Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Sunrise, March 23, 2008. Matthew 28:1-10

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and 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, and there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:1-10, ESV)

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

As I was preparing for this service this morning I noticed something that I hadn’t noticed before. Something that at first seemed strange and different. Maybe you’ve noticed it, or maybe you just took it for granted. But, for me it was really the first time I really took notice of it. The Easter story, the account of the Resurrection of Our Lord, the highest point in the church year, “The most holy Christian Holiday” (as they so often say in the News media), the most joyous day of the year for Christians, all it takes place in a cemetery. Maybe that doesn’t seem strange to you. But I have a difficult time putting all the normal events of Easter, all of our celebrations, in a graveyard. Maybe I can explain it this way. Little Billy is 2 years old. He’s wearing he new Easter suit, its one of those with a white shirt and a little vest. He’s running across the grass in search of Easter eggs. Mom is standing there with her hand at her mouth holding back tears of joy, “He’s just so cute!” she says to herself. Dad is following close behind making sure Billy sees all of the eggs hidden in the grass… Dad kneels next to his son. “Billy, I see a really nice one. Look over there, next to that gravestone!”

Or picture this; a large group of people has gathered together, they are all wearing their “Easter Best.” It is a joyous Easter festival! There are little girls in new spring bonnets… flowers butterflies, ribbons and curls, perfume and makeup; little boys in new spring suits, women in fresh flower print dresses and men who normally are found in coveralls, actually wearing ties. Everyone is joyful and happy. There is laughter and singing, even trumpets. As you look out over the crowd here and there between the people are gray and white tombstone stones sticking up. And even a mound of fresh dirt marking a recent burial. It seems to me an odd picture, an inconsistency. Something is defiantly out of place. Somehow, Easter and the graveyard don’t seem to go together.

Well, I guess it really isn’t hard to understand… Easter is a springtime festival. Everything we do reminds us of life. Mountains of lilies, bright Easter colors, buckets of pastel M&Ms, even the white paraments on the altar remind us of life. The grass is at least thinking about turning green again several of you farmers are already itching to get into the fields. (some of you have already been there) Easter is about life. It’s about spring, or so it would seem.

The graveyard on the other hand, is about separation and death. When we visit there we do so with tears, not joy. We do our best to make them pleasant places, with green grass and trees; nice quiet peaceful places to visit; but they are not places of great joy. They are not places of life. So it would seem, Easter and the graveyard don’t really go together.

Yet, here we are with this text in front of us, an account of how the two Mary’s went early in the morning to “look at the tomb,” to the graveyard. I wonder exactly what they expected to see there? Were their steps a confusing combination of grief, sadness, and yet hope? Did the words Jesus spoke about his death echo in their minds? Did the words Jesus spoke about his resurrection give them some small portion of hope? After all, they wanted to look at the tomb. Maybe, just maybe, Jesus wouldn’t be there, dead. Maybe, just maybe, they’d find just what he had told them they’d find, that he was really alive again. One thing is for certain. They went to the graveyard to see Jesus. And it was Jesus that they found. Well, first they found an angel, and an empty tomb. I wonder how it felt to stand in that graveyard, that place of death, and look at the place where a dead body should have been and find it empty. “I know you are looking for Jesus, the one who you saw crucified, dead and buried….” The angel said to them, “but you won’t find him in the grave anymore. He is risen! See the grave is empty! And that is good news that you need to tell his disciples.” The women were afraid, but they were also filled with joy; an uneasy combination of faith and unbelief; of hope and fear. And so they ran. They ran to do what the angel told them to do. And suddenly there in that place of death, there in that graveyard, stood Jesus, not dead but very much alive. The angel told them that he was alive. What the angel had told them was true. Jesus had told them that he would rise from the dead. What Jesus had told them was true. Jesus Christ, their crucified Lord had conquered death. There he stood before them, and all they could do was grab hold of him and worship at his feet.

Jesus conquered death! Two nights ago we gathered in this same place and remembered the price paid by Jesus for our sins. We remembered the punishment he bore for us as he bled and died on the cross. We all left in silence, maybe even with a confusing mixture of sadness and joy. Because we knew that what Jesus did, he did for us. “Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” That means that his death on the cross was our death, too. When he died for the sins of the world he died for your sins and mine. “We were therefore buried with him, through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised form the dead through the glory of the father, we to may have new life. If we have been united with him in his death, we will certainly be united with him in his resurrection.” You see Jesus conquered death. He conquered your death. The resurrection of Jesus is assurance to you that even though you will die, you too, will rise again, just as he did. And that’s what those women found when they visited that graveyard in Jerusalem. They found the resurrected Jesus. They found the living Jesus and the promise of their own resurrection.

We’ve made some visits to the graveyard this year. We’ve been there. And we will undoubtedly be there again this coming year. What do we expect to find there at the graveyard? Do we go with an uneasy combination of sadness and joy? Do we go there looking for Jesus? Do we go there remembering that Jesus stood in a graveyard, resurrected to life? You see, it may seem that Easter is about life. But would it surprise you if I said that Easter isn’t really about life. Easter is really all about death. It’s about an end to death forever. It’s about the victory our Lord won over death. It’s about Jesus Christ standing in the cemetery alive. It’s about you and me, and all those we’ve laid out in the ground of our cemetary, alive again, because of Jesus Christ our Risen Lord.

Well ok, I’m not saying that we should have met in the cemetery this morning. But I am saying that the cemetery is the perfect place for Easter! That is where Easter means everything. That is where we see first hand what it means that Jesus Christ is risen today! Amen.

He is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

The Peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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