Don’t look for Christ in a tomb

Written by Joel on May 19th, 2011

April 24, 2011
Easter Sunday
Matthew 28:1-10

If you’re looking for Jesus, don’t look in a tomb!

He is Risen! He is Risen indeed!

Have you heard that good news? Christ our Lord who was crucified under Pontius Pilate on Good Friday, has raised from the dead! He is Risen! He is risen indeed!

Well, I didn’t see it with my own eyes, but I did hear all about it from a friend who heard it from a friend who…well they say they heard it from Jesus’ disciples who heard it from two women who heard it from an angel; plus they even say that they saw Jesus himself while they were on their way to announce the good news!

Isn’t it interesting that this particular act of Jesus was not witnessed by anyone? The Bible certainly tells us that Jesus has been raised from the dead, but it didn’t happen in front of anyone. No one was there to see life re-enter the body, to see Christ take a new first breath, to see Jesus stand up and remove the binding of his grave clothes, to see Jesus stand up and walk out of the tomb. No one was blessed to behold that miraculous sight.

Many of his other acts were public – his miracles and healings, his baptism, transfiguration, last supper, crucifixion, and ascension into heaven – all took place in front of other people. But this, the reason we assemble for worship today; the foundation of our faith, the reason for the hope we have in our own resurrection into glory….this particular act of Christ; he did while no one watched…. The resurrection isn’t something to watch, it is something to discover – that if you are looking for Jesus, don’t look in a tomb! The resurrection isn’t something to watch, it is something to proclaim: He is risen! (He is risen indeed!)

The faithful women, who lingered by the cross when Jesus died, were also the first to visit the tomb. They went out, very early on a Sunday morning, just as the day was still dawning. They took the required Sabbath rest – though, really how restful could it have been?- Knowing that your dear friend, your spiritual leader, your savior is dead; and there is nothing you can do about it; not even so much as to visit the grave, not being able to anoint the body, to say the final good-byes. Holy Saturday was a dark day for these women indeed. So, they got up as soon as there was enough light for them to make the journey, and they headed to Jesus’ tomb. They did not expect to see a miracle, they did not even expect to see Jesus’ body. The Gospel tells us that they went to look at the tomb. They were there to continue mourning.

Then suddenly, as they were near the tomb, a violent earthquake shook the place – it was from the massive stone being rolled away from the tomb. An angel of the Lord rolled that stone away right in front of them. The stone was not rolled way so that Jesus could walk out; it was rolled away to reveal that he had already been raised. It had been rolled away to show us that if you are looking for Jesus, don’t look in a tomb!

What a fearful sight! An angel from God! (And we aren’t talking about cutesy winged baby angels on hallmark cards) This was an angel that looked like lightning, clothed in dazzling white, so fearful it caused hardened soldiers to faint, an angel so strong he rolled the stone away on his own. An angel whose first words out of his mouth had to be “do not be afraid.” This terrifying angel rolled that stone away to reveal….nothing. They saw nothing but an empty tomb. And he announced to the women, thanks for coming but Jesus isn’t here. He is risen! (He is risen indeed!) Go, tell his disciples – that if you are looking for Jesus, don’t look in a tomb!

What else was there for the women to do but to run off and do as the angel told them?: to be the first preachers of the Easter Good News that he is risen! They were afraid, yet they were filled with joy. Already they believed in this good news, because of the power of the message itself, and the testimony of that empty tomb.

And, as they were on their way to share this good news with the disciples, they have an encounter with the Lord. Their hope was confirmed, they saw him now alive right in front of them. Jesus appears with the simplest of greetings: “Hello” he says. In that simple greeting the women saw their Lord and the good news that Jesus was no longer in the tomb, but right here in front of them. They had no words now, they had no other action but to fall down and worship Christ the Lord.

Jesus shares with these women the same message the angel shared with them in the first place: “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” Again, the good news of the resurrection is proclaimed to the women, and again they are charged to preach it to the disciples and pass along the message. It was so important that it was told a second time.

Now, Jesus did not accompany the women to Galilee to offer the good news to his disciples himself, he asks them to to do it for him; he goes on ahead trusting that the women will make this proclamation, just as they were asked. He doesn’t seem to spend much time with these women at all to comfort their fears, nor to share in the joy of discovering Christ alive. He leaves them alone with the news.

And, we might have expected this to be the great and powerful ending of the story; all of Christ’s followers gathered before the risen Lord to worship him for the rest of eternity; but he leaves them so soon to go on ahead of them; challenging us not to dwell at the tomb, because Christ is no longer there. He commands those followers to go on and to proclaim that good news. If you are looking for Christ, don’t look in the tomb.

The women went out just to see the tomb where the dead body of Jesus lay. Instead they discovered the risen Lord. They were told, not once, but twice to go and tell the disciples that Jesus Christ is risen today; that Easter proclamation which has made its way down the generations, the modern disciples would not dwell by the tomb but continue to proclaim that he is risen, he is risen indeed!


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