by Mike Kinman, Rector of All Saints Church, Pasadena
The gospel isn’t meant to be gulped down on Sunday morning, but gnawed on through the week so it really becomes a part of us. You’ve got to work at it, like a dog with a good bone! Here’s the Gospel for this coming Sunday —Easter Sunday— with some notes and more “food for thought” on Easter morning as a funeral. A funeral for fear. Death has been defeated … it need not be feared again. And that means the possibilities for our lives are endless. Gnaw away!
Easter Sunday: Matthew 28:1-10
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, `He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, 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; there they will see me.”
The Backstory – What’s Going On Here?
What’s the backstory of the resurrection? Everything that came before! This comes immediately after the Passion Gospel. Jesus was betrayed, beaten, crucified and died. And to top it off, because the Pharisees were worried that Jesus’ disciples would steal his body to make it look like he had risen (remembering that Jesus had said “after three days I will rise again”) ordered a large stone to seal the tomb and posted a guard to stand watch. The first century version of having a U.S. Marshall
stationed outside your door.
The backstory is that Jesus was dead. Dead as dead can be. Dead and in a tomb sealed shut with a guard posted outside. And then all of a sudden … yeah, not so much.
The entire Gospel has been building to this moment. It is the hinge of all hinges in human history. Jesus who lived among us as Emmanuel, God with us — was dead and now he is risen. The only thing left to tell (which Matthew does in the rest of this chapter) is how do we respond? And Jesus answers in one amazing paragraph — the Great Commission:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.
A few things to chew on:
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he says to the people:
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me.
For Paul, the death and resurrection of Jesus are “of first importance.” That means it’s more important than the budget, what music we sing, what time liturgy is, and what the flowers look like. It’s more important than our outreach ministries, the size of our staff or keeping the roof fixed.
It’s not that these other things aren’t important, but of FIRST importance is the depth with which God loves us and that Jesus’ defeat of death offers us a life without fear … for even death cannot separate us from that love.
What would All Saints look like if we always put first things first?
“He is going ahead of you to Galilee.” Where will they meet the resurrected Christ? Not on some new frontier. Not in a center of power like Jerusalem or Rome. But back home … back in the everydayness of their lives. Back in Galilee where they found him. As we give our lives to God in Christ and allow Christ to make us new … that is where we get sent as well. We get sent back into the everydayness of our lives. But we are sent back as different people with the opportunity to live differently. There is an old monk’s prayer, “Lord, do not change my circumstances, change me!” Easter does not free us from the specific circumstances of our life … it sends us right back into the heart of them. But it sends us back as bearers of a new light and life … and with the opportunity to love the world from which we come with the love of Christ.
Easter morning is a funeral. A funeral for fear. Death has been defeated … it need not be feared again. And that means the possibilities for our lives are endless. As Paul says “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
The Freedom Riders in the Civil Rights movement were an amazing group of students who rode on buses into the deepest hatred in America to change the world. They signed their wills before they got on those buses. They didn’t let the fear of death stop them, and because of that, Jim Crow — at least as a legal system — died in the South.
This week, as you walk through Holy Week, spend a few minutes each day thinking about what fears you want God to crucify? Then ask God to do just that. Then come to All Saints Church on Sunday and say “Alleluia” at a funeral … and leave to live an extraordinary life.
“Go to Galilee.” That’s where the women are told to find Jesus. Go back where you came from. Think about where you came from. Is it a place to which you long to return? Is it a place you are glad to have escaped from? Are you still there? What does it mean to you to “go back home and meet Jesus.” Write a story about meeting Jesus where you grew up. What would Jesus say to you? What would you say to Jesus? How would the story unfold?
It wasn’t enough
Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!”
Like all stories with which we’re dead familiar, Matthew’s account of the resurrection has some interesting pieces that are easy to overlook.
Like … why did Jesus show up?
That might seem like a silly question. But really, if you read Matthew’s tale, you’d think he was just getting in the way.
The women had already gotten the news of Jesus’ resurrection. The angel had done it’s job … given them the message:
“He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.”
And we can see that the message took because Matthew tells us “they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to tell his disciples.”
Mission accomplished. Jesus wasn’t here. He was in Galilee. And then, suddenly:
There he is.
Suddenly Jesus is right there in front of them and in a scene that is almost comical he says:
Jesus didn’t have any new information to given them … or even any new spin on the message they got from the angel. In terms of the story, Jesus’ appearance to the women doesn’t advance the plot one bit … in fact it delays the conclusion where the women tell the disciples, which leads to the mountaintop farewell and the Great Commission in Galilee.
So why did Jesus meet the women.
Because hearing about Jesus isn’t enough. Someone telling us about the risen Christ isn’t enough.
Even if hearing the message that Jesus is risen is compelling for us, there is no substitute for an encounter with the risen Christ.
It’s why God emptied the divine self in human form to begin with.
We don’t follow Jesus because someone has made a convincing argument. We follow Jesus because somewhere, sometime we have had — or we dearly hope to have — an experience of the risen Christ. An experience in relationship of love so powerful that it can’t be anything but that love which is so powerful that not even death can stand against us.
As Christ’s Body, the Church, can there be a more important reminder for us. Our call in that Great Commission is not to deliver words to people … that will NEVER be enough.
Our call and joy is to BE the Body of Christ. To be that physical presence of the risen Christ that through our fearless loving God and the world in his name gives people a powerful sense of who Jesus really is and how deep his love for all of us runs.
Just giving and receiving the message wasn’t enough then … and it isn’t enough now. Jesus is more than just words. He is the Living Word. And that can only be met face-to-face.
Check out the rest of Sunday’s readings
The Lectionary Page has all of the readings for this Sunday and every Sunday – click here for this Sunday’s readings.
Collect for Sunday
Pray this throughout the week as you gnaw on this Gospel.
O God, who for our redemption gave your only-begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Want to read more?
“The Text This Week” is an excellent online resource for anyone who
wants to dive more deeply into the scriptures for the week.
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Mike Kinman is the Rector of All Saints Church in Pasadena