A Sermon on Matthew 28:1-10
by Rev. Elizabeth Meador Strobel
Preached at Trinity Presbyterian Church of Independence, Missouri
April 16, 2017 – Resurrection of the Lord (A)
After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ 8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’
I love that Matthew tells us that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary left the tomb “with fear and great joy.” What a fantastic description of Easter! Because make no mistake, there is a lot of dramatic, fear inducting stuff in this story. We know this story well, but this was all new to them in the moment. These women have just watched Jesus die, they’ve sat by his tomb while he was buried, and now they’ve come as mourners. There are Roman guards who are not going to be particularly welcoming, and then an earthquake, an angel with an appearance like lightening, an unimaginable story that the Marys have to explain to the often stubborn disciples. Of course they’re afraid! But of course they’re also filled with great joy – they have a new way of seeing the world. When you look at things through resurrection eyes, even the fearful can be mixed with joy. Because the resurrection changes our perspective on everything.
There is a company that makes glasses that correct colorblindness. You can just google “colorblind glasses” and come up with all kinds of home videos of people trying these glasses for the first time. They look like regular sunglasses to me, but when people put them on they react immediately. Some people just begin to cry. Others pull the glasses off and jump back from them like they’ve been shocked. Some people just stare silently. Almost all the reactions include pulling the glasses off and on again quickly, as if to make sure the real world as they usually experience it is still there. Things as simple as grass and trees become wonders. Even those of us who are not colorblind may know the experience of putting on new glasses and seeing the world more sharply. Or, perhaps, using a magnifying glass to see otherwise invisible details. The way in which we see things matter. That’s why we have phrases like “he’s so optimistic, he looks at the world through rose colored glasses” or “I was so mad that I just saw red” – we know that the lens you use to view the world makes a huge difference not only in your vision, but in the way you interact with the world.
You can look at people and things with eyes of love, an eye to succeed, an eye for design, eyes of compassion. Your vision of the world matters. Looking at the world with resurrection eyes can also transform your vision. When we remember the resurrection of Christ, when we remember that God so loved the world that the divine became human, was born, and died to overcome death for us, when we remember that sin and brokenness and death no longer have the last word – you see the world differently. God becomes not a far off deity, but a close companion. Eternal life becomes no longer a dream but a reality. Overcoming death is no longer impossible, but promised. When you view the world with resurrection eyes, even those things that give us fear can be mixed with great joy – for there is no greater joy than working with God to bring new life to an exhausted world.
We are very privileged to be part of a denomination that looks at the problems of the world with resurrection eyes. I was reading an article[i]from the Presbyterian Mission Agency, which is where we send our One Great Hour of Sharing offering, about how our special collections are used. The article gave examples of a mission team in Peru, helping alpaca farmers irrigate the changing landscape around them so that they could continue to farm and feed their families. It also talked about how the Presbyterian Church is working with churches in Lebanon to ensure that families seeking refuge in that country from the Syrian civil war have uninterrupted education for their children; they also provide material assistance for Syrians wishing to return home – all so that they can go forward to build new lives. Even here in the United States, the article discussed how Presbyterians are involved in helping those who have served jail sentences get paying jobs and basic work necessities like Drivers Licenses – so that they can experience real change in their lives. Issues like hunger, war, and crime are big issues that make many of us feel fearful; they seem too big to tackle and are persistent problems in our world. But when you look at the world through resurrection eyes, that fear can be accompanied by great joy, because we know the power of God to bring new life and redemption. We know that we can combine our resources to make big changes, that spiritual and practical solutions are possible, and that those things which we fear are no match to the life-giving power of God, who can and does redeem all things. What’s more, we know the power of God to use us in proclaiming that good news.
We come to church year after year on Easter because that good news has changed us – it’s changed how we see ourselves and how we see the people around us. When Jesus’ resurrection becomes truly meaningful for us, it’s like seeing color for the first time, or sharp lines where we once only saw blurs. The resurrection makes us see the world anew, and it is a promise that we hold dear. But resurrection is not just a promise for eternal life, it is also a promise for here and now. We live in a world that desperately needs to hear of new life, of Easter promise. We live in a world that needs to hear you proclaim “I have seen the Lord,” when all others can see is the things that make them fear. Share this good news. Give people an opportunity to see the possibility and promise of the world through your Resurrection eyes. Like the two Marys at the tomb who had seen the unimaginable, run to tell others what you have seen. Help them see the world through a different lens. And whether or not you go with fear, go also with great joy – for our Risen Savior goes with you every step.
Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen!