16th April 2017 Easter - Hugh Perry
Jeremiah 31: 1-6
The opening verses of our reading from Jeremiah promise grace in the wilderness for those who survived the sword and that has continued to inspire people. After a lost court case, Te Kooti based his encouragement to his people on that verse and promised that they too would find grace in the wilderness. In many ways it truly is the resurrection message that new life springs from disaster and blossoms in the most unlikely places.
Matthew 28: 1-10
Each gospel writer describes a slightly different resurrection event and we need to refrain from being historical detectives that try and judge which story is the most plausible or endeavour to discern the historical thread that might be woven through each of them.
We must accept the special truth that each Gospel writer believes is important about Jesus’ resurrection and let that help us discern what resurrection means for each of us now.
Carter notes that the women come to see the tomb as a conclusion of following Jesus, seeing the miracles and healings and witnessing his execution. Earthquakes and earthquake- like experiences occur in this gospel in the time of tribulation the disciples find themselves in. An earthquake happens as Jesus dies which splits open the tomb and the saints of Jerusalem are raised. This earthquake prepares for the opening of the tomb but does not open it. An angel sits on it and it is the angel who rolls back the stone.
The white appearance of the angel is consistent with traditional theophanies and angelopanies from Hebrew Scripture and featured in the Gospel at the transfiguration.
The angel addresses the women and announces the resurrection. ‘The angel’s announcement is a revelation, an interpretation of the empty tomb and missing body. It discloses God’s work, which is not observed or witnessed (there is no description of the resurrection itself), but whose effects are open to several explanations.
Bill Loader writes that:
The event means vindication of Jesus by God and so puts the focus in that sense back onto what Jesus said and taught (especially in Matthew; see 28:19). We should not see the event as proving resurrection as a belief, since that would have been widespread. It was more that this particular Jesus had been raised. Furthermore Jesus had been raised first of all, and, as follows later in the chapter, has a role to exercise and a commission to give. That commission, in turn, directs attention to the ministry and teaching of Jesus as the good news.
Last week I ticked an online pole supporting the position of Sonny Bill Williams refusing to have a bank’s logo on his rugby jersey. The page then showed that I was in the minority opinion with a huge majority disapproving of Williams’ position. Those who felt angry enough to document their outrage suggested that he was not a team player and if he wanted to play professional sport he should buckle under and accept the rules.
Ironically Williams is refusing to wear a banking logo because he accepts the rules of his faith. Williams is a Moslem and Moslems do not approve of charging interest. That is because it is banned in both Leviticus (Leviticus 25:35-37) and Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 23:19-20) and gets a bad press throughout the Bible. That prohibition is carried through to the Koran where, surprise, surprise it is labelled as exploitive of the poor and vulnerable.
I can’t remember what sort of fuss was made when Michael Jones refused to play rugby on Sunday but the motives were the same but different.
Michael Jones is a Christian with a high view of the sacredness of Sunday—the Christian Sabbath. Sunday is chosen as our sacred day because we choose to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection not just on this Sunday but every Sunday. Resurrection is at the core of what it means to be Christian.
But for our secular society the biggest issues about Easter revolve around trading on Good Friday and Easter Sunday and ironically the champions of keeping those days sacred are not churches, but the retail unions.
In our lifetime opinions about Jesus’ resurrection have varied from ‘an historical event that proves life after death’ to ‘it didn’t happen because it is impossible’.
As Churches and as Christians we have a responsibility to discover a way through those polar opposites and find meaning in the resurrection that makes sense to us and allow non Christians to see merit in our Easter Faith beyond giving retail workers a long weekend with their families.
After all we only need to watch a couple of commercials for credit cards and finance companies to understand the Muslim position that charging interest exploits the vulnerable.
Bill Loader suggests that resurrection is not a departure from God's way that was demonstrated during the ministry of Jesus. Jesus was an affirmation that this is the way God was and is. Jesus’ resurrection affirms that Jesus’ ways are God’s ways. Furthermore resurrection does not mean that we forget Jesus’ suffering and concern for the marginalised to worship Jesus as an all powerful God who suspends the laws of nature.
The resurrection recorded in the Gospels confirms that Jesus’ ways are God’s ways and also invites us to see resurrection, not as a one off historical event but something that can also happens in our lives.
The role of a disciple is to learn from a rabbi or teacher and Jesus’ disciples are regularly portrayed in the gospels as not getting their NCEA credits. The disciples seemed to be gripped by the image of an all powerful and conquering messiah and they struggle with the idea of a Messiah who leads by serving others.
