Why Is This Day Different From All Other Days?
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I was telling someone recently that I really like languages that call today something that reminds us of the Passover. La Fete de Paques. Buona Pasqua. Pascua de Resurreccion in Spanish. You have both ideas in there. Pascha in Greek. It reminds us of God’s proleptic saving event. I like that word too. Proleptic. If it meant “really good” I’m sure it would have taken off ( as in “That hat you’re wearing is proleptic!”). As it is, it means the first one, or the one that pointed ahead to something else. So, we talk about God’s proleptic saving event in delivering the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt.
Which is of course marked at Passover. One of the things I like about the Passover seder meal (not that I’ve experienced it personally but I’m always open to invitations, particularly when sitting around a table is involved) is the tradition of having the youngest person at the table ask this question – “Why is this night different from all other nights?” What is all this stuff that is going on?
It’s not for nothing that Jesus said that unless we become like little children, we have no part of the Kingdom of Heaven. Little children need to be taught, little children need to be reminded. It is not for nothing that followers of Jesus are called students and that one of the last things Jesus said had to do with teaching.
But I get ahead of myself. Let’s ask for God’s help this morning to teach us and to remind us.
Very often on Easter Sunday, there will be people in church who don’t get to church very often – twice a year, once a year, less. There may be people who are there to see a dear friend or family member be baptized. Very often the preacher may put pressure on herself or himself to hit a home run in baseball parlance. The preacher may feel that he or she needs to craft a message so powerful that it gets people back in church more often than once or twice a year; or a message that refutes the church’s opponents. A message that refutes messages like “Jesus wasn’t actually raised to life, but his followers felt like he had” or even “They were suffering from a mass hallucination/delusion.” Christians counter these things by saying things like “The fact that women were the first witnesses proves that this wasn’t made up.” I agree that this detail shows that something very different is going on here. Something seismic has happened here. It doesn’t prove anything though.
But the thing is, it’s never really been about proof.
It was never about proof, and in the era of deep fakes, what really is about proof anymore? This is not a trial we’re conducting. It was never about proof. There were (and are) those who asked for a sign. The thing about a sign is, they can be pretty ambiguous. Think of something like a STOP sign. What does it mean? Does it mean to come to a full stop? Does it mean kind of roll-on through? What does it mean? To those who asked for a sign, Jesus said that the sign that would be given would be that of the prophet Jonah, who was in the belly of the sea monster for three days. Here we are on the third day. It’s all coming together! Just as he said.
Why is this day different from all other days? What is going on here in the middle of these women and an angel and chocolate eggs and rabbits and earthquakes and maybe even in these days, new clothes (that is a Pro-leptic hat!) and guards and worship and…
Jesus saying “Greetings.” A first century “Heya” which also means “Rejoice.” Rejoice. God has done something new. Nothing will ever be the same. I’m not going to talk about proof or evidence or even the reasonableness of this whole story (though it doesn’t offend my sense of reason, not that that should mean anything to anyone who doesn’t know me very well, and maybe not even to those who know me well). I’m not going to talk about proof or evidence, but I’m going to make an invitation. The invitation is for all of us, no matter where we are coming to today from a faith perspective. The invitation is to apply our lives to this story. Very often we talk about how the Bible applies to our lives. How does this resurrection story apply to my life? How does this new life story apply to my life? Let us ask rather this morning “How can I apply my life to this story?” Let us accept the invitation to apply all of who we are to this new life story.
Throughout Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus has been inviting people. Come on into my Kingdom.
Where everything is made new. Where we are made new. Where everything is reconfigured. Everything is given new meaning, including time itself. The story of the day begins like this, “After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning…” A new day. A new creation. When we look back at how Matthew starts his story in 1:1 we read “An account of the genealogy of the Messiah…” The word that’s been translated genealogy is “genesis.” Source. Origin. Creation of something new. New life. Someone has said this – “Matthew’s gospel began ‘in the beginning’ and we have now come to the end that opens all to the new beginning.”
Why is this day different from all other days?! He has been raised, just as he said. We’re invited into the story with the same faith of the centurion who said to Jesus “Just say the word” and new life will result. The words were spoken by Jesus on Friday. “It is finished.” Here is the result. We’re invited into the story with the same faith of the centurion who believed that Jesus is who he says he is and that Jesus will do what he says he will do.
Mary from Magdala and the other Mary go to the tomb. Matthew doesn’t mention any concern they may have had about rolling the stone away. Matthew isn’t interested in the logistics of resurrection or any of the barriers we might want to put up between ourselves and new life. We can always put up barriers between ourselves and new life. These women didn’t leave Jesus on Friday and they won’t leave him today. Suddenly there was a great earthquake and this an epoch shaking event. An angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.
