From Matthew 28:1-10
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!
It’s so good to hear those words again. We never gave them up completely – “Alleluia” is always our cry of faith as Christians – but during the last forty days we said them less, waiting until just this moment, just this day to shout them out with gusto.
As I began to write out this sermon, I was reminded that according to some folks, including the folks who designed my word processor, the words “Christ is risen” are grammatically incorrect. Did you know this? As soon as I typed them into my computer, green squiggly lines underscored the word “risen.” This year I decided to click on the word to see what kind of alternate suggestion was given. “Christ is raised” it said. Hmmm. Then I changed the verb to Christ “has” risen. That one was deemed okay. Grammatically, I suppose my word processor is right—the two verbs should agree in tense. “Risen” is present perfect tense. “Is” is present.
A little research shows that this very traditional phrase of the church is grammatically correct in old English usage and in other languages as well. But even more importantly, our phrase denotes a reality about Christ that reflects well his unique resurrection. “Risen” functions as an adjective, describing the state of Christ now in the present moment. Yes, he was raised in the past, but his rising is also a very present reality, especially for those of us who see ourselves as daily being raised to new life through our connection with him.
Unfortunately, research online also shows that this phrase of the church is an occasion for ridicule among some. “Christians can’t even talk correctly,” say some. “Bad grammar is the least of their problems,” opine others. So it goes in the battles of online warfare.
I suppose we Christians have a decision to make—use a phrase that has great meaning to us or give in to the voices of “correctness.” The grammatical battle is a small one, of course. But it’s a symptom of larger concerns. What about our belief that Jesus rose from the dead? What about the many other teachings of Jesus that are misunderstood or just plain opposed?
“Do not be afraid.” That was the message of the angel to the women in the Gospel reading for today. But it could just as easily be a message for us.
“Do not be afraid.” It seems to me that this is just another way of saying: “have faith.” Faith overcomes fear. Faith brings courage.
Did you ever stop and think about how courageous those women were who went to visit Jesus’ tomb? Jesus had been crucified as a criminal. He was deemed an enemy of the state. People insulted and mocked him. Despite this, the women weren’t afraid to show up at his grave.
Those who have put aside their fears can pursue higher things. Those who are slaves to their fears can only think about their own personal security. The women were seeking something that day. “I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified,” said the angel. What was it they were seeking?
The other Gospels tell us that the women brought spices to anoint the body of Jesus, but certainly that wasn’t an end in itself. It wasn’t all about the spices. It was a tradition to do so, and sometimes, yes, traditions do carry us along, dictating our actions. But usually traditions are only kept when there’s a higher purpose.
I believe that the women went to the tomb that day seeking, in some small way, to extend a little justice to Jesus—to honor his life and protest his unjust death, to make sure he was buried as someone who was loved and not as a criminal.
My kids and I were playing the game “Apples to Apples” the other day and I got the card “honorable.” The other players had to give me cards with words that I might choose as something honorable. If you’ve played this game you know that usually sarcasm and goofiness prevail in the choice of cards – at least in my family – maybe yours too. But when I looked at those cards in front of me I knew which one I had to choose—“funerals.” As someone who has led a lot of funerals I know how beneficial they are for honoring the dead.
Yes, the women were probably seeking a little honor and justice for Jesus that day, but I’m guessing there was even more they were seeking. Jesus had been their teacher. Jesus had made God known to them in new ways. He had changed their lives. Mary Magdalene was one of those women visiting the tomb that day—Jesus had cast out seven demons from her. Certainly the women were seeking something a little more from their trip to the tomb that day.
Perhaps we would call it “inspiration.” A better term might be “blessing.” Jesus was dead—he didn’t have any more words to share—but just being at his grave might bless them by helping them recall messages and memories. People go to visit graves today for the same reason. Church too. Memories can become clearer. Peace can become greater. Think how much more the women might have expected to receive by being in the presence of the body of Christ—the one who had connected them to the Almighty God.
Yes, the women were certainly seeking things that day. But whatever they were seeking, one thing is certain: they got much more than they expected. “He is not here,” said the angel. “He has risen.”
We expect a lot from Jesus too. We expect Jesus to bring justice to the world. We expect Jesus to inspire and bless us. Perhaps we expect too much, especially if we want these things to come right away.
On the other hand, perhaps we expect too little from Jesus. We’ve gotten so used to the dead remaining dead that we forget about his promise of new life. Jesus rose from the dead to defeat death. He defeated death so that you and I might live, even though we die. Indeed, we who believe in Jesus will, as he said, never die.
Knowing of Jesus’ resurrection leads us to act as the women did when they met Jesus that Sunday morning. The text tells us that when they saw him they fell down and worshipped him. They rightly perceived that seeing Jesus again was more than just an occasion for a happy reunion. This was Jesus confirming the claims he had made for himself in his ministry.
“I am” said Jesus seven times to his disciples, using the Divine Name for God, and then adding images and phrases to describe himself. I am the bread of life, the light of the world, the gate for the sheep, the good shepherd, the resurrection and the life, the way the truth and the life, and the true vine. We reflected on these statements during our Lenten gatherings. Our stained glass windows here at St. Paul’s helped us with this.
This morning we heard another “I am” statement of Jesus in our second reading, from the book of Revelation, that great vision given to John of Christ triumphant. Here Jesus says “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” The decorative art of St. Paul’s enshrines this saying too—right here on the front of the pulpit.
Alpha and omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. Using them together in this phrase was a common way of speaking about eternity. Jesus is telling us here that he transcends time. He always has been and always will be.
Notice too, in the Revelation text, that Jesus calls himself “the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.” These are not just additional ways of saying the same thing. They each add specific points of emphasis. “The Beginning and the End” speaks of Christ’s role in creation. “The First and the Last” signify that Christ is the “firstborn from the dead.” And each of these three phrases has been used earlier in the scriptures by God to describe himself, such as in our first reading today from Isaiah. Jesus is making it clear that he is one in essence and being with Almighty God.
Jesus is risen! He is alive! And he has given us the greatest gift of all—victory over sin and death. Knowing of this victory allow us to live with courage. It leads us to trust that life will be better someday. Evil and sadness may have their small little victories, but they will eventually be overcome.
Even the great tragedies that take place in our world are overcome by the message of the resurrection. I have been greatly saddened this week at the news of the ferry that sunk off the South Korean coast. On board were hundreds of young students on a vacation with their school, most of whom are either confirmed or presumed dead.
Hearing of such tragedies hurts greatly and can tempt us to be overcome with grief and sorrow. Certainly we will be filled with grief and sorrow when tragedy comes, but we don’t need to be overcome. Christ is risen. He can help us through even the greatest pains, for he has overcome death and given his victory to us.
Matthew tells us that when the women left the empty tomb that morning they were filled “with fear and great joy.” That’s quite a combination isn’t it? How many times in our life can we say we are feeling both fear and joy at the same time?
Though that combination may be rare, we experience these motions individually all the time. Even those of us who know of our eternal salvation still have fear sometimes. Our fears reflect our struggles of faith and our imperfect human nature.
We may never completely overcome our fears, but our joy can still predominate. Notice the women experienced fear and GREAT joy. The “great” didn’t describe the fear, only the joy.
Such it is with those who know the risen Christ. We have an eternal source of hope and courage, given by God through his Son Jesus. All of which leads us to daily say: “Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!’