Sunday, March 27, 2005

The Resurrection of our Lord
Acts 10:34-43 or Jeremiah 31:1-6
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Colossians 3:1-4
John 20:1-18 or Matthew 28:1-10

Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will enter into them, I will give thanks unto Jehovah.

I have never visited a night club or the hottest place in town. My experience with such places is based only on what I see on TV, which is often a caricature of what really happens. You have seen the scene – a dorky guy or a couple of unpopular girls go to the disco and stand in line hoping to be invited inside. A bouncer stands at the door and chooses people according to his impressions. When the pretty girls or popular boys show up, they don’t even have to wait in the line. Those who stand waiting for entry can only hope that the bouncer will have mercy or someone will vouch for them.

Today’s Psalm is a song of praise and thanksgiving for deliverance. It is not the song of an individual, but rather the hymn of a nation. While it was originally written and most likely sung in response to God’s hand against Israel’s enemies, it is also a foretelling of the ultimate salvation that would come to the world through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The psalmist writes, “The right hand of Jehovah is exalted: The right hand of Jehovah doeth valiantly.” Then he adds, “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of Jehovah.”

We are lucky because we look at the Christian story from a post resurrection perspective. How would we have felt if we were one of those disciples, left in mourning and afraid for our own lives after Jesus died on the cross? Would we see the hope of new life? No, everything they had come to believe screeched to a halt when Jesus was arrested. We catch glimpses of some of the disciples – Peter in the courtyard denying Jesus, Judas in despair, John hovering with Mary at the foot of the cross. Yet, for most of the passion, the disciples were no where to be seen.

Seeing the story from a post resurrection perspective might make us feel arrogant about the way we would have reacted. We believe and can see the Jesus is indeed all that He said He was. He is that right hand of God who has come to save the world. But would we have felt that way on that day? The disciples did not yet have the gift of the Holy Spirit. The scriptures tell us that when Jesus talked of His death, they did not understand because it was hidden from them. It was not until after Pentecost that they fully understood all there was not know about Jesus.

For those first disciples, the cross was the end of everything. Jesus was rejected, cast off, killed. Again we read in the psalm a foretelling of this. “The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner.” That stone has been identified as Jesus Christ; on His death and resurrection was built a new life, a new community of believers and a new hope.

The psalmist writes, “Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will enter into them, I will give thanks unto Jehovah. This is the gate of Jehovah; the righteous shall enter into it.” Who are the righteous? Looking back on that waiting line at the night club, we can probably guess who the bouncer will let in. It is always the pretty people, the ones with power or charisma. In the days of Jesus, the righteous were the ones who had the power, who had the appearance of righteousness. They knew the scriptures and they knew Law. Yet they did not know God. They did not recognize Him in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. So, they rejected Jesus, cast Him away to the cross.

His death was not permanent, however. Early on that resurrection day, a group of women discovered that Jesus was no longer in the tomb. The Gospel accounts of that day give different lists of women, but that point is not nearly as important as the fact that the witnesses tell us that it was the women who found that He was missing. Now, in our modern age, when many women have very powerful roles in society, it might seem strange to make a big deal about the women. However, despite the fact that these were most likely women of some means – they took care of the needs of the disciples both in action and in resources – they were second class citizens.

Their witness was without value, but perhaps this is exactly why they were at the tomb when the men were hiding away. What authorities would bother with a woman or a group of women going to mourn? They were unimportant, cast off like the unwanted stone. Yet, in their life and testimony, we see an extension of that promise in the psalm. They were rejected, but their testimony became part of that foundation of the church through which we have come to know the Gospel.

As we compare the two stories for this Easter Sunday, we can see there are differences in the way the story is remembered. In John’s gospel, Mary Magdalene visits the tomb alone and discovers the stone is already rolled away. After she got Peter and John, she saw two angels inside the tomb where Jesus had lain. In Matthew, Mary is with another Mary and there was a great earthquake and an angel came from heaven to roll back the stone. Again, the differences between these stories are not a matter for concern. The Gospels were written many years after the event and were written by people who saw the events from different perspectives.

John was the youngest of the disciples, probably no more than a teenager at the time of the crucifixion. Of all the disciples, he is the only one who was present at the cross. Perhaps he was there because as a young man he would have no more power or respect than the women with whom he stood – Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene. Perhaps he was there because as a young boy he needed the comfort a mother could give. Perhaps as a special friend of Jesus, he felt he needed to stay with Mary to give her comfort and care during such a difficult time.

