Meditation on Matthew 28:1-10
The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, Ohio
Pastor Karen Crawford
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And 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. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then 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.” 8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
How are you feeling today, friends? I hope everything is well with you and if you need anything, will you let me know?
My family and I are doing well. Some of you have asked about my mom. She is doing fine. Jim, Jacob and I and Mabel the Pomeranian are home together. Mabel is especially happy that we have been home, now, for, what has it been? A month? It seems like a long time, doesn’t it? It would be for Mabel, who hasn’t had to be locked in her crate for hours each day, while we are out working. She has had plenty of attention with us at home. She has often been in the same room with us, and this includes when we are recording our worship services. If you listen closely to some of our services, you can probably hear the jingling of the tags on her collar as she walks or shakes herself. And speaking of walks. Mabel has had more walks in the last month than she probably has had in the last year. It’s good for her. It’s good for us.
But how ‘bout the weather this week? It was warm; it was wet; it was cold and, did you see it? It even snowed! Yes, it’s true. If you don’t like the weather in Ohio, wait a minute. It’ll change.
Lots of things are changing around us. Uncomfortable change. I think you will agree with me that this has been a Lent and Holy Week unlike any other we have experienced. Today, Easter will be different, too. And I am pretty sure it will be like the title of Nat King Cole’s song, Unforgettable.
I bought all kinds of Easter candy to give to the children during the children’s moment today and throughout the season of Easter in the coming weeks. That’s not going to happen. I left it in the church refrigerator so I wouldn’t be tempted to eat it all at home. Cause I would.
We usually gather for a wonderful Easter breakfast in the parlor at church during the Sunday school time.
That won’t happen this year.
We usually have an Easter Egg Hunt in the fellowship hall after the Easter breakfast. And the adult and children’s choirs were going to sing, the pipe organ and other instruments were going to play, and we were going to dress up in our Easter clothes to worship in our sanctuary filled with the scent of Easter flowers–lilies, tulips, daffodils and hyacinths.
That won’t happen this year, either.
I could go on with the list of things that won’t happen this year because of our need to stay home and stay safe. But I don’t need to. You already have your long list, possibly including the disappointment of not being able to travel and gather with extended family for your traditional Easter meal.
But is it really Easter that is different this year?
Or, is it just the celebration that has changed? Because Easter has come. Quietly, simply, softly, peacefully, joyfully. No matter who we are with, no matter where we are, no matter what we do today. Easter has come.
And WE who are the Redeemed are the same. We still have hope as we expectantly come to the tomb, like we do every year, on this first day of the week.
We come with the women, walking by faith, to discover the stone has been rolled away. And the tomb–empty, still.
We rejoice with angels in the resurrection of God’s Son. Everything we believe as Christians depends on this—that through Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our merciful Savior, we have the promise of forgiveness and eternal life because he was raised, as he said.
The resurrection story in Matthew emphasizes the significance of the women as the first witnesses at the empty tomb. This is remarkable in a society where women were not generally regarded as credible witnesses, especially since this singling out of the women for this honor detracts from the prestige of the male disciples.
Where were the men that morning? Asleep, probably. It WAS early. Their absence points to their lack of hope, despite what Jesus had said.
Only in Matthew, the chief priests and Pharisees remember, after he dies, Jesus saying that he would be raised on the third day; only in Matthew, they demand from Pilate an armed guard, “so that his disciples cannot come and steal him,” says Matthew 27:64, “and then say to the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead.’”
The guards serve several purposes in this account, as I see it. One, they reveal the ignorance and arrogance of human beings who try to control what God is doing and thwart his plans for salvation. Two, they are proof that no human took Christ’s body away. And three, the guards are a witness—to the dramatic appearance of the angel, stirring an earthquake when the stone is rolled away, and to the two women being the first to discover the empty tomb.
The guards can’t help but be changed by their encounter with the angel, but when they later try to do the right thing and speak up, the chief priests and elders get together and make a plan to conceal the truth. In Matthew 28:11-15, they give a “good sum of money” to the soldiers and tell them to lie and say that the disciples came and stole Christ’s body when the guards were sleeping. There’s a pattern here. Judas was also given money to betray Jesus. Jesus words in Matthew 6:24 come to mind. “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
Just imagine the emotion of this day for the two Mary’s—Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James, according to Mark’s gospel. Yes, I was disappointed, too, that she isn’t Mary, the mother of Jesus. Their day begins with terrible sorrow and the exhaustion of grief and sleepless nights after watching the one they love suffer and die. They are taking a big risk coming to the tomb. This wouldn’t be safe for women, even if they weren’t followers of the one who just been crucified. They come with the first light of day and this reference isn’t by accident. This first light is a revelation of God’s love, hope shining in the darkness. And they don’t have any reason to come to the tomb in Matthew’s gospel, other than just to be near him, and not very near, for he is sealed in the tomb by the heavy stone. His body has already been anointed with spices and oils and wrapped in grave clothes.
But God sends an angel, who terrifies the guard but comforts the women, saying to them, “Do not be afraid.” The one they are looking for—he’s not here anymore. And this is good news!
Jesus meets the two Marys on their way to share the good news with the disciples—that he, the Risen Christ, will reveal themselves to Him. Unlike the gospel of John, the Marys don’t mistake him for a gardener or assume his body was stolen when they see the empty tomb; they recognize him and fall down to worship him, even clinging to his feet, unwilling to let him go. He says, “Greetings” in the NRSV, but don’t miss this important detail. The word translated “Greetings” or simply “Hello” is the Hebrew word, “Shalom.”
“Peace be with you!” says the Living Lord. “Do not be afraid.”
Friends, those who come seeking the Lord in hope and faith will be blessed with Christ’s peace. I’ve said it before and I will say it again. You may look for peace in all kinds of places. You might look everywhere. But you won’t find it until you come to the Lord and accept his gift of a peace that won’t be shaken. A peace that doesn’t make sense to us because it comes in the worst of times. It surpasses human understanding.
The promise in scripture is that we who have hearts to seek him will be with him. And we will see him. He is already here and everywhere. Wherever we are, wherever we go, whether we are in a church building or worshiping together only by the Spirit and separated in our homes.
We might not know what tomorrow holds for us—and we don’t. We made all these plans for Lent and Easter and after Easter and trips this summer—and we don’t know what tomorrow holds. What matters is today, on this first day of the week, the dawning of a new creation and knowing the One who holds us in the palm of his hand.
Turn to the person you are with and say, “Do NOT be afraid.” Or if you are watching this by yourself, say, “I am NOT alone! And I am NOT afraid.”
For the grave couldn’t hold him! And the grave won’t hold us either.
Easter has come. It’s here! A way was made where there was no way! Forgiven and freed from the bondage of sin, we are a new creation in Him.
He was raised from the dead, as he said.
Say it with me! He is Risen! Alleluia! Amen!
Let us pray.
Holy One, we give you thanks and praise on this first day of the week, as we celebrate Christ’s resurrection and our new life in Him. Thank you for your love and mercy that moved you to send your Only Son to be our Redeemer. Our debt was paid on the cross, our sins forgiven! Help us to live each day as forgiven people, as your Redeemed, shining the light of the new dawn, revealing your love. Thank you that you were willing to suffer and die for our sakes, because there was no other way to be reconciled with you. In Christ we pray. Amen.