First Mennonite Church
April 9, 2023
Easter: The News That God Is Always Ahead of Us
Text: Matthew 28:1-10
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
There are some people who made historic discoveries, according to history books. Nicholas Copernicus discovered that the earth revolves around the sun, contrary to what was believed up to that time. In 1493, Columbus returned to Spain with the great news that he had discovered the New World after he landed in Santo Domingo and explored further west. In 1927, Edwin Hubble, at his observatory atop Mount Wilson discovered that the universe is constantly expanding. But unlike these discoverers, the Marys did not begin with a hypothesis or mathematical calculations about what they found. They were amateurs in the pure sense of the word—that is, they were lovers. In chapter 27, during the crucifixion of Jesus, Matthew says the following: Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons (55, 56).
These women loved Jesus and provided for his needs. It was believed that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. Thus, she was most likely rejected by her family and did not fit the requirement of her religion. However, she must have found acceptance, forgiveness, and a new life in Jesus, to the point that she became an unstoppable follower and provider of his needs. These Marys watched how their Lord was abused, crucified, and finally, buried. Thus, it may have been their love for their beloved Lord that made Mary Magdalene and her companion, the other Mary, go “to look at the tomb.” The two Marys came to “survey,” to “analyze” the tomb, but their actual goal is to “find Jesus,” the angel reveals.
Once at the site, Matthew says, “There was a violent earthquake.” It interesting that only Matthew speaks of earthquakes, happening both on Friday as Jesus was dying and here at the coming of an angel on the day Jesus rose from the dead. The angel rolled away the stone set at the entrance of the tomb and sat on it. At its dazzling appearance, the brave and the strong guards fainted and became like dead men.
But immediately, the angel assures the women not to fear and that he knows the purpose of their presence there at such early hour of the day. “I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.”
Taking from the order of Matthew’s account, Jesus was already out of the tomb. He already rose even before the women arrived at the site. Jesus was already risen when the angel came down. Jesus came out of the tomb and not even the stone at the entrance of the tomb, nor the guards standing by could prevent him from coming out of the grave. Death was defeated. Jesus was alive. And the first to know about this marvelous event were the two Marys. The announcement of Jesus’ resurrection is very simple. The angel said, “He is not here; he has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” It is not as poetic or eloquent and recitable as was the angelic announcement of Jesus’ birth. “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth, peace among people with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2:14). The revelation that Jesus had risen was given to the two Marys.
We might wonder: why was it not Peter, John, or James who found the empty tomb? They were the three closest friends of Jesus if we recall. But, here it is. It’s the two Marys who went out at dawn to look at the tomb. They were the first to see the empty tomb. They were the first to meet the Risen Lord. They were the first to receive Jesus’ first post-Easter commission. And it’s that commissioning that I would like for us to ponder a bit on this morning.
The women were commissioned twice, that Easter Morn. The first time was by the angel, where he said, “I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’” Also, when Jesus meets the women, he again sends the women, “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
The Easter message is that God, the Risen Lord is always ahead of us. As I said earlier, Jesus rose even before the sun was up. Jesus rose from the dead before the angel descended from heaven. Jesus came out of the tomb even when the stone remained set at the entrance of the tomb and guards were keeping their watch. He is always going before us and bids us to meet with him where he is going. Tell his disciples: “He has risen and is going ahead of you into Galilee. Go tell my brothers to meet me in Galilee.” Easter is the reminder that Christ Jesus is not held in a cold tomb, but has gone ahead where he awaits his follower to meet with him. The Living Christ is not a character of times past, bound to a world foreign to us. He is alive is bids us also to follow him, asking us to leave behind our past sins, the missed opportunities, the pain and bruises of the past and to meet him in Galilee. For as we also know, it was by the Sea of Galilee where Jesus manifested himself to his disciples. There at the shore, Jesus prepared grilled fish and had breakfast with his disciples. There, they rejoiced and worshipped him. It was by the Sea of Galilee that the disciples came out of their tomb of doubt and where Peter’s guilt was removed and his love was once again revived.
Oftentimes, the tomb we cannot come out from is our past. Oftentimes, anger, shame, guilt, or fear as the result of past experiences hold people buried in invisible tombs. Easter reminds us that Jesus not only overcame the tomb, but is always ahead and bidding into a future where he heals our past bruises and hurts, where he washes away our guilt, takes away our shame, and gives us the honor of being children of God.
Easter is the reminder that God’s power that set Jesus free from the grip of death is also ours to experience. And for us, it is the reminder of what God wants to do also—to set us free. So let me close with the words of the Apostle Paul to the Ephesians: I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 1:18-20)
Let us allow God’s liberating and life-giving power to be revealed in our life. Amen!