Whatever the reason, John is the more credible witness to the events simply because he was the only one who was there. He probably had a special relationship with Mary Magdalene, since he had stood with her at the foot of the cross. When she saw the stone rolled away, she went to Peter and John with the news. He was the first one at the tomb, but was afraid to go inside until Peter went in. While they were in the tomb, Mary encountered the living Christ in a very personal and intimate way. The account from John is far more lengthy and personal than that of Matthew because he was there to see it happen. I wonder, too, if John’s account is as it is written because he was reminiscing as he was writing. It is likely that he wrote this near the end of his life, much later than any of the other Gospels. He may have been considering his own personal relationship with Christ as he faced the end of his own earthly life.

Matthew’s account tells the story from a completely different perspective. Matthew was older and he was more interested in getting the facts of the events down for posterity. He gave the story as he remembered it being told to him – since he was not an eyewitness to this particular part of the story. He would have been as interested in how this event impacted the male guards who were stationed on the tomb as he was the women’s testimony. He showed in words what an awesome moment it was with an earthquake and an angel – no wonder the guards were afraid.

The angel addresses the women, “Fear not ye; for I know that ye seek Jesus, who hath been crucified. He is not here; for he is risen, even as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” The angel showed them that Jesus was not in the tomb and then told them to go tell the disciples.

As they ran out of the tomb, they ran into Jesus. Matthew says that they left with fear and great joy. We might want to play with the word fear here, to mean that the women were in awe of what they heard and saw, but I don’t think we should diminish the meaning of fear. They had just witnessed an angel of God, a vision that caused the Roman soldiers to be paralyzed with fear. But the fear did not paralyze the women. They ran to tell the disciples. Then Jesus suddenly appeared and greeted them. The women fell to the ground and began to worship Him. Jesus repeated the words of the angel, “Fear not: go tell my brethren that they depart into Galilee, and there shall they see me.”

Have you ever had one of those moments when you experienced both fear and great joy? The most outstanding example of this would most likely be when women learn they are pregnant. What a joy it is to know that you are going to bring a new life into the world, but also what an incredible responsibility. It can be quite frightening to face pregnancy, labor, delivery and then a life time of loving and caring for that new life.

In our modern age, it is not so questionable that God would have as the first witnesses women, for in our society women have earned the respect to be witnesses to events. Yet, in that day and age it was quite unusual for men to take the word of women. In Luke’s account, the disciples even said the testimony of the women was nonsense. There are those who suppose that this was done for the sake of future generations, to give women a greater voice in societies where women are often rejected or cast off, but I don’t think that is the reason.

The first time the disciples saw Jesus, they were startled and frightened. They thought He was a ghost. The first time the women saw Him they fell to the ground and worshipped Him. It is not that the women had a greater faith. It is just that men look at the world with a different point of view. In general, women see the world through their hearts and men through their minds. Men need answers, explanations. They need to consider what is happening before acting. Despite the fact that the disciples followed Jesus for three years, they would probably have had a similar response to the visitation of the angel as the soldiers at the tomb. Jesus had mercy on them when He gave them time to prepare for His appearance. Even then it was troubling, but Jesus revealed Himself in a way that they could believe.

When we look at the other lessons for this week, we can see that the women also give us hope that the message of the resurrection is meant for all people. In Acts, Luke writes that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name. The Gospel is not meant for certain people, it is given for all. Though the lesson from Jeremiah speaks specifically of Israel, God says, “I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.” All the families of Israel will be children of God and we, by virtue of Christ’s love are grafted into Israel and part of the family of God. The promises for Israel have become our promises. Jesus is the right hand of God our Father and through Him we are saved.

Paul writes, “If then ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God.” Through our baptism we are buried with Christ and when we come out of the waters we are raised with Him. We are made new, transformed into children of God and through Christ we share in the hope of eternal life. He is our advocate, the one standing at the gates of the temple to welcome us in. He opened the gates by making us righteous before God as we wear His righteousness. He is our life. As Paul writes, “When Christ, who is our life, shall be manifested, then shall ye also with him be manifested in glory.”

Though we see the story of Christ’s death and resurrection from a completely different perspective than those first disciples so long ago, we do not respond any differently than they did. Some want to run and hide, to get answers as to what it all means. Others receive the news with fear and great joy. Like the women, however, we are called to run and tell others about what we have seen and heard, that they too might know Christ and believe.

Back to Midweek Oasis Index Page