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The Take Away

Written by Pastor Dan Wilfrid. Posted in Sermons

Easter Day      Matthew 28:1-10

If I neglected to say it earlier, let me say now that it’s good to have you here today, each and every one of you.  Easter, as we all know, is a day that draws more people into churches than any other Sunday of the year, and for a whole variety of reasons, some deeply spiritual, but also others just as valid even if less religious. It’s a day of family togetherness, a day of deep traditions and powerful memories. It’s a day when the host of other activities that ordinarily compete for our Sunday morning attention either aren’t happening or just don’t seem quite as compelling.

And, of course, in the midst of all those varied reasons that we have for being here, there is the main reason, the big reason, the holy reason, what I’ll even dare to call God’s reason: the one that whether we know it or not has been at work behind and beneath all of the other perfectly good and valid ones that we think brought us here. And that reason is so that God can give us, fill us, feed us, the resurrection life of Jesus, and then send us from here empowered to live that new life into our homes, communities and world.

Let me say that again. Underneath and behind and driving all of the reasons we had and have for being here today is God’s holy reason, and God’s purpose: so that God can give us, fill us, feed us, the resurrection life of Jesus, and then send us from here empowered to live that new life into our homes, communities and thereby make a holy difference in our world.

Easter, you see, is more about us than it is about Jesus, more about what happens to us for having been here, more about our dying and rising than it is about Jesus’ empty tomb, more about God’s victory over death today and tomorrow than it is about remembering something God did on a long ago yesterday. Our Easter Bible readings, even as they remind us of events from the past, are full of this focus on the present and future.

The words of Jeremiah the prophet promise a future grounded in God’s everlasting love and constant faithfulness. What God has done in the past, Jeremiah proclaims, God can be trusted to do again. “AGAIN I will build you to be my people. AGAIN you will dance with joy in my presence. AGAIN you shall plant vineyards and enjoy their fruit.” Jeremiah speaks of the past in order to fill people with hope in what God will do next and to stir them to be about the planting and building work God has called them to.

Likewise, the Apostle Paul, instead of speaking about Jesus’ death and resurrection, invites us to consider our own. “Set your minds on things that are above,” he says. “Where Christ is NOW, seated at the right hand of God.” Yes, Jesus was crucified, buried and raised, but what matters now is YOU. “For you have died,” Paul says. “And your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

Not what you expected, is it? To hear your own obituary announced in church on Easter Sunday? But today, remember, is about YOU, and about a new life that God wants to pour into you, so before you can receive and live that new resurrection life, even you must die to the old life. Good Friday always precedes Easter, even for you and me.  Holy Baptism, we Lutherans always like to say, enters us into a life of daily dying to sin and rising to the new life in Christ.

Consider Matthew’s unique way of telling the Easter story. The central characters are two women – the same two women who had been at the foot of the cross on Friday and who witnessed Jesus’ burial. They come, not to anoint Jesus’ dead body with spices, as other gospel writers claim, but simply “to see the tomb.” In the other gospels, they find the stone rolled away, but in Matthew, the tomb is still closed, until an earthquake shakes the ground, an angel descends and rolls back the stone in their presence. And just when you’d expect a description of the risen Jesus emerging from that freshly opened tomb, the angel says we’re too late. Jesus is up and gone, even before the stone was rolled away!

So what are we to make of THAT? The tomb was sealed. Soldiers stood guard since he was buried. And yet somehow, Jesus gets out?  Maybe Matthew is telling us that the stone is rolled away not to let Jesus out but to let the women in, even to let us IN? …so that we can SEE that he is not in the tomb but has been raised?  The focus isn’t really on Jesus rising but on what happens to those women, what they see and what they do next, …what rises up in them.

They are invited to come and see the empty tomb and then told to go and tell the disciples the resurrection news, and promised that they will see their risen Lord when they return to Galilee where their new resurrection lives will begin to be lived. It is only after they get up and on their way that they encounter their risen Lord, who simply repeats the assignment that the angel had given them. “Go to Galilee.” he says. “Be busy about your life, about your new Easter life. Don’t be afraid. I’ll be there ahead of you. I’ll be there waiting. You’ll see me.”

As I said when I began this sermon: at work behind all of the perfectly good and valid and varied reasons that we each have for being here today, there is the main reason, the big reason, the holy reason, what I dare to call God’s reason. And that reason is so that God can tell us that we have already died the death we fear, and that the death we see all around us has no power any longer to separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus, so that God can then show us Jesus’ empty tomb, and even here and even today give us, fill us, feed us, in words and bread and wine that new resurrection life of Jesus, and then send us from here empowered to live that new life into our homes, communities and thereby make a holy difference in our world.

Which means that Easter here is pretty much like every Sunday here. Our reasons and motivations and inclinations about coming may vary, but God’s doesn’t. Every Sunday has the same purpose.  God wants to give you, fill you, feed you, in words and bread and wine the new resurrection life of Jesus, so that week after week, you have in you this vibrant and pulsing and purposeful life that is not only hidden with Christ in God, but that becomes visible and real as you are sent from here empowered to live that new life into your home, your workplace or school and community in deeds of love for God and neighbor.

So yes, it is good to have you here today, each and every one of you. It will be even better to have all of you out in this community and world tomorrow filled with the new life God is pouring into you today. Even better if that were the weekly rhythm of all of our lives. My Easter faith tells me that that could make a real difference for all of us and for our neighbors and world.

So as the angel said, and as Jesus said:  Do not be afraid. Christ has died. Christ is risen. You have died. Your life is hidden with Christ in God.
Come to our Lord’s Supper and be filled with this new Easter life. Then go to plant and build and dance it into every day that God gives you.  AMEN