Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. And his appearance was like lightning, and his garment as white as snow; and the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.
And the angel answered and said to the women, "Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going before you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold, I have told you."
And they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they shall see Me."
The Women Who First Came to the Tomb
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
He is Risen! - - - He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!
Finally, the Passion of our Lord is over! And yet we have one final installment of the Cast of the Passion. Technically, these cast members are not here as members of the Passion, although they were also involved in Christ's Passion, but at a distance. Our members of the Cast for this morning are the women who first came to the tomb.
Scripture gives us just a few names: Matthew says, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary; Mark tells us about Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome; and Luke tells us about Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Joanna . John just tells us the account of Mary Magdalene with Jesus when she supposed Him to be the gardener. The lists are not identical, but I suspect that Salome was later known as Joanna. I am not certain, but the Mary who is listed as the mother of James may well be the mother of our Lord, too. It is possible that later in her life, she chose in humility to be known only as the mother of her son James, the first leader of the church in Jerusalem, and half-brother to Jesus, rather than claim the honor of being the mother of Jesus. Those who were close to the Lord tended to be humble about it.
We know that they headed out for the grave still in the spirit of the Passion. They intended to anoint the body of Jesus and add to the spices that were wrapped about His body as a sign of love and mourning. One of their concerns was how they were going to get the stone rolled away so that they could enter the tomb and complete the funeral preparations for Jesus. Mark tells us that. Matthew simply says that they came to look at the grave. No matter what they had heard Jesus say, they were not expecting Easter. It was just too unbelievable, and unimaginable for them. It was also unexpected.
The Bible gives us no information as to whether they knew about the guard that Pilate had posted to watch the grave or not. It didn't matter, because when the women arrived, the guards had fled the scene. The resurrection, the angels and all had frightened them so badly that they had passed out, and when they came to, they did not hang around. Whatever could frighten a Roman soldier so badly that he would faint was something that they would run away from. We know that the high priests bribed the soldiers to say that they had fallen asleep, and that the disciple must have stolen the body from the grave during heir nap, but that story probably didn't carry much power among the people who heard it, since they knew that falling asleep on the job while you were on duty was a death sentence for a Roman soldier. It was just the only story available to them to hide the truth of the resurrection.
Look, they had covered the "steal the body" scenario by convincing Pilate to post the guard. Now that Jesus had risen from the dead, they couldn't pretend that they didn't have soldiers there. They were unw9illing to admit that Jesus actually had risen from the grave. That would have been a disaster in the light of their crucifying Him. So, the only course available was to lie and say that the soldiers had fallen asleep and those wily fishermen had tip-toed in, rolled the gave stone silently away, and carried away the dead body. So that is what they decided to do. In any case, the soldiers were long gone when the women arrived at the tomb.
When they arrived, they found the grave open and empty. Well, not quite empty, the angel that had frightened the soldiers so badly was still there, only he wasn't as frightening to the women. That was probably because it was not the will of the angel to be frightening, as we can tell by his first words to the women, "Do not be afraid." His words came with divine power, and whatever thoughts or fears the women may have had were gone. They were filled with joy and wonder and excitement instead!
Some people say that God chose women to be the first witnesses of the resurrection to make some sort of sexual-political statement about women's rights or women's equality. I really doubt that is true. First of all, the women were not the first witnesses. The first witnesses were men who passed out, and, when they awakened, ran away. I think that Jesus chose the women to be the first of the witnesses because they were the first ones to the tomb that morning. Actually, the devil and the entire population of hell were witnesses to the resurrection before any living person saw Jesus.
Then there was Mary Magdalene. She went with the women to the grave, but she must have not looked in the tomb in time to see the angel, or she did not believe her ears, because we know she was convinced at first that Jesus' body had been stolen. Eventually, the women all seemed to have seen Jesus - Mary in the garden, and the others on the path back to the disciples. Their reaction was pretty much the same: fear and great joy!
Our reaction is different. We have not seen Jesus die, except through the eyes of the Apostles. We have not seen Jesus rise from the dead either. We believe that He has risen, don't get me wrong. But there is an emotional difference between hearing about someone rising from the dead, and watching one of your closest and most important friends die, and then seeing them alive and well again! We all know something fot he sorrow of Good Friday, but we cannot really appreciate completely the wonderful joy of seeing Jesus alive again. The best we can do with that is imagine how we would feel if we were to see our mother or father, or someone else near and dear to us, who has passed away, alive again.
Our joy in Easter is not on level of the personal relationship that the disciples had with Jesus. Our joy is in knowing what that resurrection actually means! The resurrection of Jesus is connected to that love of God that put Him upon the cross to die in our place. His resurrection means that God accepted the trade. Jesus' death was accepted in our place and for our sins - and so we are now forgiven! The resurrection tells us that everything Jesus taught is true and every promise is eternally valid. That stuff about how God loves us? It's true! Those words about life eternal and living in glory with Him? It's true! The promise that though we die we shall rise from the grave and live forever? It's true!
We rejoice because Jesus rose from the dead, but not because He is a long-time friend we watched die in the midst of our sorrow, and now we have him back. We rejoice because the promises of forgiveness, life and salvation are all guaranteed and valid and true and apply to us! We don't know Jesus intimately like a friend, but we will! That also is one of those promises - that we will know as we have been known. On that day in heaven, we will have the opportunity to get to know Jesus as intimately as the disciples do. Then our joy in the resurrection will be as personal and as much about a loved one rising from the grave as the joy of these women on that first Easter.
Until then it is just about forgiveness. Until then, it is just about knowing that God loves us, and that we do not have to fear Him as some sort of danger, but to love Him as a Father. Until we have the face-to-face joy of seeing Jesus and talking with Him, we have the quiet peace of knowing that He has accepted us even though we are sinful, and has cleansed us, and that He will do everything on our behalf to guard us and keep us until we have that day of face-to-face in heaven.
On Good Friday, the earth shuddered as the Lord of Life was killed. On Easter, if there is any shaking at all, it is the joyous laugher of those who know the love of God, and who believe all the blessings and promises we have received because of Jesus Christ.
The women who make up our final members of the cast of the Passion did not know all of this at first, but they learned it, and it only made their joy that much the sweeter. And now you know it, too.
He is Risen! - - - He is risen indeed. Hallelujah!
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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