Summary: Matthew’s Easter Gospel is for a people who live in fear. It calls us forward into an often fearful future with Jesus going before us.
Resurrection of Our Lord Matthew 28:1-10 31 March 2002
Rev. Roger Haugen
Quite a text! To read this text and to think of all we do to celebrate Easter, there has got to be more to the story than meets the eye. The story comes off a little flat. Women coming to the tomb and you wonder if they only intended to view the grave from a distance, remember their teacher, tell a few stories and then go back remembering the good times of the past for what they were, events of the past. Done and only to be remembered.
There is a touch of defeat in the story. Maybe Pilate was correct, the dead Jesus was going to be kept dead. These are people living in fear, people who feared the worst, people with little hope. There seems to be little reason to hope. Just one more day following after the horrors of the weekend – betrayal, denial, abandonment and death.
Matthew’s Easter story is a story for people who know fear. People, when they feel the earth shake imagine doom and despair. It is a story for fearful people who look at a grave and only see an end to life. It is hard not to conclude that death is winning – read the story.
If this is a story for people who know fear, it is a story for us. We know fear. Death is all around us. People we love are dying, violence forces us to be fearful in our own community. Nations all around the world are torn by terrorism and war and the oceans no longer insulate us from such events. This is a story for people, who think that death, and fear, and sadness are more reliable than life, and joy, and hope.
Matthew knows about fear and it is to this fear that Matthew speaks. Yes, there is an earthquake but this is the apocalyptic earthquake of God entering into our world of fear. God bringing about the ultimately decisive event for human history – the one who came into the world to save the world from sin, death and fear, has completed his work.
Death, which has bound humanity for all time, is no longer in charge.
The words of the angel and the words of Jesus are words for us, “Do not be afraid.” The earth shakes but it is not about hopelessness and despair, but about God who enters the world to make things right, to give us hope.
We do not celebrate a faith that is centred at the shrine of an grave but we celebrate and live a resurrection faith. A resurrection faith that does not depend on evidence but on the experience of a risen Christ. A Christ who goes before us into a world of fear but fear that no longer paralyzes, no longer a fear with the power to destroy.
This is a faith that expects us not to stay at the tomb and wonder and remember. It is a faith that leads us into the future, following one who goes before us. He is the one, as the angel said, “going ahead of you into Galilee.” Galilee, the key word for Matthew referring to the place where the people who did not know God were found.
A resurrection faith seeks to share the love of God with those who have not experienced God’s love. Such a faith looks to others rather being caught up in the commemoration of an event or a place. Salvation has been accomplished, Christ is arisen, let the world know. Let go of the fear that holds you, follow the one who goes before you.
Matthew was right, for those who need tangible proof, there is precious little. It is easier to live lives diminished by fear. We are tempted to build lives which we can control because then we can be sure. But Jesus invites us to meet him in Galilee, the future that only he can see. Galilee, where there is no shortage of things to be afraid of, yet a place where Jesus goes on before us.
When many of us were small we learned the bedtime prayer,
”Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
Mike Slaughter reminded me of that prayer. He writes,
Do you remember praying that? Death and all that stuff was scary. But we knew God was big enough to hold us, didn’t we? When we went to bed, we didn’t lack fear. There were monsters under the bed, and bigger monsters in the closet! But we weren’t like adults. We went to sleep knowing that God was big enough to care for us.