The audacity! I love that detail. And sat on it. We know about the audacity of hope and not long ago we talked about the impertinence of peace. How audacious. How impertinent. The angel does something that is so much of a part of everyday life. He sits on the stone. I like to picture him leaning back on an elbow, or maybe leaning back on both hands with his legs crossed. The stone was not going to keep this from happening. Death itself was not going to keep this from happening.
For Christ is risen, death has been conquered. What in the world do we have to fear? Those who have something to fear are those who look for life in other places. In one of his great bits of irony, Matthew describes the guards shaking and becoming like dead men. If you thought that force of arms was the way to ensure life, we see that it’s making these men seem as if there were dead.
Listen to the words again (vs. 5-7) – “But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead and he is going ahead of you to Galilee, there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.’”
This is my message for you. Just as he said. This is why, this of all days, this day is different from all other days. Why this day was different from all other days. The response of the women is joy and fear. Joy and awe. Nothing would ever be the same because God has done the unexpected.
I wonder how we feel about expectations, great or otherwise. Oftentimes our expectations haven’t been met. We do well to talk about this even on a day of joy like this – maybe especially on a holiday like this that can be surrounded with a lot of manufactured joy. Oftentimes we think of the unexpected as something unwelcome. Unexpected complications. There are times in our lives that our expectations don’t turn out, whether for ourselves or for those that we love the most. There are few sadder words than “I didn’t think things would turn out this way.” This had to have been on the hearts of these two women as they made their way that day toward Jesus’ tomb. Now God has done something unexpected, and Jesus is about to meet them in the most ordinary everyday way. As they run along to tell the disciples what they have heard, suddenly Jesus appears. Suddenly, Jesus met them and he greets the two women in the most everyday way. “Greetings!” Which is hard to translate with one word and had the sense at the time of “Heya” or “What’s up” because isn’t it just like Jesus to meet us in our everyday?
Mary and Mary respond in a most appropriate way. They come to him and take hold of his feet and worship him. The good and right and proper and fitting response to God doing this new thing in Christ Jesus. Death itself has been conquered and they’re holding onto his feet because this is not a ghost or a hallucination we’re talking about, but something new. Jesus is the embodiment of God’s answer to Good Friday. The embodiment of God’s “Yes” to God’s Son, to humanity, to all of creation. Someone has put it like this – “The Crucifixion put it up to the Father: Would he stand to (for) this alleged Son? To (for) this candidate to be his own self-identifying Word? Would he be a God who, for example, hosts publicans and sinners, who justifies the ungodly?” Would he be a God who would show that it is through self-giving love that the world would be saved? God’s answer is “Yes” and this day is unlike any other.
The question for us becomes what is our response to the day? What is our response to the risen Christ? Mary and Mary respond with worship and joy and awe. The guards and chief priests respond differently. They’ll apply themselves to a different story. Say “His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.” It’s a bit of a thin story, as many are. If they were asleep how do they know who stole him away? The truth of Christ’s resurrection can be an inconvenient truth. NT Wright puts it like this in his commentary on this story – “The biggest inconvenient truth of all – inconvenient not just for a ‘modern world-view’ but for all people in positions of power and responsibility – is the belief that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. Large sums of money change hands, then and now, to make sure the rumour is squashed. But it’s all in vain. The best answer to the skeptics is the fact that there is now a community of people who only say Jesus was raised from the dead. They show it by their lives.”
And so dear friends let us show it by our lives. This new community has been constituted. This new family. “Go and tell my brothers…” Jesus says. My brothers. My sisters. A new family.
Just as he said. “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Just as he said. He went to Galilee to meet them, just as he said, “I will go ahead of you to Galilee.”
And so, family, we meet Jesus on the mountain a final time. When they saw him they worshipped him, but some doubted. Sounds a lot like today, as someone said to me recently. What are they doubting? Perhaps how Jesus will react. The last time he saw them they were deserting him and fleeing after all. Perhaps they’re doubting their ability to carry out Jesus’ calling. His hands and feet? Continuing his work in the world? Let us bring our doubts and questions to him. Jesus came and said to them “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Invite the world to discover the life in God’s reign, in the Kingdom of heaven. Invite the world to discover peace, rest, joy, awe, a whole new way of seeing, a whole new way of walking with the risen King. Invite the world to participate in the life and love of the triune God, Father, Son, and Spirit. The life, family, that we are living into. Teaching what ourselves are learning as we sit at Jesus’ feet.
How could we be up for such a task? It’s not all on us, thankfully. We hear this wonderful promise, the same promise we heard at the beginning of Matthew. The promise of Emmanuel, of God with us. “And remember I am with you always, to the end of the age.” No matter what the age we live in brings. Even a year-long pandemic. No matter the uncertainties, the questions, the joys, and the sorrows. We sing along with that old song that goes, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?”
This is why this day is unlike all others. Thanks be to God for the indescribable gift of the risen Christ Jesus. Amen.