Good morning, Friends! Once again, happy Easter! We’re so glad that you’re here!
Easter is one of the three biggest holidays in the entire Christian year. There’s Christmas – the birth of Jesus. There’s Easter – when Jesus rose from the dead. And there’s Pentecost, seven weeks from now, where we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit.
But Easter is special. And we’re glad you’re here, to share the day with us.
It’s not about eggs and chocolate. It’s not about bunnies and peeps. Easter is about God so loving the whole world, that he sent his only Son, so that whoever puts their trust in him will have the life that never ends.
Easter is all about life. The love of God is stronger than anything else in the world. God’s love is even stronger than hatred and death.
Easter crosses party lines. It crosses racial divisions. Easter is a bridge, between Christians from every nation on earth. Wherever you find people who are gathered in Jesus’ name, you always find Easter.
Last Sunday, we read the part of the gospel leading up to Jesus’ death. It says that when Jesus died, the curtain in the Temple, which hid the presence of God from everyone, the curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom.
Matthew is kind of the Hollywood gospel. Matthew throws in all kinds of special effects. So, last week it also said that when Jesus died, there was an earthquake. The earth shook and the rocks split.
It’s like saying that Easter shook the earth. Nothing can stand up to the death and life of Jesus. But let’s read the story of Easter morning together.
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. The angel’s appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of the angel that they shook and became like dead men.
The angel said to the women, “Don’t be afraid. I know that you’re looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and they ran to tell his disciples.
Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell the others to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”Matthew 28:1-10
It’s such a simple story. And yet, everything is different, because of it.
It takes place just before dawn. Two women went out to the cemetery, to visit the tomb. They knew perfectly well what they’d find. Jesus had died, three days ago. They knew he was dead. They witnessed his death. They watched as Jesus was laid in the tomb. It says so.
Everybody knew good and well that Jesus was dead. There was no question about it. Not the women. Not the disciples. Not the priests or Pilate. Not Judas, or the guards. Jesus was dead.
The women got to the tomb, and Matthew says there was an earthquake. Another earthquake. Like, the earth itself couldn’t keep still. The world was almost overturned.
And then, there was an angel. Came down from heaven. How big was the angel? Was it small, or tall? It doesn’t say.
It says the angel looked like the white-hot fire of lightning. Like a lightning bolt struck, right in front of them, and stayed there. That’s one idea of what an angel looks like.
It says the angel rolled back the stone that covered the entrance to the tomb. And then the angel sat there. It’s like the angel dusted off his hands and said, “There! THAT’S done!”
The guards at the cemetery were so scared that they freaked out and fainted. Angels can do that to you.
Now, you don’t have to believe all those details in the story. If you want the plain vanilla version, you can go and read one of the other gospels.
Go and read Mark, where everybody ran away, because they were terrified. Go and read Luke, where nobody believed the women. Go read the gospel of John, where Peter and his buddy ran to the tomb, ducked in, and saw the grave clothes lying empty. Read whatever version you want.
What they all agree on, was that Jesus was alive. They met him. They saw him. He spoke to them. He blessed them.
But to go back to Matthew’s version of the Easter story, the one we read today.
The angel said, “Don’t be afraid!” which is exactly what the angel said to Mary back in the Christmas story. Maybe there’s just something scary about having a white-hot lightning bolt, talking to you.
The angel said, “I know what you’re here for!” Do not, ever, try to fool and angel. It doesn’t work. They know what’s on your mind, already. “You’re looking for Jesus. He’s not here.”
OK, now comes the Easter part.
“He’s not here. He has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then, go and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead. He’s going on ahead of you. You will see him.’ Now, I’ve told you!”
It says they ran away. This wasn’t just a couple of Jewish ladies, out jogging. They RAN! They took off, as fast as they could go! They ran like an angel was after them. Wouldn’t you?
They couldn’t tell if they were terrified, or joyful. Maybe some of both. Easter – the real version – is both scary and amazing.
And then, suddenly, Jesus himself met them. It doesn’t say that Jesus met the other disciples. Jesus met the women. Never forget that women were the first witnesses to the risen Christ on Easter morning.
They slowed down and walked up to Jesus. They didn’t know whether to hug him or run. Prayer can feel that way. When Jesus is really here, we don’t know what to do.
It says they knelt down and grabbed his feet. One of those two women may have been the one who anointed Jesus the week before.
They loved him. It doesn’t record that they said anything. When Jesus is really here, sometimes we don’t need to say a thing.
We don’t know how long the moment lasted. In a holy time, in a God moment, time, long or short, doesn’t matter. I don’t want us to rush past this part of the story. That moment, long or short, lasted forever. They knew that Jesus was alive again.
It wasn’t a rumor. It wasn’t pretend. It wasn’t something you scroll past on the Internet. Jesus was really and truly alive.
How does that change our world?
Jesus isn’t an idea or a memory. Jesus is our brother, and our savior, and our friend. Jesus is our joy and our hope. Jesus is the name we call on when we’re scared, or when we need help.
Without Jesus, we might as well go on home, and forget about all this. With Jesus, we’ve got a job to do, a world to reach, a message to share.
If Jesus is alive – and that’s what Easter is all about – then go on out that door. Keep your eyes open, and your ear to the ground. Go back home, or wherever you want, and you’ll find him.
That’s part of the Easter message, too. You will find him. He’s gone on ahead of you. Any nation on earth, and you’ll find he’s there already. Jesus himself said, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age. . .”
That’s the good news at Easter. That’s the earthquake. That’s the lightning bolt. Jesus is alive!
That’s the Easter message: Don’t look in the grave. It’s empty. Don’t look for Jesus on the dead people’s list. He’s more alive than you or me.
Meet him for yourself. Whether it’s joyful or scary. Don’t be terrified. Jesus really loves you.
Come and see. Go and tell. That’s Easter.