When Jesus is arrested everything seemed lost and they probably feared for their own safety. Matthew has Jesus appear to them back in Galilee, so we can presume they went back to their old occupations.
In the land of Matthew’s Gospel it is the woman’s fellowship that discovered the empty tomb. That is not surprising because in a patriarchal society they are the ones who have the duty of care and naturally developed empathy. Because Jesus meets the disciples in Galilee we can assume the men went fishing and the women went to the tomb. Today they would have gone to the grave to refresh the flowers, make sure there had been no vandalism over night and that the last resting place of someone they loved was being respected.
Visiting the tomb is something we can understand and our secular society understands. At a funeral I conducted recently the family asked that the funeral director stay by the grave until it was filled in. I had travelled with the funeral director so I had to wait too, and the wind was bitterly cold. These were not church people but they had their own feelings about honouring the father they loved right to the very end. They took all that their father had been to them from the graveside and perhaps they needed assurance that what was left of him was taken care of.
I also get the impression from the gospels that it was in their waiting and their reflection that the women started to understand that all that they learned from Jesus was not in the tomb, the very essence of what Jesus had been was now with them.
All the Gospel writers add drama to that realisation and we have no way of knowing exactly what happened and although plenty of people have speculated that is not important. What is important is the impact of what the Gospel writers describe.
Matthew describes an earthquake and the women experience an angelophany, a visitation by an angel.
It is the angel who rolls away the stone that sealed the tomb. The message the angel gives the women is a message we all need to take note of.
‘He is not here; for he has been raised’ (Matthew 28:6)
We all like to make pilgrimages and, like the family from the funeral, we like to know where the people we have lost are. But the truth is they are not there, they are with those who learned from them and grew to be they people who they became because of the loved one they lost.
Matthew reinforces this with Jesus’ sudden appearance and the response of the women gives an indication of the response of all those who would follow.
The women worshiped the Risen Christ, they listened to his instructions then they went out on the mission they received from him.
Their mission was to tell the men to meet Jesus in Galilee. Jesus met the men where they were,
For a number of religions, including Islam, the tomb of the founding prophet is an important point of pilgrimage. But although it is good for tourism and from time to time the church has indulged that temptation, visiting tombs is not an issue with Christianity. The tomb was empty, as the angel said, ‘He is not here; for he has been raised’. (Matthew 28:6)
The message the women were to give to the men was that the Risen Christ would meet them were they were and that also is a message to all of us.
The Risen Christ meets us in our everyday lives.
As Albert Schweitzer wrote in the Quest of the Historical Jesus:
He comes to us as one unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, he came to those men who did not know who he was. He says the same words, ‘Follow me!’, and sets us to those tasks which he must fulfil in our time. He commands. And to those who hearken to him, whether wise or unwise, he will reveal himself in the peace, the labours, the conflicts and the suffering that they may experience in his fellowship, and as an ineffable mystery they will learn who he is.
In the closing verses Matthew tells us that the disciples, and I like to think it was both the women and the men, went to a mountain in Galilee that Jesus had directed them to.
With images from all the gospels we can imagine them all gathering in what was a special place for them to remember Jesus. The women shared their experience at the tomb and the men wondered at the way women get so emotional. They probably wanted to get back fishing. So they suggested that they shared the food they brought. They gave thanks and remembered that Jesus always gave thanks. Some of them shared how Jesus had brought the scripture alive to them. As the disciples, both women and men, talked and ate their meal together they realised that Jesus lived on in them.
Like the women when they were confronted by the risen Christ they worshiped him and like the women at the tomb they were sent out in mission. They were to go to all nations, the whole world, and make them all disciples and teach them everything Jesus had taught them.
They were to live as Christ in the world and through their living and their teaching the world would not only be transformed but continue to transform.
The proof of the resurrection is not in archaeological digs, ancient documents or endless theological arguments.
The proof of the resurrection is in each of us here, as we, in response to the instructions given to the women at the empty tomb, worship Christ together and go out into our world to be Christ to others.
 Maurice Andrew The Old Testament in Aotearoa New Zealand (Wellington: DEFT 1999)p. 472
 Warren Carter Mathew and the Margins: A Socio-Political and Religious Reading, (London/New York: T&T Clark International 2004) p.544
 Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, Bowden, John (ed.) (London: SCM Press 2000), p.487.