Morning In a New Land

And Easter Morning sermon based on Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 and Matthew 28:1-10, preached on April 20th, 2014.

Sermon audio

The two Mary’s had no words. Not one. They woke up that morning to pay their respects on the 3rd day of Jesus’ death.

There were guards standing watch outside of the tomb. There needed to be. Jesus was a dangerous and unpredictable man in life, so those who killed him made absolutely sure that everything about his death stayed sealed. As long as the tomb stayed sealed, what could ever go wrong?

The Roman guards who stood watch by the tomb had sworn that nothing had taken place. Nothing that they could see anyway. The two Mary’s came around, but they kept their distance. Even if their greatest desire was to roll the stone away to anoint Jesus’ body there was no chance.

There were ancient rituals for the living to care for the dead, and those rituals had been taken away from the two Mary’s. Every respectable Jew deserved to be taken care of in death. But there were Roman guards and a huge stone in the way.

The Mary’s were too frightened to dare approach their Lord’s body as it hung on the cross on Friday. They had lost their Master and they were robbed of their chance to mourn in any proper way. It’s as if the Roman soldiers and the Jewish Sanhedrin had stolen Jesus away from them twice.

All the normal ways to grieve their loss had been greedily taken away from them. If they were honest, there was no reason to stay in Jerusalem. They really should just head home. But maybe it wasn’t safe to do that, either.

What was it that kept them there? Was it their fear? The suddenness of it all? Did it stun them?

The reality was that there wasn’t an easy way to walk away from Jesus, even though the tomb was sealed up tight—the story over. They had hoped too much, they had given their lives to him. Who could walk away from that?

But on Sunday morning, just as the sun was rising, they came to the tomb. Out of the corner of their dreary eyes they saw something. Surely these anxious and restless nights were catching up with them. When you’re tired you see things. Strange things. Everything your cloudy eyes see is filtered through your cloudy mind too. But both Mary’s confirmed with each other that they were seeing the same thing. Light. Just light. Almost like a bolt of lightning struck the very place of the tomb but stayed there. It was electric light. What they were seeing shocked them. There was no room for this in their exhausted minds. Whatever this was, it made no sense. There was no category in their heads that it fit under.

We claim on this Easter Sunday that Jesus was raised from the dead. Our shouts of “He is Risen!” have been exclaimed by millions, perhaps even billions every Easter morning for almost two millennia. It should not be easy for us to say these words. These words run up against everything we know about life and death and how they work.

But neither are they mere metaphor or allegory. When we say “He is Risen!”, we’re not simply saying that Jesus is risen in our hearts. We’re not sheepishly saying that maybe if we suspend everything we know about biology, cardiology, and neurology then maybe there’s a slight chance resurrection could be scientifically possible.

When we gather this morning, what we shout out to the world is that Jesus has been raised from the dead, that God did it, and that in this crazy occurrence, every category—everything we know about how this world works and how our bodies work can be upended by a God who has the power to do what most say cannot be done.

When we come to shout “He is risen!”, what we’re saying is that this is God’s land and God can break through the old structures that keep life and death in their place. God can stun us on a morning like this one, by ushering us all into a new world where death no longer claims life.

Jesus’ resurrection is not an absurd event within the old world but a sign and the starting point of a new world—a world where God disrupts the old order of things. The resurrection of Jesus ushers in a brand new way of being—a brand new creation altogether.

Easter morning is a morning in a new land.

Don’t be afraid, the angel says to the women. I know who you’re looking for. He isn’t here. Look inside the tomb if you need to.

Resurrection made as little sense to the first century Jewish mind as it does to ours. As far as any of the first disciples were concerned, resurrection just didn’t happen. Resurrection in the afterlife was an normal idea, but for a dead body to come to life again—there is nothing in the first century Jewish mind that has room to conceive of such a thing—it simply wasn’t a part of their thinking. The possibilities for it were zero.

So when the two Mary’s are invited into the tomb to see that Jesus is no longer inside—they were astounded. Matthews says that the guards became like dead men. A sudden mix of fear and joy overcame the 2 Mary’s and their eyes were opened to the stunning possibility that God has somehow climbed into the ordinary, everyday world where dead people stay dead and has shouted a brand new Word into it—a word of defiance. Death, you can no longer hold life!

Easter’s message gets even bolder than this, though. At Easter we come together to claim God’s truth to the rest of the world: that earth is crammed with heaven. That no longer is there space between heaven and earth, but that with Jesus’ triumphant victory over the cross and grave, the possibilities that we only thought heaven held are now possible right here on earth. For the two Mary’s, nothing remains as it was. The earth shakes with the invasion of heaven—earth’s stones are rolled away by heavenly beings.

Until that first Easter morning, heaven and earth were kept separate from one another. But as the angel rolled away that huge stone and the women saw nothing inside, something that they thought could only happen in heaven had now happened right here on earth and right in front of their eyes. God’s power to resurrect Jesus from the tomb joins heaven and earth together.

As we wake up this morning to the eye-opening and startling news of new life in Christ, we also have woken up to an earth that is now crammed with heaven. No wonder why the two Mary’s felt both fear and joy, no wonder they ran to tell the others. Something brand new had just occurred—something none of them thought possible.

Easter is morning in a new land.

I’m sure you’ve noticed that whenever angels show up in the gospels, the first words out of their mouth are, “Do not be afraid!”

It’s like the angel version of reading the Miranda Rights.

There is enormous surprise in seeing an angelic being strong enough to roll away an enormously heavy tombstone and a tomb that was supposed to be filled that is now perfectly empty. The women have nothing in their belief system to make meaning out of this. What happened that first Easter morning was entirely new.

As they ran back to tell the other disciples, I bet their minds were swirling. They were full of fear and joy and they didn’t know which one of those emotions was right. Could it be that both were right, both at the same time?

It is morning in a new land. A land where the normal categories of heaven-up-there and earth-down-here no longer exist.

On this Easter morning, we come together to claim that Jesus has been raised from the dead, we claim that life can no longer be bound by death—that the divisions that keep heaven away from earth are no longer there.

More than a stone has been rolled away. What happens on Easter rolls away all the divisions between heaven and earth. There is no longer “up there” and “down here”. With the resurrection of Jesus, God has claimed every space as heavenly space.

As the 2 women ran to tell the men what they had seen, with both fear and joy pulsing through their bodies, Jesus meets them.

It is not his spirit that greets them. It is not some apparition, but their Lord himself. The women fall to the ground in praise and wrap their arms around his feet.  Then Jesus says to them,

Don’t be afraid. Go and tell my brothers that I am going into Galilee. They will see me there.

Jesus meets us were we are and he says to us that we will see him—but we need to go. We cannot stay here. Jesus is out there beyond us, ahead of us. We will find him in those spaces where he is calling us to go—out into a new land where he is alive. Out into a world that has been renewed by the news of an empty tomb. There we will see him—in an earth that is now crammed with heaven.

Run and tell the others!

It is morning in a new land!

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful.

Alleluia! He is risen! He is risen indeed! Amen.

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