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Sermon for April 9, 2023 – Easter

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life 5020 | Visiting Our Tombs
Greg Williams

Happy Easter!

As you know, each of the four Gospels recounts the story of Jesus’ resurrection, each from the author’s perspective. The general story is the same, but some accounts include details that are left out in others. However, one thing each story has in common is how it begins. All four Gospels begin the story of the resurrection, ironically, with a visit to a tomb.

That tomb turns out to be empty of course, setting the stage for the rest of the story. But I’m glad the Gospel writers were inspired to include the visits to the tomb. Because even though I know Jesus has been raised to life, I still feel the need to visit some tombs.

I think we all visit our tombs in one way or another. Many will literally visit a particular tombstone as part of grieving and honoring a lost loved one. There are two specific graveyards in the community where I grew up where most of my relatives are resting. I typically go with my mother a couple of times a year to freshen up the flowers and dust off the dirt, but we know in our spirit that it is more than a maintenance visit. Some choose to never visit a grave but find other ways to deal with their loss. In one way or another, we all visit our tombs.

But why? Is it not to grieve what we have lost? Do we not need to recount the cherished times we once had with loved ones? Well, I believe so. Tombstones are concrete symbols of memories we want to be restored.

There are other losses we also want to be restored that may not be marked by a tombstone. Maybe some of us are recounting times of good health or companionship that now seem unattainable. Or perhaps you are recounting freedoms that you no longer have. It’s probably safe to say that most of us have a few tombstones we visit every day.

But Jesus’ empty tomb changes everything. He rose from the tomb, and he lives. Because of this, our visits to our tombs are intertwined with his resurrection, which gives us hope. He doesn’t walk past our tombs, but he visits them with us to restore what we have lost. Because of Jesus, we can visit our tombs to grieve in hope. Like those visiting the tomb in the Gospel stories, we too come to find that all the tombs we visit are empty. Our tombstones now mark what the Lord will restore and redeem. We can visit them, not just to recount what we have lost, but to recount what the Lord has done through his resurrection.

Here’s a Psalm to remember for your next visit to a tomb:

“The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.
Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the Lord does valiantly, the right hand of the Lord exalts, the right hand of the Lord does valiantly!”
I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.”

Psalm 118:14-17 (ESV)

The resurrection we celebrate today is one of the glorious “deeds of the Lord.”

I hope your Easter celebration will be a time of hope and joy as we are reminded once again of our Risen Lord and his steadfast love that endures forever. He is risen. Indeed, he is risen!

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 • Jeremiah 31:1-6 • Acts 10:34-43 • Matthew 28:1-10

This week’s theme is celebration of restoration. The call to worship Psalm invites us into thanksgiving to celebrate the Lord’s victory over the enemy and the restoration of the rejected. The Old Testament reading from Jeremiah anticipates God’s work of restoration for Israel, delivering her from her many troubles and restoring her to a life of rest and rejoicing. The reading from Acts shares Peter’s words that celebrate the redemption Jesus has brought through his resurrection. The Gospel reading from Matthew retells the account of the first Easter with visits to the empty tomb.

Jesus Christ Is Risen

Matthew 28:1-10 (NRSV)

On this day of Easter, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus our Lord by looking at Matthew’s account of the resurrection. Matthew’s version makes it clear he wanted to establish the truth that Jesus Christ is risen. The resurrection is not a myth, but a fact of all facts. The reality of all things is established forevermore because of what happened on this particular Sunday morning. When we embrace this truth, we will come to see all things in a whole new light.

Let’s begin this unbelievable true story.

After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. (Matthew 28:1 NRSV)

This story begins with newness. It is after the Sabbath, the very beginning of a new week. The dawning light begins to show us that God has done something brand new in the Resurrection of the Lord. And we are introduced to two ladies, both named Mary, who will help us see the truth of what has happened. Matthew leaves out one of the ladies that appear in John’s account to set up a parallel. He is going to have the two Marys stand in juxtaposition to two guards, each set representing a response to Jesus and the truth of the gospel. Consider this; the two ladies and the two guards in the story appear at Jesus’ tomb. Both see an angel. Both experience fear. Both leave the tomb to inform others of what just happened. And both are told what to say. But note the contrast; the women tell the truth while the guards are told to lie. With that Matthew has put before us the question of who are we going to believe? Do we believe the two ladies who have nothing to gain by deceiving anyone, or the two guards who were paid handsomely by those who wanted to protect their power. We must decide!

