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When Courage Meets its Match

Matthew 28:1-11

Rev. Alan Taylor

Easter: The feast of Resurrection, series A
St. John Lutheran Church  
Galveston, Texas

Sun, Apr 16, 2017 

Matthew 28:1-11

In Nomine Jesu

Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Let us pray…

“Let us feast this Easter Day

On Christ, the bread of heaven;

The Word of grace has purged away

The old and evil leaven.

Christ alone our souls will feed;

He is our meat and drink indeed;

Faith lives upon no other!

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Christ is Risen!  He is Risen, Indeed!  Alleluia!

Jesus’ death and resurrection are two sides of the same coin.  One without the other is of no value at all.  On Good Friday, Jesus died for the sins of the world, including your sins and mine.  On Easter Sunday, He defeated death and the grave, and the Father affirmed His acceptance of His Son’s sacrifice. 

Death and resurrection are two sides of the same coin.  As St. Paul writes, “if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.  We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.  For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”

If we can’t preach Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, we can’t preach His crucifixion either.  And, if we can’t preach His crucifixion, we can’t preach His resurrection from the dead.  As much as that little dictum might seem self-evident, or, worse yet, insignificant, the truth is, the preaching of the bodily resurrection of Jesus has suffered great losses in the Church over the last 200 years, or, so, as people have begun to wonder if the Easter message really that important. 

For those who don’t accept the bodily resurrection of Jesus, their reasoning goes something like this…if I believe that Jesus really died for my sins, does it matter if I see His resurrection from the dead as a metaphor of new life, a symbol of hope, rather than as a physical resurrection from the dead?  It’s easy, you see, to believe that Jesus could be nailed to a cross and crucified!  It’s not so easy to believe that He could come back to life after He was crucified!  The latter, you see, requires us to believe in miracles, something many people jettisoned from the Christian faith long ago.

The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection are written to give us a historic account of exactly what happened on that first Easter morning.  They, along with the rest of the Scriptures, are the norm of our faith.  In other words, they establish for us what the faithful believe, teach and confess.  At the same time, they each have some slightly different details, as you would expect of eye witness accounts of any event.

This morning we have Matthew’s account of the resurrection before us.  Central to his account are the two women who came to the tomb early in the morning on that first Easter.  Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, who is believed to be Mary, the mother of James and Joseph, are the two women.  The same two women were at the foot of the cross when Jesus died.  We find that out from the last few verses of the previous chapter in Matthew’s Gospel. 

While the central point of any of the resurrection accounts is Jesus’ victory over death and the grave, there are aspects of each Gospel writer’s account, that give us particular faith and hope in what the resurrection means to us in our day to day lives.

We would have to say of the two Mary’s who were at the tomb that morning that they were especially courageous women.  Again, not only were they the first to arrive at the tomb that morning to confront death and the grave, they were of the very few who followed Jesus through His trial and crucifixion.  All of the disciples, in fact, except John, had left Jesus, perhaps for fear of what might happen to them were they identified as Jesus’ disciples.  But, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there at the cross when Jesus was crucified.

So, evidently they were pretty courageous women.  But, courage, as virtuous as it may be, inevitably meets it’s match, if you will, in life.  On that first Easter morning there was an earthquake, the second, by the way, in as many days.  An angel appeared at the tomb and rolled back the stone.  The angel’s appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow.  The guards saw the angel and they trembled and they became like dead men!  Can you imagine?  These big, brawny Roman guards whose very livelihood was synonymous with courage, swooned to the ground.  You see, courage, as virtuous as it may be, inevitably meets it’s match in life.

The women too were frightened by what they saw.  First, they saw the angel sitting atop the stone, something they didn’t see everyday.  But, they also saw an empty tomb.  We put A & B together and we rejoice that Christ is risen from the dead.  But, they didn’t yet understand what the empty tomb meant.  So, they were afraid.  Courage met it’s match in life. 

What calmed their hearts and restored their courage was the voice of the angel who spoke to them the word of God.  “Do not be afraid (he said), for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.  Come, see the place where he lay.” They could see with their own eyes that Jesus was not in the tomb and they could hear with their ears why He wasn’t there.  “He is not here (said they angel), for He has risen!” If the things in life that assault courage are to be conquered, it will be in this way, by the assurance and the promise of Almighty God!

What is it that assaults your courage?  Is it the death of a loved one?  Do you wonder how you’re going to get along without that person that meant so much to you in life.  Or, is it your own fear of death?  Or, are you strong, perhaps because you’ve never really thought about death and life after death? 

As the two Mary’s left the tomb to go to the disciples, Jesus met with them.  As He approached them, He said, “Greetings!” Actually, that’s not really the best translation of what He said.  He said, kairete, which mean’s “rejoice!” It’s the same word St. Paul uses when he writes to the Christians in Philippi.  “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.  The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

When Jesus greeted the two women, they took hold of His feet and they worshiped Him.  There’s the bodily resurrection of Jesus!  They took hold of Jesus’ feet, even those feet that had been pierced with nails, and they worshiped Him.  And Jesus said, “do not be afraid.”

Ultimately, at least in the context of Matthew’s account of the resurrection, this is the central point of Jesus rising from the dead.  Courage meets it’s match in life, but nothing overcomes the peaceful, calming voice of our risen Savior, who says, “Rejoice!” Rejoice that your sins are forgiven and that death and the grave have been defeated.  Your loved one who believed in Jesus, who was taken from you, will rise again!  Rejoice!  Death that threatens you and tries to rob you of joy has been defeated!  Rejoice!  And, “do not be afraid!” As Jesus has promised, He “is with you always, even to the very end of the age.” Christ is Risen!  He is Risen, Indeed!  Alleluia!  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

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