Beyond the Tomb: An Easter Sermon

The sermon from Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017 on Matthew 28: 1-20

Christ is Risen!

But it would be so much simpler if Jesus stayed dead. That would make it a straightforward story.

There are good guys (and women, though the writers of the Gospels keep their presence low-key).

There are bad guys.

There was life and hope and revolution and the bad guys crushed it.

They won.

They won – those powers of empire, that cult of corruption – and that is a cult with many devotees across history, across religion, across nationality and language.

The cult of corruption worships human power. They may mask it with something else. But the raw reality is a love of human power and what comes of the exercise of it.

When we look at the last 3 days, when we consider the crucifixion, we see what the dealers of death can do.

They beat and whipped Jesus and hung him with wood and nails and they killed him. We’ll talk in weeks ahead about the meaning we can make of the cross itself. We’ll come back to that. But we know that he died and that he died a miserable, excruciating death.

That could have been the end of a sad and too-familiar story.

The story of death. The victory of an imperial culture of death that exploits bodies and crushes spirits.

Let us not be mistaken that such a narrative endures –

4 young people – one an infant – were shot at a church carnival in Center Point last night.

More than a hundred people died today in Sri Lanka when a landslide in a garbage dump crushed their homes, which were right beside it.

Nearly 130 people died yesterday when a suicide bomber struck a convoy of buses of people fleeing to safety in Aleppo, Syria.

Yet another reporter – one of hundreds – responsible for covering the drug war was murdered in Mexico.

Our country dropped a bomb that cost 300 million dollars to develop on one of the poorest, most remote parts of the world.  

The state of Arkansas may not succeed in executing 7 men in an 11-day span this month, but it won’t be for the lack of trying.

Every one of these incidents – and hundreds and thousands more like them – reflect and represent the man-made culture of death, the sinful infliction of harm of one against another, the presence of hell on Earth, the forces that crucified Jesus and that not only dishonor human life but extinguish it – all the time

Sometimes it seems as if we live in a tomb.

Sometimes it feels like that’s the end of the story.

But then an earthquake and an angel and a rolled stone and an empty tomb . . .

And the angel says ‘do not be afraid”

Yeah. Right.

The whole angel thing had to be pretty terrifying.

Imagine being Mary Magdalene in that moment.

Be not afraid of the messenger – and be not afraid of the message, which is the radical message that death does not have the final say. Death does not have the final say.

Actually, that’s a pretty intimidating concept also.

It would be easier if Jesus stayed dead. We would have certainty. Instead we are invited into possibility.

You hear how Mary and Mary react, right? With fear and great joy.

What does all this mean? They don’t yet know the answer to that.

We don’t even fully know the answer to that. We continue to make sense and make meaning of the life and death and Resurrection of Jesus to this day.

We strive to make sense of it in our world just as they sought to make sense of it in theirs.

Because the resurrection changes everything.

Death and the culture of death and the power of empire do not have the final say.

We always have the option of choosing the culture of death. We can buy into the ways of the world. Dehumanization and destruction and death-dealing breed more of the same.

Or we can embrace the mystery. We can hold to the constant promise of new life, as a way of living.

The Resurrection is not something you see.

It’s something you live.

It’s something you choose every single day.

That’s the miracle – or one of them, at least – that in a culture that commodifies and commercializes all of life – the miracle is that there is another way.

The Resurrection of Jesus invites us into the miracle of promise, to the vision of heaven lived out on this earth, where justice and mercy and wisdom and love reign.

That’s the revolution that Jesus represents. The revolution of love and justice and mercy is not dead. They could not kill it. Jesus meets Mary and Mary and says Greetings! Do not be afraid. (again, yeah right, but onward we go in spite of the fear). They worshiped. He tells them to spread the word. And they do so.

They could not kill the Word then. And they cannot kill it now.

These next verses, the report of the guard to the corrupt authorities, are often not included. What do they do? They buy them off.

They are the powers-that-be in service of the inequitable status quo, in protection of their own power. They spread fake news and buy people off.

That too is a part of the story of the Resurrection Day. But yet again, those lies are not the last word.

The last word in Matthew’s text as it has been given to us is of the commissioning of the disciples to gather and understand fully that they have been tasked to spread the good news.

Death does not have the final say.

And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

That’s the final word in Matthew’s Gospel.

That’s what this is about. I urged people last Sunday to make Holy Week holy. I had no clue what a challenge that would be for me. It was a mess of a week – and a really busy one at that.

And then I realized that was the holiness of it – and in it – and through it.

The witness of Jesus – as the face of the marginalized among us, as the source of life and hope, as the Incarnation of justice and mercy, as a living presence walking through our days with us, as a holy mystery that allows us to see holiness infused into our lives – is not dead.

Christ is Risen!

[for the Benediction we return to the beginning of the passage – After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. It’s useful to remember that human  experience of the Resurrection began after the Sabbath was over. Easter is something that we live out beyond the walls of the church. It’s a task for each day]


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