The ladies do not know at this point that Jesus has been raised. We are told that they are returning to “see the tomb.” We can relate to this experience by these two ladies as we sometimes return to our various tombs that have left us grieving. We come to revisit our resentment and anoint our anger, perfuming our pain and using the ointment of bitterness and unforgiveness in hopes of preserving what was lost. Sometimes our tombs are thrust back upon us by no choice of our own. In whatever way we find ourselves keeping vigil of past tombs we find that God has a message for us. And it’s a message that is earth shattering. Take note of how the message is set up.

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. (Matthew 28:2-4 NRSV)

Matthew has included some details here that prepare us to sit up and listen. The message that the angel is going to deliver comes with some extraordinary build up. First, there is “a great earthquake” that occurs because an angel of the Lord is “descending from heaven.” Whatever is about to be shared with these two women is introduced as a message that will shake up the world. Maybe we have not personally experienced being in a literal earthquake, but I’m sure many of us have experienced times in our lives when it seemed the world was being shaken and tossed about. We may often attribute this shake-up as being initiated from some person, group, or nation pulling strings and pushing buttons. But another picture emerges here. Is it not the inbreaking of the Kingdom that shakes the world to its core. Is not God’s word the most disruptive force that invades our physical domain?

This image is repeated in other ways throughout the Bible. Stories like Jesus casting out demons for example. When Jesus commanded a demon to leave, the possessed individual went into convulsions. Jesus’ death was accompanied by an earthquake, and Jesus’ return portrayed in the book of Revelation includes a mighty earthquake beyond compare. The image conveys that when God breaks in, all hell breaks loose. We should expect no less with the announcement the angel is about to deliver.

Before this angel utters a word, he dramatically sends a message by rolling back the large stone of the tomb and sitting on it. In addition, his appearance was blinding. This is what I call making an entrance. It certainly got the attention of the two guards as they “shook and became like dead men” out of fear. That’s an interesting twist on the scene. The two guards who end up lying about Jesus being raised to life, are pictured as becoming dead. Another contrast! The message that comes to us about Jesus is a message of life. To reject it is to reject life itself.

Now the angel is ready to speak. But his words are directed to the women. Dead men have no ears to hear. May we have our ears open to hear the message of the angel today.

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.” (Matthew 28:5-7 NRSV)

What he says to them, and to us today, is not a message of condemnation as we return to keep vigil over the tombs of our losses. Rather he speaks to their truest center. He says, “I know that you are looking for Jesus.” Even in our vigil keeping, our resentment and anger, deep down we are searching for Jesus. We are looking for life, the life we were made for. All our pain, suffering, and loss speaks to our souls that something is out of place. We know at some level we are not made for death. We are looking for life, which can only fully be found in Jesus.

But Jesus, “who was crucified,” is not to be found in tombs. The angel tells the ladies that “he is not here, for he has been raised.” Then the angel invites the ladies to observe the tomb so they can see that Jesus is not there.

He didn’t roll that stone away for nothing. It was an invitation to explore the unbelievable. “Come, see the place where he lay,” the angel says. That’s past tense. As we find ourselves keeping vigil over our tombs may we receive such a message that reminds us that Jesus was not contained by death, and our losses are restored in him. When we receive this message, we can hear the angel’s command to “go quickly and tell his disciples.” Knowing our life is restored in Jesus empowers us to “go quickly” from our tombs of death. Our feet are enlivened with hope.

As we are on our way, we take upon our lips the message given to us, “He has been raised from the dead.” That’s the message the angel gives us to share. In addition, the angel tells the ladies to let the disciples know that Jesus “is going ahead of you to Galilee” where they will see him. When our brothers and sisters are struggling to move forward, we can remember what the angel has said: “Jesus is going ahead of you.” We do not move into the future alone and we do not need to fear what awaits us because we know Jesus is already there. What comfort we can give one another in our journey of faith to know that Jesus has gone ahead of us!

