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Easter A Sermon
Matthew 28: 1-10

April 16, 2017


Sermon Archives


May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us in the name of his son our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

You probably already knew that each of the four gospel writers shares the story of Jesus’ resurrection in a little different way. There are a number of reasons for this - the story was told orally for decades before it was written down, so depending on where a person heard it, there could be different nuances or aspects either brought out or left off. Sometimes a writer wanted to make a point about Jesus that another writer didn’t, or one audience needed to read or hear something that another could care less about. Through it all, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each share this all-important story with different theology or slant, but the basics are the same – some women came to Jesus’ tomb and he was not there. He was raised from the dead, and appeared to many others before ascending to heaven. Those are the basics, the foundation of Christian Faith.

But there are a couple of things that Matthew includes which are not in the other three accounts of the resurrection, the most significant being an earthquake. Matthew tells us that when the two Marys came to the tomb, there was a great earthquake. It was caused by an angel of the Lord rolling back the stone which sat in front of the tomb. This angel was so terrifying that, in conjunction with its glowing appearance, the guards shook and fainted at the scene. By reminding his readers that the earth shook on the day that Jesus rose again, I believe that Matthew is emphasizing that as wonderful and joyous as this event was, it was a little bit scary as well. The guards were so afraid that they fell to the ground. And, according to the verses following our text this morning, the chief priests were so afraid that they bribed the guards to tell no one about the incident. The angel comforts the women – the original Greek translation of our phrase, “Do not be afraid,” actually has a bit of humor in it. With the guards passed out on the ground, the angel looks at the women and says, “don’t YOU be afraid!? As if to say that the guards were right to be afraid, but they have nothing to fear. And after hearing the good news from the angel, we are told that the women left the scene filled with a mixture of fear and great joy. The earthquake is a reminder that the resurrection shook things up for everyone, literally and figuratively!

We Christians like to talk about how Jesus was God’s way of breaking the Kingdom of Heaven into the history of the world. Jesus liked to talk about the Kingdom of Heaven a lot. He would say, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed, or leaven, or a shepherd who leaves 99 sheep to look for the lost one.” Or he would say, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you, or The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” As important as the Kingdom of Heaven is, Jesus was so cryptic with his teachings and parables that Biblical scholars have debated for centuries just what this Kingdom of Heaven exactly is, or at least how to share it so that people can know what it is. Many Christians, especially those of a more evangelical persuasion, assume that the Kingdom of Heaven is the place where you go when you die, if you’ve been “saved,” that is. But the problem with that interpretation is that it doesn’t say anything about our relationship with God before we die. Jesus said that the Kingdom of Heaven is within us, and is at hand, which makes me believe that it has a lot to do with this life as well!

Believing that the Kingdom of Heaven is something that you die into means that whatever you do in this life, and wherever you go, you expect to see death, to see things come to an end. It means we fear death at every turn, whether it is our literal, physical death, or the ending of a relationship, source of income, our independence, or a fulfilling vocation. I know that sometimes when I feel like things are overwhelming in my life or in the world, I will utter the phrase, “Come, Lord Jesus …” wanting Jesus to either take me, or to float down out of the clouds as he has ultimately promised to do.

But Matthew’s story of Jesus’ resurrection and the earthquake that accompanied it reminds me that Jesus has come, and does come into our lives to bring life whenever we only expect death. It means that even though others may faint with fear around us, God’s messengers are here to say to us, “You – you don’t need to be afraid! Death is not here. Jesus is here, and he is going ahead of you wherever you go, to meet you there and to accompany you as you live as a citizen in God’s earthly creation!” It shakes us up, but it also brings us great joy because we realize that the Kingdom of Heaven isn’t something that you die into … it is something that you awaken into! When (not if) Jesus meets you when you thought you were hopeless and alone, then you awaken into the Kingdom of Heaven not as a place, but as a reality – a reality that God broke into our world in Jesus in a new way, and death cannot defeat us. Actually, as Paul told the Colossians in our second lesson, we have already died … and we have already been raised with Christ! And as Martin Luther taught us, we are to die and rise every single day, being simultaneously saint and sinner at the same time!
We live now as citizens of this world, doing the work that God gifted and called us to do while we can, loving our neighbors as Jesus loved us and called us to do AND we live now as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, having been awakened by the resurrected Christ so that nothing can bring the fear that makes us look for death at every turn. New life is ours because Jesus has been raised.

Sometimes I will look through my files at sermons that I preached the last time these scripture passages came up in our reading cycle. Three years ago, April 20, 2014, I said in my message that I thought that Matthew is saying that the resurrection of Jesus is all about courage. Courage is precisely what Easter is about. While some may preach that coming to faith in Christ should smooth all of the rough places of life and still the tremors of this world, the gospel of our risen Lord gives us the ability to keep our feet amid the tremors, and enables us not just to persevere, but even to flourish when life is difficult.

I preached that sermon with my parents sitting right about there in this sanctuary, not knowing that eight days later, April 28, my mom would have a massive stroke which would take her life the following day. Talk about an earthquake! Then, almost exactly three months later that our dad would join her as well. I think of them often as model citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, not because they “died into it” three years ago, but because while they lived, they worked hard to love each other, their families, their neighbors, their church, strangers … everyone they could. They had already died and had already risen with Christ, so their confidence and joy overflowed into their earthly life in such a way that we all witnessed them as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven then. Things haven’t always been easy for the family that John and Lue left behind, but we have their witness along with the witnesses of the two women named Mary to calm our fears whenever things get shaken up, and encourage us to expect not death in those times, but life.

In the resurrection of Jesus we are given courage as we are awakened into the reality of the Kingdom of Heaven. Today we give thanks to Matthew for sharing this resurrection story in such a way that it speaks to us as citizens of both kingdoms, an earthly one and a heavenly one; and we give thanks to God, because Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!! Amen!