If truth will out, it will do so in the way we preach Jesus' resurrection. Is the way we understand him to be raised worth a sermon at all? If we must make a judgment about that, so will our hearers. Reinterpret Jesus to the point where he isn't worth raising, & bingo! Not being truly raised he isn't worth worshipping either. Why, then, are we gathered together? What are we celebrating?
If we simply make up our own version of 'resurrection', are we really making up our own Jesus, made in our own image, in the process? That won't do. Won't do what? Which reminds me of the old story of the new curate who after preaching his first sermon asked one of the congregation, "Will it do?" To which the reply was, "Will it do what? A fair question about Easter, too!
The two Marys come to do what many a mourner does today; visit the grave of a loved one. Like them, M & M aren't looking for any miracle. Enter an apocalyptic figure. The angel's arrival causes an earthquake. MT wants us to see another Mighty Act of God like that of 27:51. For a simple soul like me, it's a better explanation than many another bandied about. MT may also be pointing us to HOS 6:2, where the nation's resurrection is at issue. Isn't our nation's, too?!
Preaching in the NT is based on a raised Saviour who then raises a saved people. Somehow, far beyond my understanding, Jesus is mysteriously (operative word, that!) raised (another operative word) by God's all-mighty re-energising cosmic power of love (another...) giving him a 'complete make-over'! Jesus, by his resurrected presence & his Spirit, then makes-over & raises a people.
I doubt the issue bothers M & M, but almost always the NT refers to Jesus being raised, as the angel tells them now. This is the faith of the early church. Jesus doesn't rise, even if that's the way creeds & liturgies got into the habit of portraying what happened. Maybe 'he rose again' invites us to turn our backs on the mystery of resurrection in favour of some divine conjuring trick, or, more likely, the result of human misunderstanding. I confess to replacing 'rose again' with 'was raised' given the chance.
Entering into the mystery of God raising his Son by the power of love from the worst that evil could do to him is as important as entering into the mystery of the Passion (see MIM for Good Friday). As God reacts to the mystery of Good Friday by tackling it head on, so, says MT, he does the same on Even Better Sunday. That's a positive way to preach Jesus raised from the dead.
To struggle with something like, 'In what effectual way did the first Christians understand that God raised Jesus?' does God the courtesy of taking his Mighty Act seriously & not rubbishing it 'cos it doesn't fit the parameters we've set for what God may & may not do. It does our ancestors in Faith the courtesy of not taking them for a bunch of simpletons. When we take God seriously, then he, of his grace, takes us seriously enough to invite us to enter into the mystery so we can believe & preach 'True Resurrection', to borrow Harry Williams' title [London, '72, Mitchell Beazley]. I admire radical scholars who question, question, question. I read them avidly. But push our personal agenda beyond God's & we end up with a Jesus not-really-crucified, not-really-resurrected, & not-really-a-saviour. Worthy only of not-really-worship!
The Resurrection is a cosmic event bigger than M & M, MT, or any of us can take on board. But our relationship with God is based on Faith, not understanding. Lest we fail & join the ranks of those Paul describes as 'of all people most to be pitied'. Use your imagination: What words might you cut into that rolled away stone for a passer by to read & grasp what's happened?
This isn't a plea to descend into biblical literalism, or 39 Article fundamentalism. Just to let God lead us into the mystery of the empty tomb & out again. Raised. To this end, can we 'hand our- selves over' as Jesus hands himself over to his enemies? Servanthood means we don't need to be in control! Death & hell made that play. And failed. I like John Chrysostom's:
(I'm grateful to 'Anglicans on Line' for refreshing my memory of the actual wording of the above.)
Happy Easter! Happy Easter Preaching!