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 and sisters to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:8-10 NRSV)

The ladies represent the response of receiving the Gospel and living according to it. They “quickly” run to carry out the mission they were given. Notice that as soon as the ladies respond in obedience, they are “suddenly” met by Jesus. Jesus interrupting their original mission can show us that he is more concerned about encountering us with himself than only having us carrying out an efficient and effective mission trip. Mission and ministry bring us to encounter the Good News himself as the person Jesus. As we live in faith, we will have our faith renewed. With only a simple “Greetings,” from Jesus, the ladies respond in worship. They have been found by the one they were looking for.

In their worship of Jesus, Matthew records the detail of the ladies embracing “his feet.” This reference is one of the reminders we are given that Jesus’ resurrection was a bodily resurrection. It seems Matthew is consistent throughout the story to emphasize this important point. The entire story is full of physicality. For example, the message that comes to the ladies is first a message that is felt. The earthquake announces the arrival of God’s messenger. Then the message is seen. This angel puts on a display of blazing lightning and shimmering garments. Then the message is heard as the “angel spoke to the women.” Matthew wants us to understand that Jesus is not resurrected as some ghost that can be spiritualized away. He comes back as resurrected flesh and blood. This imparts great dignity to being human with all its physicality. We do not treat our “humanness” as something that should be discarded in favor of something “more.” God’s creation of us, and his ultimate destiny for us, is to be fully human, which is given to us in his Son Jesus Christ.

Our story concludes with Jesus himself telling the ladies, and us, to go share the message with the other disciples. Only, he says, “Go and tell my brothers and sisters.” As we are encountered by Jesus, we will see all our relationships in terms of brothers and sisters, as Jesus has made us all adopted children of the Father. This is a message that we first receive, and then in response, go out and share with the whole world.

I hope this Easter Season will lift you up to experience more fully the new life the Father has for us in his Son Jesus. May we leave our empty tombs and meet Jesus as we share the message, “He has been raised from the dead.”

Living Hope w/ Mandy Smith W2

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April 9 – Easter Sunday
Matthew 28:1-10, “Don’t Be Afraid”

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Program Transcript

Living Hope w/ Mandy Smith W2

Anthony: Let’s transition to our next passage of the month. It’s Matthew 28:1-10. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Easter Sunday on April the 9th.

Mandy, would you read it for us, please?

[00:13:14] Mandy: I love Easter Sunday. I get to read that passage. So yes,

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 worshipped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’

[00:14:24] Anthony: Hallelujah. Praise God. It is resurrection Sunday, and I don’t know if you struggle with this, Mandy, but I sure do. When it’s holy week, I get a sense of just this feeling of I’m an imposter. Imposter syndrome.

How do I ever preach a sermon on Easter Sunday? How is that done? Of course, it’s by the Spirit, but it’s always quite intimidating and overwhelming. But there is so much to say and so little time in a sermon (and of course in a podcast like this), but we try.

So, what Christological thoughts would you like to share in light of this passage?

[00:14:54] Mandy: Yeah, I’m just struck when we are reading, in tandem with the previous passage that, again, the good news comes from something that’s just the opposite of what human beings do. Again, if I was going to be God, I would do something much more spectacular than just leave an empty space.

And I think there’s something really beautiful about God’s willingness, his true trust, in what happens in the small things, in even the emptiness, that he sees the miracle of what can happen.

It’s not spectacular in the way that we would expect spectacular things. Although of course, it is spectacular that soon they’re to see his risen body. And what an amazing thing! We can’t even wrap our heads around that, beyond just if you had a friend who died and then came back to life.

That’s one thing—just to see someone that you love again. But then to think, okay, and we believe this person to be the Son of God, and what does this mean for everybody, not just those who’ve been friends with him?

I love to try when I do enter into preaching this passage—and I hear you on that, who am I to speak such a wonderful truth? But I think in some ways—I have a friend who says, awe can lead us—no, he says anxiety can be expressed either it can devolve into this wrestling, or it can also be an invitation into awe. And so, I think what we feel in that lead up to Easter Sunday is a sense of the weight of what this thing is.

And that weight can press us down and say, I’m just a small human being. Who am I to carry this message? Or it can move into a space of awe, of this is massive and I’m only small but the mystery of it! I think in some ways that’s an invitation—a little bit of an invitation into a small part of the experience of what they experienced on the day, of what on earth have we been given to carry on this day?

