Saturday, April 19, 2014

Reflections on Easter - Matthew 28:1-10

Read the text here: Matthew 28:1-10

Resurrection – Surprised by Hope!
The title is partly borrowed from N.T. Wright’s incredible book “Surprised by Hope!”
Jesus was dead – completely dead!  No question about this.  The Romans had made sure of it before they removed Jesus from the cross and there were witnesses including some of the women and the disciple John to the reality of Jesus’ death.  Joseph of Arimathea also could have seen that Jesus was dead when he had him wrapped in burial clothes and placed in the tomb.  Everyone in the story knew this and this meant some kind of an ending for everyone.  For the Romans and the leaders of the Temple it meant the end of this troublemaker, this messianic pretender; the end of the one who challenged their power and authority and wealth and privilege.  Now these men whose priorities and way of life represent the power of death were free to continue as they had.  Jesus’ death is further confirmation that no one challenges the powers of death and gets away with it!  Power, wealth, position, violence, hate, fear – these are the powers which control the world.  And any and all challenges will be crushed!
This is also what the disciples believed.  The powers of death had won – Jesus was dead.  Jesus was not the Messiah and all hope was gone.  The only thing left to do was to run away and give in to the controlling powers of death.  What else was there to do?  The new way of being the world represented by Jesus had died on the cross – love, grace, forgiveness, peace, hope all lay shattered at the bottom of the cross. 
But on the 3rd day after these crushing and terrible events of crucifixion some odd news arrives.  The women had gone to the tomb but Jesus was not there.  His grave clothes were all that were left, except there was an angel who had announced that Jesus is raised from the dead!  Jesus is alive!  Impossible!  This is the reaction across the board – Impossible!  The disciples don’t believe it.  The leadership doesn’t believe it.  The testimony comes from women, who are unreliable and who ever heard tell of this before anyway.  Jesus had told them this would happen, but they didn’t believe him or they didn’t understand or they didn’t pay attention, after all they were all too busy planning the Messiah’s military take-over.  But here is the proclamation: Jesus is Risen!  What could this possibly mean?
Good question!  What does it mean that Jesus is raised?  What did it mean for the first disciples and what does resurrection mean for us?  First of all, it means that the powers of death are completely defeated.  That all of those things that the world thinks are important ultimately do not hold the power they think they hold.  That they are false gods, idols that are themselves shattered by the victory of love, of grace, of forgiveness, or peace and of hope.  That no matter how overwhelming the powers of death and darkness seem they have already been defeated.
Secondly, it means that we who have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus; we who claim this story as our own now have a new calling and a task. A new way of life is now set out before us.  For the resurrection of Jesus is both and end and a beginning – it is the end of the power that death holds over us and the beginning of a new life in Christ; the beginning of a New Creation which is rooted in community and takes upon itself the task of proclaiming in word and deed the victorious power of life, of love and grace – of hope. 
This had life-changing implications for Jesus’ disciples in the story and it has life-changing implications for us who are Jesus’ disciples and followers today.  For we too struggle with the powers of death that want to deny and dismiss the resurrection as irrational or absurd.  And if that fails, then more insidiously, they tempt us to internalize and spiritualize the resurrection.  And this strategy is very successful.  Too many of us who claim to be followers of Christ see in the resurrection only a personal, spiritual message that pulls us farther and farther into ourselves.  So resurrection becomes about me and Jesus, or about me going to heaven, or about me finding myself, or about me enlisting the power of Jesus to become wealthy and successful, about me, me, me – see the pattern here.  This is no different from outright denial.  For like it or not, ultimately resurrection is about the community of believers of which I am an integral part, it is about God’s wonderful and beloved creation to which I have a responsibility.  So when it comes right down to it, the Gospel calls upon us to make two affirmations about resurrection:
1.     Resurrection means that the powers of death are defeated – completely!
2.     We have a calling and a task – which is to continue in the footsteps of Jesus.
This calling to ministry is for all the baptized – and it is to put all our efforts into the work of standing against the powers of death.  Specifically this means: to reach out to provide for those who are in need, to feed the hungry, to provide homes for the homeless, to see that those who need healthcare receive the care they need, to visit the lonely, to work for justice, to welcome those who are wandering, to reach out and embrace all people in Christ’s love, to work to care for this earth and to conserve the natural resources God has given to us, to oppose violence in all forms, to denounce those who would victimize the victims, to work for justice and to reflect God’s love and grace and acceptance and forgiveness; to stand for peace and to represent an abiding and always present hope.  For the powers of death have been defeated already and no matter how they rage and what power or prerogative they claim, Christ has already won the victory.
            Surprise!  Hope is alive; love is here; unconditional grace abounds; forgiveness is available to all and Peace is showered upon us.  Christ is Risen!  He is Risen indeed!

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