“Sharing our Treasures” Colchester Federated Church, April 4, 2021, Easter Sunday (Matthew 27:62-28:10), Reflections on the Heart Sermon Series
Our story from Matthew’s Gospel begins on Holy Saturday. The day after Good Friday. The day after Jesus died, when the world must have seemed muted and sad for the earliest disciples. Hearts would have been heavy with grief and eyes would have been hurting from crying. Some of the religious leaders go to Pilate. They remember Jesus’ prediction that after three days he would rise. So they ask for the grave of Jesus to be sealed because otherwise the disciples could come and steal Jesus’ body to tell the people that he had risen from death. Pilate responds that they have soldiers for guard duty, “Go and make it as secure as you know how.” That’s exactly what happens—the tomb is sealed with a stone and guards are posted.
That could have been the end of the story. Yet Matthew continues, “After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the tomb.” Now in Matthew’s account, Mary Magdalene and Mary go to the tomb simply to look. To bear witness. To mourn. They don’t expect to anoint Jesus’ body because we’ve already been told that guards were posted at the entrance to ensure that no one could go inside. As soon as the women arrive, “Look, there was a great earthquake, for an angel from the Lord came down from heaven. Coming to the stone, he rolled it away and sat on it.” The women witness the stone rolled away by an angel. The women experience an earthquake. The guards at the tomb are so terrified that they shake with fear and become like dead men.
Now if we explored how Luke, Mark, and John tell the Easter story, there are differences from Matthew’s story. Too nuanced to go into detail here. The point is that we can ask all sorts of questions like: when did the stone get rolled away? When do angels appear and what do they do? Who went to the tomb early that morning? What do we make of these differences anyway?
Whenever we recount a momentous event, we’re not going to tell what happened exactly the same. We can’t. Because we come at life from different perspectives. Some people are auditory learners, some are visual, some are physical. We humans are storytelling creatures. We love to tell stories and hear stories. Though have you ever been listening to a person tell a story and then a loved one interrupts and says, “No that’s not what happened!” or “Hey, you skipped a part!” or “You forgot this important detail.” People don’t explain an event the same way even if it’s the same event. Because we are unique, and God made us that way.
Moreover, it’s not easy to put a religious experience into words. There are miraculous moments that are difficult to explain. The Enlightenment ushered in humans using reason and logic to understand phenomena. The scientific method and testing ideas out in a lab remain important advancements for humanity. Good Lord we are seeing how important science truly is as we face a global pandemic where scientists worked around the clock to develop a vaccine to stop the spread of a virus. Our denominations and our church are not anti-science—thank God. So all of that is true.
And there are other ways of knowing. We can know things with our heads and our hearts. Both ways of knowing are important—this is a both/and idea. Easter may be one of those days when we have to lean a bit more on our hearts. Rob Bell writes in his book What We Talk About When We Talk About God, “Explain how that particular song moves you. Articulate why you fell in love with that person. Provide data for the manner in which that meal with those friends made your soul soar. Most of the things in life we’re most sure of, many of those events and experiences that are more real to us than anything else, lots of sensations we have no doubt actually happened—these are things we cannot prove with any degree of scientific validity. Which leads us to a crucial truth: there are other ways of knowing than only those of the intellect.”
On this Easter Sunday, let’s be open-minded and open-hearted enough to admit that some phenomena have no rational explanations. There is mystery present in our world. Perhaps the miracle of resurrection is supposed to be hard to fathom logically. Because it doesn’t make sense. Jesus’ crucifixion was supposed to be the end of the story. Except the sting of death didn’t last. The way that Matthew tells the Easter story is dramatic and mysterious—an earthquake, the angel descending and rolling away the stone, and the guards collapsing like dead men. This is all unique to Matthew’s version of events, and it shows how he understood the miracle of resurrection and shared the good news with us all.
Because this is news that literally shook the earth! This is unsettling, even scary! The angel who rolled away that stone and sat atop it tells the women not to be afraid. “With great fear and excitement” they hurry away from the empty tomb to tell the disciples what happened. The Risen Christ says, “Don’t be afraid. Go and tell my brothers that I am going into Galilee. They will see me there.”
Those women hear “come, see” and “go and tell.” They do. The world would never be the same. The good news for us all could not be locked away inside a tomb. An earthquake and an angel helped announce the earth-shattering news—Christ is Risen. Death did not get the last word. God got the last word, and that word is always love. The women experienced good news in their hearts that they needed to share with fellow followers of Jesus. In Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection we not only see that God keeps God’s promises, we also see that God responds to human violence with an act to make all things new forever. Death is not the end of the story.
Our understanding of what happened on Easter and what it means in our lives are treasures in our hearts. Treasures that we are invited to hold close on the hard days. Treasures that we can’t keep to ourselves any more than Jesus stayed confined to that tomb. Jesus went on to meet the disciples in Galilee. He commissioned them to go and make disciples of all nations, to baptize, and teach. Jesus instructed us to love one another. Let us leave this time of worship with treasures in our hearts that sustain us and help us make this world a little brighter. Thanks be to God. Happy Easter! Amen.
Photo by Bruno van der Kraan on Unsplash.