We don’t even understand it, but we’re going to proclaim it anyway. And those women didn’t have a chance before they ran to tell the disciples to figure out what on earth they had just seen and to fully understand it. But they spoke with the joy of it anyway. And that’s the only thing I can do on Easter.

[00:17:16] Anthony: You were mentioning the context that aligns with Philippians, the emptiness that is there. And I think it was Barbara Brown Taylor—I once read her talking about how new life often starts in the dark, whether it’s a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, Jesus in the tomb, right? So even when it’s dark about us, that may not be the true reality because beyond it is something beautiful.

And I sometimes hear people say, Mandy—and maybe you’ve heard the same—that the disciples abandoned Jesus at his death. And there was abandonment, of course, but I also see the women going to him and being the evangelist, if you will, sharing this great message. Tell us about it.

[00:17:59] Mandy: Yeah. I know a lot of women who feel called to proclaim the good news are very encouraged by this passage, especially if they’re in contexts that don’t affirm them in their calling.

I’m really hesitant to say—because I always want to be welcoming to my brothers. And I never want to communicate from the pain of my experience as a woman in the church. And it’s hard for me to communicate from that because I also want to bring healing between men and women, and I don’t want to perpetuate all of the brokenness between men and women.

And at the same time, I think it is really good to share it is really painful to feel that calling and to not always be given an opportunity to share it.

But the interesting thing for me because I don’t know if I’ve shared this with you, but the denomination I was a part of in the US did not ordain women for leadership. And that was the seminary I went to and also the churches I served.

And so, I was the first female lead pastor among a communion of 6,000 congregations, which put me in a really, really difficult space as a young adult in college and then in the process—and I’m not an aggressive person. I’m not an ambitious person. I hate the limelight, I hate conflict. I’m a nine on the Enneagram if you care about those things. So it’s been incredibly painful for me.

But all of that is to say, the ways that—and I think if I’ve ever had abuse, it has come from ways that people have treated me in that whole context. But every single time somebody has not received me or has not treated me in the way that Christ would treat me or has not recognized what God is doing in me—and I’ve had some really painful experiences—every single time, it has been an invitation for me to talk to the Lord again and to say, who are you again? What are we doing here again? Who do you say I am again?

And for anyone who’s marginalized—which is not just along gender lines, but many different ways people are marginalized—it can be a really empowering experience if it becomes an opportunity for us to say once more, who are you again? Who am I again?

And so—I saw this in Covid too—when everything hits the fan, it’s often those who have been on the margins, for whom the system has not been functioning anyway, who actually have real leadership to offer in that space. And that’s how I see this passage. These women were not given much of anything really in the system. And so when the status quo falls apart, they have something that enables them to press through.

And so I think that’s just what wisdom for us to look for when—because at the moment, I think everything is hitting the fan, not just because of Covid, because of all kinds of factors that are bringing us to a place of crisis in the church and around the world.

So how do we listen to the voices who are saying, you know what? Before you were aware that the system was falling apart, it wasn’t serving me anyway, and I’ve had to function within the system according to the kingdom. How can we invite those people to be leading, as these women had the opportunity to, when Jesus was dying and coming back to life?

[00:21:18] Anthony: Amen and amen. And I want to say to you, Mandy, we don’t know each other, but I sure am thankful for you and admire you for especially saying yes to the invitation to be the first ordained women in your space. It’s a beautiful thing, and we thank God for your ministry.

Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • Why do you think it was important for the Gospel writers to include the visit to the tomb in the story of Jesus’ resurrection?
  • In what ways do we visit tombs in our lives?
  • How does knowing Jesus is raised from the dead change how we visit our tombs?

From the Sermon

  • In what ways are the two ladies in the story more reliable witnesses than the two guards?
  • What is indicated by an earthquake accompanying the message of the angel of Jesus’ resurrection?
  • What tombs do we sometimes visit in our attempts of “looking for Jesus?”
  • What did you make of the angel’s instructions to let the disciples know that Jesus “is going ahead of you to Galilee” where they will see him? How can knowing that Jesus “goes ahead of us” be encouraging?
  • What details in the passage indicate that Jesus’ resurrection was bodily?
  • Why do you think the angel refers to the other disciples as “brothers and sisters”?

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