Read the passage here.
Today is Easter Sunday. Today we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Two thousand years ago, on what we remember as Good Friday, Jesus was crucified. He was crucified by the Romans and crucified by the religious leaders. But more importantly, and more to the point, He was crucified to take on Himself the sins of the world. He was crucified to redeem us to God – that we might find a way back to life even though we had rejected the source of life.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. Two thousand years ago, on the day we celebrate as Easter, Jesus rose from the grave. Jesus rose again, announcing and demonstrating that death had been conquered. In His resurrection, Jesus defeated death. In His resurrection, Jesus showed that the penalty for sin had been overcome. We who had rejected the source of life – had rejected life itself – could be restored to life. We can be restored to God. Jesus’ resurrection showed that the new life had begun.
Today is Easter Sunday. For many in the world, this means it is a long weekend (an extra long weekend, for some). But for those who believe, for those who find our hope in Jesus, it is a day of celebration. For those who believe, it is a day of rejoicing. Yet that celebration and rejoicing can quickly become muted. Maybe we’ve heard the story a lot. Perhaps we’ve heard it so many times that we can recite it by heart. Even if you didn’t grow up in a Christian home, if you didn’t grow up in church, it’s hard to be in the western world and not be familiar with the story (though it’s getting easier now). But perhaps in that familiarity, in the routine of Easter, we’ve lost that sense of wonder. That’s not really anything unusual and it’s nothing to be ashamed of – people are people, after all.
But we should try not to forget how remarkable all of this was, especially for the people who first experienced it. The passage that we read today tells the story of the two Marys [Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James and Joseph, assuming this is the same Mary as mentioned in 27:56] as they go to Jesus’ tomb. When they arrive, they encounter an angel who tells them that Jesus has risen. And I wonder what Mary and Mary felt as they encountered the empty tomb.
One of the first things that I notice in this passage is that a theme (or recurring element) is fear. We see this in the soldiers’ reaction to the angel, and we also see it in the angel’s and Jesus’ address to the two Marys.
The fear could be for a variety of reasons. The fear of the soldiers is obvious. When they saw the angel, the obvious reaction/response is fear.
The fear of Mary and Mary is a little more puzzling (though still understandable). They also would likely be afraid at the sight of the angel. But the message of the angel (“6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.”) should have provoked hope and joy, shouldn’t it?
The fear when they encountered Jesus is perhaps the most odd, though it is still understandable. On the one hand, they had just discovered that Jesus, whom they loved, was not dead but had risen again. While they should certainly be happy (eventually), the immediate reaction would unquestionably be shock and awe. But what scripture is describing is not merely surprise, but fear.
And thematically, within the context of the gospel of Matthew), I think that what we’re seeing is actually a biblical fear (that we see throughout scripture) at an experience of a God moment. And while we don’t really have the space here to talk about the nature of biblical fear, but throughout scripture the appropriate response to God’s appearance is consistently fear.
So the Marys response here, in a distinctly God moment, seems appropriate.
Now, throughout our study of Matthew’s gospel, we’ve been framing one of the main questions or themes as, “which kingdom?” That is, of which kingdom do we want to be a part?
And one of the things that we’ve been seeing is the conflict (for lack of a better word) between the kingdoms of the world and the kingdom of God. There are ways that the people in the story expect the world to be and expect the world to work (here, we think especially of the religious leaders in Matthew’s telling – but I don’t think we should expect them to be unique). And when they encounter Jesus, with a decidedly different understanding of how the world works – a God understanding – they reject him.
And I think that’s to be expected. Because human beings don’t like change. And I realize people like and seek out different experiences, different places, and so forth. But there’s always resistance. There’s always a struggle to adapt to the change. If you’ve ever travelled, or moved to a substantially different place (i.e. countries), you’ll have some idea of what I’m talking about. We fight to hold on to what we’re used to.
And what we’re seeing in this story is a change of the highest order. What we’re seeing is a change in the very nature of the world. Benjamin Franklin famously said that the only things certain in life are death and taxes. “Taxes” is certainly meant to be satirical. But death is built into the nature of the world. And what we’re seeing in the resurrection of Jesus is shift, a change, a restoration, in the very nature of the world. What we are seeing is the victory of Jesus, the victory of God’s kingdom breaking into human history.
As we saw just a few verses ago, God has torn the veil and now all things are new.
Some time ago, I watched (on a website called Q ideas) a talk by a woman titled “New not Next.” And the theme of her talk was that God was doing something new, not merely what comes next.
In a sense, the history of humanity is about what comes next. This is what we mean by – it’s built into the definition of – progress. Next is (simply) about what follows after. Next builds on, and therefore depends on, what came before. Therefore, in an important way, the next is merely an extension of the before. It’s the same, but later. (All technology, for example, demonstrates this). But God is doing something new. God isn’t merely building on what came before. God’s kingdom isn’t merely an extension of what already is. What God is doing (has done) is outside the limits/boundaries of human/social/cultural development. God is doing something new.
When Jesus rose from the grave, left behind death and stepped back into life, He proclaimed that the old has gone, and the new has come.
Naturally, when Mary and Mary (and the disciples later) encountered this, the appropriate response is fear. Now I don’t want to undermine what scripture means by “fear here,” as we hinted at earlier. But I think this is a reasonable reflection. Because what Mary and Mary encountered is precisely that which is super-natural. It is beyond the natural. It is beyond what they understood about how the world works. They have encountered the supernatural and now they have to decide what this means. They have stepped into the new.
Easter is about the new. Easter is about Jesus Christ overcoming the world, overcoming sin, and overcoming death. In Jesus, life – true life – can begin. In Jesus, we are invited to leave behind the world as we think it is supposed to be and enter into a new world as it was meant to be.
1 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”Revelations 21:1-5