Easter Sunday, Year A
At that time, says the LORD, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.
Thus says the LORD:
The people who survived the sword
found grace in the wilderness;
when Israel sought for rest,
the LORD appeared to him from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
Again I will build you, and you shall be built,
O virgin Israel!
Again you shall take your tambourines,
and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.
Again you shall plant vineyards
on the mountains of Samaria;
the planters shall plant,
and shall enjoy the fruit.
For there shall be a day when sentinels will call
in the hill country of Ephraim:
"Come, let us go up to Zion,
to the LORD our God."
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
Then Peter began to speak to them: "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ–he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."
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."
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Easter Sunday is about the vindication of Jesus. It is all about the righteousness of Jesus’ mission and message, and this mission and message is encompassed by forgiveness of enemies, for ‘while we were yet sinners, treating God as our enemy, Christ died for us.’ Jesus’ relation to his enemies is so different from ours today. We treat our enemies with the hostility they treat us, we do not grant them forgiveness. We seek redress in courts and wars. This is how we deal with enemies. Not so God, the maker of all things, all living things, including our enemies.
Jesus had no enemies, that is, no one he would call his personal enemy. Others may have perceived him as the enemy, but he had no one he called an enemy, someone he would justly retaliate against. He dies with his arms wide open, encompassing the world, uttering forgiveness, even and especially for those who had abandoned and betrayed him, even for those who tried and convicted him, even for those who drove the nails into his flesh and mocked him. Forgiveness ‘even if you don’t love me anymore.’
There have been those who have from time to time treated the resurrection from the perspective of world religions and found analogies to Jesus dying and rising in other ancient dying and rising God myths. Yet, nowhere to be found in any myth is a dying with forgiveness and nowhere in any myth is the rising the vindication of a life of forgiveness and non-retaliation. Yes, there are similarities to Jesus’ dying and rising with other myths, but this is because Jesus’ life, death and resurrection radically alters, deconstructs and restructures our myth making. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are the end of human culture founded upon violence and the opening of the Way of the kingdom of God, the way of life and light, joy and peace, reconciliation and love.
There is a further step to be taken. Jesus’ resurrection is the affirmation of created reality, of matter; he arose in the flesh, a flesh where time and eternity became one. The world of violence is essentially Gnostic, dualistic; it denigrates matter. It pillages the planet, rapes women and children, flagellates the flesh. The Gnostic world of violence, created of course, by a ‘lesser god’, is a world where only the spirit matters, where ideals and ideas are of more importance than people. We live in this Gnostic world of violence today. We have created this great thing called civilization, but it is far from civil. It is downright mean and nasty. It is exploitative. It is hierarchical. And all of this is completely revealed in the violence done to Jesus. This is precisely that which is revealed when God raises the physical Jesus from the dead.
We do not need to travel the road of some who do not believe in a ‘bodily resurrection.’ For them, the universe is little more than the fixed laws of Newton and Bacon. For us the universe is exploding with possibility, even the possibility that the Father will show, no, has shown, in Jesus, that the separation between physical reality and spiritual reality is a false one. Jesus’ flesh, our flesh rises to the eternal in the resurrection. His physical resurrection is the hope of all creation, the hope of every bird, every plant and tree, every stone and river, every animal, every drop of water, every flame of fire, every breath of air. ‘The creation groans in travail awaiting the unveiling of the children of the Abba.’
To deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus is to abandon hope for the creation. To affirm the physical resurrection is to affirm that what God makes, the Earth and our flesh created from her flesh is ‘very, very good’ (Gen 1-2). To deny the bodily resurrection is to step into the world of dualism, to affirm the resurrection is to engage the perspective of shalom (wholeness). Liberal Christianity need no longer surrender the bodily resurrection. Liberal Christianity does not believe in the supernatural and rightly so, for the supernatural is a category of dualism. Liberal Christianity can affirm the spiritual, which is different than the supernatural. We may say that the Spirit/spiritual is just as natural as the natural, nature, that which has been made. Both co-exist together and it is only in co-existing that one can speak of life (matter + spirit = nephesh).
Finally, the resurrection does not ‘prove’ the divinity of Jesus as much as it affirms his humanity. The resurrection of Jesus is not about how mighty and powerful he now is, but about how humble and loving he still is, just as he was. The resurrection asserts that the identity of Jesus does not change, Jesus is ‘the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow.’
We have so much to be grateful for this day, not the least of which is that we are beloved of the Abba, her children, and we are children of the Earth who shall not be trapped in death but shall be raised to fullness and wholeness of life, bodily life. Glory be to God!
Note the number of times a Matthean keyword ‘idou’ (behold) occurs. Matthew uses ‘idou’ when he wants to really get your attention. ‘Idou’ is Matthew’s way of BOLDING and highlighting.
It is really helpful to see this text in a Greek synopsis parallel to the Markan narrative. Matthew has heavenly angeloi and earthquakes, neither of which should surprise the truly open minded. It’s a big day, big things happen on big days.
We also observe that Mary of Magdala is given a more prominent role, as also occurs in the Fourth Gospel and the longer ending of Mark. We think this was something that was developed consciously within the early church and this is why it is reflected in literary endings. Interestingly, Paul does not have Mary Magdalene in his ‘official list of received tradition’ in I Cor. 15. Whatever may be said about her, the early church knew she was the pivotal player that day.
There is no fear for those who seek Jesus the Crucified. This is what the angel says to the women. Only those who really loved him would have anything to do with him anyway. But ‘there is no fear here’ (me phobeisthe), this is an empty tomb. The women upon leaving the tomb (vs 8) are still afraid but filled with joy. Now what kind of odd combination is this? You know what fear feels like right? And you know what really great joy or happiness feels like right? Now try to feel both of them at the same time.
How do you preach about the resurrection of Jesus? Is it all dressed up in winter/spring metaphors, holidays, flowers and spirited music? On Easter Sunday we preachers take our congregations to a cemetery, to a tomb. Like the women we go into that tomb seeking Jesus ‘who was crucified.’ But unlike the women, we are there as his crucifiers. We have reason to fear. But we are told ‘There is no fear here.’ How can this be? Because Jesus does not come back retaliating, he comes to give a blessing to the world, to you, to me. Jesus’ resurrection is a great joy. ‘He is ris’n with HEALING in his wings.’