Sermon: Resurrection Means Hope

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Easter Sunday | Matthew 28:1-10 | April 9, 2023 | Dennis Sanders, preaching

Christ Is Risen!

We say that every Easter, but do we believe it?  Do we believe that Christ who died on a cross in the most excruciating way possible was able to defeat death? Do we believe that Christ rose from the dead? Not metaphorically, but physically?

It’s too fantastical to believe for many of us.  It seems rather foolish. Maybe that’s why some people resort to seeing the resurrection as more as a metaphor.  Maybe it was about how the disciples came to really understand Jesus’ teaching.  But the scripture tells a different story.  It tells the story of someone who was deader than a doornail come back to life.  

Instead of trying to prove the resurrection, let’s look at this text from the standpoint of the first two evangelists: Mary Magdalene and the other Mary.  They are heading to the tomb early in the morning.  They aren’t expecting anything more than knowing that Jesus was in the tomb.  They saw Jesus die. They saw Jesus being placed in the tomb. They saw the stone roll into the doorway.  They didn’t expect anything else.

In our own lives, we don’t really expect God to act in our world.  We expect the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain to stand.  We expected apartheid in South Africa or Jim Crow here in the United States to remain in place.  We expect mass shootings to continue.  We expect people to be trapped in addictions or mental illnesses.  We expect the powers of sin, death and the devil to remain in power because we have seen how powerful evil can be in our world.  We have seen how good people become silent in the face of evil or even become corrupted themselves.  We know the powers are strong.  So it isn’t surprising that the women are coming to the tomb to expect to see a dead Jesus.  This is the way of the world.

Theologian John Mark Hicks says that Saturday is a day, a feeling we must feel before we can feel the joy of Easter. “Saturday, however, is a lonely day,” he says. “Death has won. Hope is lost. Jesus of Nazareth lies in a tomb. His male disciples are afraid, hiding, and deeply depressed. Everything in which they had invested for the past three years seems pointless now.  They are leaderless, hopeless, and aimless.”

He continues, “Holy Saturday is the day we sit by the grave. It is the day to feel the gloom of the grave and face the reality of death itself. It is a day to weep, fast, and mourn.”

We Disciples don’t really think about what happens on Saturday, but Christian tradition and scripture tend to allude something happened.  The Apostle’s Creed says that Christ descended to hell or dead depending on your interpretation.  Unbeknownst to the Marys, the disciples and everyone else Jesus was busy defeating death by entering into death.  What was happening was the work of salvation that reached into every nook and cranny of creation.  J. Warren Smith, a professor of historical theology at Duke Divinity School said just as much in a recent news article, “It’s what it means for Christ to take upon himself … the punishment of sin, which is death. If Christ really dies, then that means he (journeys) all the way to the place of dead.”

When the earth shakes and the tomb is rolled away, this is the final defeat of death.  The powers that seemed invincible were now rendered powerless.  The guards who represented the mighty power of the state were so scared by the event that they couldn’t move.

A messenger tells the women that Jesus isn’t here.  That has to be some of the most joyous and at the same time, head-scratching words ever uttered.  They have to be excited to know that Jesus might not be in the tomb, but they are also wondering how in the world could this be?  How does this happen?  As I said earlier, some people expect Jesus to remain in the tomb, because people don’t rise from the dead.  The only thing that lives on is the teachings of Jesus.

But the angel said “He isn’t here.”  Jesus is not found in this place of death, because Jesus isn’t dead.  Scripture tells us they left with fear and joy, ready to tell the disciples and in the midst of their journeying they run into Jesus!  As they are called to tell the good news that Jesus is alive they run into Jesus in the flesh.  Jesus tells them to tell the others that he is alive.  

On this Easter morning, we believe that Jesus isn’t in the tomb.  We believe Christ is Risen.  The powers of sin and death, be it physical death or the powers of oppression, violence and fear have been lost; they just don’t know it yet. It’s not just Jesus’ ideas that live on, but the Son of God that lives on freeing us from sin and opening us up to new life.

Anglican pastor Esau McCaulley has said that he hasn’t always jived with Easter.  Writing in yesterday’s New York Times he talks about living in a world filled with drug dealers that wreaked havoc in his hometown of Huntsville, Alabama.  He dealt with poverty and racism and had no time for the inspirational rhetoric of his teachers.  He had seen enough of the bad side of life to believe that despair not hope was the constant in life.  

Which is why he has a soft spot for Judas.  Most of us see him as a betrayer, but McCaulley sees him differently. What if Judas grew up on the rough side of Judea? McCaulley says.  What if he is used to seeing the Romans bitterly oppress people?  After a while, you get used to that kind of despair.  “For someone like Judas, Jesus offered the dangerous kind of hope that might have challenged him to relinquish his hostilities and reawaken that thing he had long since given up, the belief in the possibility that things might be different,” McCaulley says.  “That could explain why he agreed to betray Jesus. Betrayal was his chance to return to the safety and dependability of hopelessness.”  He concludes by talking about how the hope of Christ is indestructible and can lift us out of despair. “Easter, then, is a not metaphor for new beginnings; it is about encountering the person who, despite every disappointment we experience with ourselves and with the world, gives us a reason to carry on.”

The resurrection is about a sense of hope.  Remember I talked about the Iron Curtain and apartheid and Jim Crow?  All of those things are gone.  Resurrection means death doesn’t win.  

Easter morning starts in a Saturday world and we must not try to ignore that world.  But we also must know of the Sunday morning when we realize that Christ is alive, the powers of death are defeated and we are excited to go and tell the good news: Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen indeed!

Thanks be to God. Amen.


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