in the midst of darkness, joy in the night of sorrow and most of all... life in a glorious victory over death! And the earth shook.

I know what you have come looking for
The angel said to the women, “I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.” They were looking for a body. The body of a friend. The body of a teacher. They came looking for a body, but instead they met the risen, life-giving Lord. Thanks be to God! They came looking to mourn, but instead, they were swept up in the celebration of new life.

Perhaps some have come today looking for proof of the resurrection. I can offer no such proof. Scripture provides no proof. Christian tradition provides no proof. I can’t explain, on a metaphysical level, how the resurrection works. It is beyond all logic and purely scientific comprehension. While I cannot show you proof, I can show you witnesses. The Scriptures provide accounts of people, like the two women at the tomb, who had an encounter with the risen Lord, and their lives were changed because of it. Christian tradition is full of encounters with the risen Lord. You want more witnesses? Just look around at the faces of the people with whom you have come to worship today. These faces testify that God is still working on us. These faces testify that God isn’t through with us yet. These faces testify that God is still very much alive, and even now, we are being transformed. He is risen, we have encountered him, and our encounter with him has changed us. Gathered in this place is the living testimony that He lives, and His life makes all the difference in our lives.

“He is not here. He is risen!” It was good news to the women and to the disciples on that first Easter Sunday. Friends, it continues to be good news for us today. Let that news wash over you, bask in the meaning of those words. “He is risen!” Everything is different for us now. Pity on us if we have heard this good news and go back the same way we came.

As the angel said to the women, so I say to you, “I know what you have come looking for.” The reason I know is because I’m looking for the same exact thing. I have come, looking for an encounter with the risen and living Lord. I have come, knowing that an encounter with Him will transform and change me. I have come, looking to meet him, because I have met him before. I have met him in a font of water where he called me “Beloved and sealed me with his Spirit. I have met him at a table lovingly and graciously spread with bread and wine. I have met him in searching the Scriptures. I have met him in private prayer and meditation. I have met him in the gathering of his people, as hallowed halls swelled with the rhythms of prayer and praise, of liturgy and song. I have come today, expecting to meet him yet again. I have come, expecting that Christ will transform my heart. I have come, expecting that Christ will transform this heartless world.

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