Easter Sunday


Matthew 28:1-10, The Experts Were Wrong, April 24, 2011
 1After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And 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. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.7Then 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.”  8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
They tried to keep Jesus safely dead then, and they try it still today. Again and again when newspapers or radio hosts talk about God in anyway, they always ignore Jesus.
The experts say that science has disproved God, but the God they say has been disproved is not the God that the Christians worship. There is always a modern equivalent to the high priests and guards that try to keep Jesus silenced. It didn’t work then, and it won’t work now.
Phillips Brooks, wrote “An Easter Carol.”
Tomb, thou shalt not hold Him longer;
Death is strong, but Life is stronger;
Stronger than the dark, the light;
Stronger than the wrong, the right.
Experts have been found to be wrong: medical, nutritional, physical fitness; smoking is a good example.
Did you know that about two-thirds of the findings published in top medical journals are refuted within just a few years?
But medicine isn’t the only problem area. Having just filed your federal tax returns, you might want to know that professionally prepared returns are more likely to have serious errors than self-prepared returns. That does not put my heart to rest!
Fifty percent of all newspaper articles have at least one incorrect fact. And the studies published in economic journals? Economists say they’re all likely to be wrong.

Who were the experts of Jerusalem? Was it the religious elite, the chief priests, the Pharisees; or the powerful politicians, like Pontius Pilate?

The gospel of Matthew tells us that on the first day of the week, early in the morning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary go to see Jesus’ tomb (28:1); to attend to the body, to pay their respects. No one had any earthly reason to suspect that the corpse would not stay put.

After all, death is death. The end. The final curtain. The last dance. Once in the grave, bodies don't tend to move -- for hundreds, thousands, or even millions of years.
Suddenly, there’s a great earthquake, as an angel of the Lord comes and rolls back the stone and sits on it.
After gazing into the empty tomb amazed, the women hear the angel say, “[G]o 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.’”
 So they leave the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and run to tell the disciples. Based on the words of the angel and the sight of the empty tomb, the women believe Jesus has been raised; that’s all the evidence they needed (28:7-8).

But then Jesus greets them on the road! There he is, big as life. There he is, alive! The women fall down before him, take hold of his feet and worship him. Jesus comforts them and encourages them, saying, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me” (vv. 9-10).

The women run to tell the disciples; two non-experts, but true witnesses, who have heard, seen and touched Jesus.
In the words of John Updike   
Make no mistake; if he rose at all it is as his body;
if the cell's dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
re-knit, the amino acids re-kindle,
the church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft spring recurrent;
it was not as his Spirit in the mouth and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as his flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that-pierced-died, withered, paused, and then
re-gathered out of enduring might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted
in the faded credulity of earlier ages;
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.*

*(First six stanzas, "Seven Stanzas at Easter," from Telephone Poles and other Poems, by John Updike. Copyright 1961 by John Updike.)
The two Marys were convinced. No doubt about it. But there were other eyewitnesses. The chief priests and Pharisees were worried that the disciples would sneak in and steal the corpse of Jesus, so they posted a guard of soldiers to secure the tomb.
Ironically, the Jewish guards become terrified and become stiff as corpses, or as dead men (vv. 2-4). As we would say now, they were scared to death. This seems to be a play on words by the writer. The corpse they all expected to be there was gone, but the guards became stiff as corpses.
Some of the guards went into the city and tell the chief priests what had happened. But, not wanting to believe the truth, the priests saw the resurrection as an inconvenient threat.
They conspired with the elders, paid the soldiers a large sum of money, and told them to spread a story that Jesus’ disciples came by night and stole his body away. (vv. 11-15). To this day, it’s one of the theories used to explain away the Resurrection.
Here we have two groups of non-experts make reports on the resurrection — a group of women and a group of guards. The women take their message to the disciples, and it spreads throughout the world.
The guards deliver their report to the chief priests, and it hits a dead end. In both cases, the truth is not discovered by experts. Instead, it’s embraced by non-experts who have experienced the resurrection; the result of it.
Two thousand years have come and gone, and the very same is true today. The resurrection is still being reported by people who have caught a glimpse of the risen Jesus in the middle of human life.
Such sightings aren’t face to face, but eyewitnesses still report that Jesus is alive and active, in the lives of both individuals and communities. When you truly encounter the risen Christ you enter into a personal, transforming relationship with God. It is not mere mental assent.

The resurrection is a faith event. Linear thinking and prepositional arguments will not convince those who refuse to believe. Intellectual arguments are fruitless. Moreover, we can’t put quite so much emphasis on the perception of our five physical senses.
Scientists tell us that the earth is spinning on its axis at a speed of over 1,000 miles per hour at this very moment. Yet we have no sensation of motion. At the same time, the earth is soaring around the sun at a speed of 66,000 miles per hour. But do you feel anything? I don’t.

Our planet is moving at an incredible speed, but we don’t perceive it. Christian writer Ron Rhodes says that Albert Einstein made this point by striking two consecutive blows with his fist and saying,
"Between those two strokes, we traveled 30 miles." Can you imagine? Here’s an example of incredible motion with no perception on our part, yet we accept, by faith, that this is true.

The resurrection cannot be perceived by our five senses. That does not make it any less true than the fact that our earth is spinning on its axis and soaring around the sun.
The reality of the resurrection can be encountered in many ways. Several years ago, Lee Strobel, a journalist with the Chicago Tribune, became a Christian and began to open himself to Christ's transforming power.
Increasingly, his motives and perspective noticeably improved. Just a few months after he became a Christian, he reports that his 5-year-old daughter went up to his wife and said, "Mommy, I want God to do for me what he's done for Daddy."

Here was a little girl who had only known a father who was profane, angry, verbally harsh and all-too-often absent. And even though she had no idea who Jesus is, the empty tomb, or God’s plan of salvation for humankind, she had seen up close the influence that Jesus can have on one person's life. The resurrected Jesus became real to her through her dad.
Jesus is alive and well. He is active and effective, in individuals and communities that love God and neighbor, while working to build up the kingdom of heaven on earth.
Sometimes we look for the risen Christ with the wrong tools. The tools of evidence will not produce the transforming power of resurrection life.
We need, instead, to pull out the tools of faith to access the reality of the resurrection. That's not a matter of believing the impossible; it's a matter of trusting the invisible!

Christ is risen! The ones who saw the truth that first resurrection morning are the guards and the women. Non-experts in society’s eyes, but oh how right they were!
We heard about the women racing full-speed from the empty tomb, feeling an exuberant mixture of "fear and great joy" (v. 8), but we rarely experience this level of intense emotion.
Perhaps we've heard the story so often. Perhaps we don't make the effort to go questing for the risen Christ. Perhaps we're satisfied with life the way it is, comfortable with the status quo; why complicate life with a fresh and passionate commitment to Christ?

But consider what the angel says to the women at the tomb: Jesus "is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him" (v. 7). Jesus is "going ahead" of us, always ahead of us.
If we do not follow him with some enthusiasm, then we will never discover where he is leading us, and we will never become the people he desires us to be.
Never mind the experts. Most of them don’t have a clue. But each one of us here has the opportunity to experience Christ’s resurrection life anew, not only today on Easter Sunday, but each and every day of our lives, both now and forever.
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed! Hallelujah and Amen.

  June 2021  
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