Easter A: Great Expectations

Readings

  • Acts 10:34-43
  • Psalm 118:1-2,14-24
  • Colossians 3:1-14
  • Matthew 28:1-10
You can find the readings, in the CEB and NRSV translation, by clicking this link.

Sermon

Every time I hear a reading from the gospel, I am amazed by how I hear it differently.  There is always something new to discover or something that sticks out in the telling, despite how many times I’ve heard it.

It seems this is never more true that with the Easter morning gospel reading.  I love that hearing the gospel becomes like new to me because, over the years, it has created this feeling of anticipation and excitement that grows in me each year as I move through the three days to this day.

And maybe I like that feeling because it makes me wonder about those unlabelled, yet equally devoted disciples – those women who followed and learned from Jesus.  The ones who went to the tomb, early in the morning hours.

I wonder about how they were feeling.

“We tend to assume that when the women came to the tomb, they were completely unprepared for what they encountered.”[1]  Or, as the writers of the gospels of Mark and Luke would tell us, that these women were filled with sadness and grief, headed to the tomb to preform the sacred ritual of anointing the body of Jesus after the Sabbath, and blind to the truth of God’s promise.

But, I don’t think this is what the writer of Matthew is telling us.  “In Matthew, they do not bring spices but come to see, a verb that means not only to perceive visually, but also to gain understanding. When the women approach the tomb, then, it is with a sense of anticipation, of expectation even.”[2]

I like that the gospel of Matthew tells us that when these expectant women get to the tomb, the earth shook, an angel descended from heaven, rolled the stone from the tomb and sat down upon it.

I love that!

I can almost hear the pit orchestra playing in the background.  The music begins ever so softly – it is early morning, and then the music moves to being louder and more complicated, and then Dun, Buh, BAHH – crash, swell, crash, crash – a massive fanfare with chorus singing, ground shaking, angel descending.  I think God has a flair for the exciting and dramatic.  And who wouldn’t be afraid in the presence of that incredible power.

I have so many favourite characters in this story – not the least of which is this angel.  This angel who lands and moves a rock – that would have taken far more human hands to move – and then plopped right down on top of it.  “The angel glances over at the guards who are displaying certain physical symptoms of extreme terror we won’t go into. The angel doesn’t tell them not to be afraid, one could assume, because the angel doesn’t care if they are afraid or not.”[3]  The message this angel bears is reserved for other people, not the guards.

Plopped down on the so-called immovable stone.  Arms crossed. So there.

The guards – the ones set in place by the chief priests and Pharisees to make sure that the disciples didn’t try any funny stuff, like move the body and claim that their teacher, Jesus, had indeed risen – those guards, shake and faint.

The world is topsy-turvy.  The dead are alive and the alive are as if dead.

There are two things of note here.  Jesus promise that he would rise after death was pretty well known.  That’s important because it goes back to what Matthew is telling us about the disciple-women: though they were also afraid, they were not unprepared.  And so, while the guards faint – the women don’t.

I like to believe that these women who have journeyed with Jesus the whole way along his path to and through Jerusalem are very aware of what Jesus spoke.  They have come to the tomb, hoping to see what Jesus had told all would happen – he would be raised.  They are witness to every bit of drama in this crazy, unbelievable story of God’s amazing power.

The impressive, and perhaps a little smug-looking, angel simply confirms what has been promised, and tells the women to confirm it with their own eyes, and then go and tell the disciples – all the others – what has happened.

And then, the angel promises something to these understanding-seeking women.  When they go, they will see Jesus ahead of them.  And when they go to share the good news and to see Jesus, he appears.

So, “…in Matthew’s gospel the women meet Jesus when they are on the way, when they are doing what the angel called them to do.” [4]  Maybe not exactly when and where the angel said, but they do find the Jesus they hope to find.  Important for us to hear because there are some really good things here for us too.

I like the appearance of Jesus to the women along the way because it gets the resurrection out of the tomb and into the world – which is important for us.  Even though the Easter event, itself, is something we point to, with awesome emphasis, in this one special service each year, the Easter story isn’t just an event that happened in this one place to this one body.

In fact, because the angel says to the women that Jesus ‘is going on ahead of you to Galilee.  You will see him there,’ we are given yet another promise from God.  “The disciples will encounter the risen one. It is a promise that wherever Jesus’ disciples go, the risen one will meet us.”[5]

Did you catch that?

Wherever the disciples go, Jesus will meet us there.  God is always ahead of us, waiting to see us at our gathering places, on the road, wherever we are.  Because God so loved the world…

Like the women who go to the tomb expecting to find something, we too can expect to come and see and experience the grace of God in our own life (and perhaps get a little shaken up).  Like the women who are charged with a message of good news to deliver, we too are empowered to then go and tell in response to all of God’s grace in our lives.  And just like those women – obedient and fearful and joyful and expecting to go out into the world expecting to find the resurrected Jesus, we too will encounter Jesus along our way.

Because we have been told.

He isn’t here, because he’s been raised from the dead, just as he said.

Let us pray:
Living God, the resurrection of Jesus gives us new life and fills us with hope.  Help us to live as the people you so loved that we would come and see despite our fears and worries.  Empower us to go out into the world filled with joy and expecting to encounter you wherever it is that we journey.  Attune our minds to the sound of your voice and lead our steps in the path you have shown, that we ever enjoy the light of your presence in each person we meet.  We ask all of this in the name of the one who lived, died, and rose for us, your Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.


Sermon Inspirations

  1. Stephanie Anthony. “Narrative Lectionary – Come, See, Go, Tell (Matthew 28:1-10)” RevGalBlogPals.
  2. Holly Hearon. “April 05, 2015: Commentary on Matthew 28:1-10” Preach This Week: Narrative Lectionary.  Working Preacher.
  3. Alyce M. McKenzie. “My Favourite Angel: Easter Reflections on Matthew 28:1-10” Edgy Exegesis: April 10, 2014.  Patheos.
  4. Melinda Quivik. “April 20, 2014: Commentary on Matthew 28:1-10” Preach This Week: Gospel Reading.  Working Preacher.

This week’s image is entitled, “Ангел на гробе господнем (Angel on the Holy Sepulchre)” created by Mikhail Vasilyevich Nesterov, in the late 19th century.  The image is public domain.  You can find out more about the painting here, and the artist here.  The image has been modified for the purposes of this blog.


[1] Holly Hearon.  “April 05, 2015: Commentary on Matthew 28:1-10” Preach This Week: Narrative Lectionary.  Working Preacher.
[2] Holly Hearon.  “April 05, 2015: Commentary on Matthew 28:1-10
[3] Alyce M. McKenzie.  “My Favourite Angel: Easter Reflections on Matthew 28:1-10” Edgy Exegesis: April 10, 2014.  Patheos.
[4] Stephanie Anthony. “Narrative Lectionary – Come, See, Go, Tell (Matthew 28:1-10)” RevGalBlogPals.
[5] Melinda Quivik.  “April 20, 2014: Commentary on Matthew 28:1-10” Preach This Week: Gospel Reading.  Working Preacher.

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