Easter Sunday - Matthew 28:1-10

Artwork by Kirsten Borne

Artwork by Kirsten Borne

"There would have been a wound

for which there was no ointment, 

a pain for which there was no balm. 

But it is not so now."

- C.H. Spurgeon

The night is over.  The lighting shifts and Mary and the other Mary waste no time in getting back to Joseph of Arimathea’s own new tomb as soon as first light.  

At the beginning of the story, the action was dominated by men.  Now women are starting to blur into focus.  Mary Magdalene and the other Mary sat.  They watched and waited; they’d been there at the cross, there in the earthquake, and here they are at the grave.  And it’s not hard to imagine why they lingered there in a culture like theirs.  I love how Dorothy Sayers said it in 1947:

“They had never known a man like this Man - there never has been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronized; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them either as ‘The women, God help us!’ or ‘The ladies, God bless them!’; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unself-conscious....it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross.”

It is no wonder.  If it were me, I imagine I’d have stayed as long as I could too.

Mary Magdalene was a woman whose true identity is shrouded in some mystery.  She was clearly a disciple of Jesus, welcomed by him to sit at his feet.  She and Jesus had sparked all sorts of rumors but they didn’t seem to mind.  She loved him with all her heart; he called her his friend and treated her like a sister.

Tradition says that Mary was the woman who poured perfume all over Jesus.  Scripture tells us she was among the women out of whom Jesus cast evil spirits, and we know it wasn’t just one evil spirit she carried before she met Jesus.  In her case, it was seven.   No matter who she was, tradition or not, she stuck with Jesus early in his ministry and stayed loyal to the end, even after death.

It was still early when she went to the tomb and witnessed the second earthquake, saw the stone rolling away.  A flash.  An angel.  

The scene is intense from the beginning.  The guards are filled with fear.  The women, on the other hand, are filled with fear too, but also joy - great joy in fact.  

It’s this same kind of fear that got to Christ’s mother when the angel told her she’d be giving birth to the Son of God, the same kind the disciples felt when they saw Jesus walking toward them on the water.  Mary and the other Mary are filled with joy...and fear.  Is this too good to be true?

The scene has been highly emotional.  Dramatic even.  The women are caught off-guard by something otherworldly they never imagined and as they are told to, they run off to tell Jesus’ disciples.  

(An Aside: Women weren’t considered reliable witnesses in the ancient world; they were considered highly gullible and their testimony wasn’t even allowed in a court of law.  Jewish scribe, Ben Sirach, wrote that since women were responsible for the sin of the world, most shouldn’t be trusted.  He instructed men to keep records of their interactions with women, just in case they turned.  Second-century Celsus wrote that the female witnesses of the resurrection were nothing more than "hysterical females…deluded by… sorcery." 

So most good Jewish documents would have skipped this part, edited out the women, cut straight to the bit about men if it wanted to be taken seriously.  If the story had been a made up myth, “cleverly devised” as some said, to make Jesus look good, the writers would have chosen different witnesses to write about or made up different characters - Jewish heroes maybe, a minyan of qualified men at least.  But definitely not girls.  Women never would have been told about and retold about as the first eyewitnesses of Christ's empty tomb.  Ever.  Unless this is what actually happened, empty tomb and all.) 

Along the way, who should meet Mary and the Other Mary but Jesus himself.  There’s been quick movement and passion and action and then Jesus, dead for days and alive to tell the tale, catches up and opens his mouth to speak at last.  He turns to the women and says something incredibly profound:  

“Hello.”  

Uh...really, Jesus?  Hello?!  That’s the first thing you want to say?  How about, “I’ve just conquered death and will now reign for all of eternity,” or “I just made a relationship with God possible for you forever!  Let’s celebrate!” or "I know you thought all was lost but actually, all is won and victory is ours!" 

No.  Just “Hello,” thank you.

The Greek "hello" doesn’t translate entirely in the English.  To them, Jesus simply said "hello," but the word for "hello" in Greek literally means "rejoice."  

That feels a little more appropriate.  Rejoice.   

The Gospel of John gives the word "Peace!" as Jesus' first greeting, which is a translation of the standard Hebrew and Aramaic greeting, Shalom.  .

Christ is raised and there is no more fear.  Only joy and peace and perfection, because here is perfect love walking among them.  What ultimately convinced these women that Jesus was alive was, in the end, not the absence of his dead body but the presence of his living one, his walking, talking flesh and blood, broken and shed and alive again, and with a mouth that can smile again and chew bread and sip wine and speak words of wisdom and breathe out his Spirit, he says: “Rejoice.” 

So what will convince us?  It won’t be an empty tomb but Jesus himself alive again, his broken body whole, beckoning, beckoning, “Rejoice!”  

And we truly can rejoice because the promise of the resurrection is not just Jesus’ empty tomb.  It’s ours.  When Jesus comes on the scene, he holds out resurrection and new life to you and to me.  With his mouth, he says, "Rejoice!"  And with his life, he says, "Rejoice!"  And with all he has done and is doing and will do, he says, "Rejoice!"  And as he does, he invites us to join his living, breathing, dancing Body, alive and at large and working in the world, beckoning to us all, “Rejoice!”  

Christ has risen!  He has risen indeed!

And so have we.  

Rejoice!  

Pastor Brynn Harrington

Consider: 

This Easter, what are you most hopeful about and most thankful for?

Pray: 

Hallelujah!!

Embody:

Throw a party and rejoice in the life that God has given us.

Pastor Aaron Engler


Endnotes: 

  1. Sayers, Dorothy, Are Women Human?
  2. Köstenberger, Andreas. Christianity Today's "Five Errors to Drop from Your Easter Sermon".