By Jason Burns
Matthews version of the resurrection story is short, which means he is a man after my own heart because he just gets to the point. Angel comes, angel opens tomb, angel says, Jesus has been brought back from the dead and you will find him in Galilee. Jesus appears and confirms this and then the work begins. Simple? right?
My most favorite phrases in Matthew’s account of the resurrection are “rolled back the stone” and “he has been raised from the dead and indeed is going ahead of you…” The stone at the mouth of the tomb was nothing more than an attempt by the authorities to make sure that no funny business occurred; they wanted to make sure that their attempt to destroy the idea of Jesus didn’t blow up in their faces by his body being stolen and used for some symbolic purpose. What they didn’t know, because they didn’t listen Jesus or any of their prophets, was that their puny attempts to control the situation were pointless. Their attempt to control the situation stemmed from their own need and desire to exercise power and remove what they perceived as a threat to that power. The boulder placed in front of the tomb really had just one purpose, which was to seal the tomb. There should have been no reason the tomb ever needed to be opened except to prove that Jesus wasn't in it, but knowing the disciples, who, more often than not, just didn’t get it, it was important that the tomb be opened as evidence that Jesus was not there. I often point out that the disciples didn’t really seem to understand much of what they were told by Jesus, and because of that some people might think that I believe they were some sort of idiots, but that would be an inaccurate assessment of my opinion of them. The truth is that they were human, just like you and me, and they were trying very hard to figure out what Jesus was asking them to do. Keep in mind that they didn’t have anyone to interpret what Jesus was saying, we have the benefit of 2000 years of interpretation and we still struggle to understand it, so imagine what it would have been like after having heard it for the first time. To the disciples, the empty tomb represents pain, loss and fear; but to us, 2000 years later, it can and should represent so much more. It represents not only the defeat of death, but also the expansive forgiveness and love of God. The promise of Christianity is rooted in the fact that death holds no power over us and the reason it holds no power over us is because God has given us everything we need to beat it. The purpose of Jesus’ ministry was to give us the knowledge necessary to overcome our sin, and he kept that lesson simple, “love each other as I have loved you”. These eight simple words are the most powerful, and yet the most deceptive, words in all of scripture, at face value it sounds easy, if we love each other, our spirit, our soul, our inner essence will live forever and someday be resurrected. We get a glimpse of what that looks like with the resurrection of Christ Jesus. Upon the death of his human body the power of God returns in the form of the resurrected Jesus and he begins the next stage of his ministry.
When I began this roaming journey of a sermon I said that I liked the phrase “he has been raised from the dead and indeed is going ahead of you…”. The reason I like this phrase is not just because of the raised from the dead part, but the “going ahead of you” part. After being raised Jesus didn’t stick around to flaunt it in the faces of the priests and scribes, he got to work. In fact, he didn’t even stick around to tell his friends the good news, he went straight to Galilee, which is 70 miles away and went right back to what he was doing before he was killed.
As modern followers of Jesus we need to look to not just what he said, but also to his example for guidance in our daily lives. His death and resurrection have opened the tomb of our hearts to Gods love and has empowered us to carry on the work Jesus began. We are a resurrection people, which means that we don’t need to worry about what happens to us after we die, so we can focus our attention on the here and now, which, you know, needs a little work.
Jesus never stayed in one spot for very long, he moved around because he had a big job to do. He didn’t worry about what other people thought; he didn’t worry about whether he had the time to do anything, he just did it. He didn’t let his humanness get in the way of God’s work. He didn’t let the stone sit on his heart like a tomb. He opened himself to everyone and allowed Gods love to flow unimpeded and that is exactly what he told us to do.
I would argue that as much as we celebrate the rolling back of the stone, we still don’t fully understand what that symbolic action means and we spend most of our time rolling the stone back into place because that is easier than leaving the tomb open and trying to explain why it is empty. It is empty because nothing can contain the love of God, no matter how much we might try to keep it hidden, it is going to leak out, so why not just roll back the stone and go. Don’t roll it back and sit on it; don’t be like the angel telling people where Jesus went, be like Jesus and go tell them yourself and if you really need to, use words. Jesus worked hard to free us from ourselves; he worked hard to get us to understand that being a faithful follower of God is only difficult if we make it that way; he worked hard to show us that loving people through actions is far easier than telling them; and he worked hard to unblock the tomb of our hearts by rolling back the stone, so don’t roll it back into place! Don’t roll it back by refusing to smile to strangers; don’t roll it back by not saying good morning to everyone you meet; don’t roll it back by refusing to fight for justice. Smile to those strangers, say good morning and wait for their response and see what happens.
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