What the Women Saw – an Easter Sermon on Matthew 28:1-10
He Is Risen! He Is Risen, Indeed!
For the last three months we’ve been building to this point. We have been exploring together Matthew’s Gospel. We have read and heard the famous stories from Matthew’s perspective. The feeding of the five thousand, Jesus walking on water, the Great Commission, and parts of the Sermon on the Mount. We’ve heard Jesus teach about forgiveness and friendship, about welcoming friends and family. We have seen him eat meals, perform miracles, and walk more miles than we care to think about.
And then, this morning… this morning…
we hear quite possibly the most famous of all gospel stories. It was early in the morning, days after Jesus was crucified, the women went to see his body. To perform all the rituals that are customary to do with a body in a tomb.
This wasn’t their first visit to the tomb. Matthew tells us that when Joseph of Arimethea and the Roman guards rolled that large stone in front of the tomb with Jesus body inside that across the way, the women sat there, grieving, talking, crying together.
So it’s no wonder that we find them there this morning…
Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, and surely some other women too, went to see the body. To make sure their beloved friend was still there where they had laid him. Yet, as it often happens, especially during seasons of grief, what they had expected to happen doesn’t…
What they were expecting to see never materialized. What they did see was something that caused them to leave not only in tears of grief, but tears of joy. For outside that tomb on that early morn, the women saw Jesus. It just wasn’t the way they expected to see him.
Let’s look a little closer at this scene that the women saw…
First off, they saw the stone. Yes, the stone was still there, fully covering the tomb. It’s not what you think of when you think of Easter, is it? The stone is already supposed to be rolled off to the side.
But Matthew is very clear in his telling. It is only after an earthquake, one that reminds all those present of the earthquake as Jesus hung on the cross, that the stone rolls off to the side. And it is after the stone rolls away that the women see that what they had come to care for – the body of their friend and teacher – was not there.
Then they saw angels. Maybe the same angels who visited the shepherds in the fields before Jesus birth. Maybe they were the same angels who waited on Jesus when he was in the wilderness before being tempted by the devil. Or maybe it was just one angel, something like his guardian angel, who was always there when he was most in need. Who was always there when those who encountered Jesus need words of comfort and help.
And like a good angel, the first thing she tells the women when he sees them is “Do not be afraid.” And then he shows them inside the tomb where Jesus body should have been. The angel gives the women words of comfort, “Jesus has been raised, as he said. Now go quickly and tell his disciples. Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.”
Which brings us to the third thing the women saw. Jesus, himself, there along the road. I wonder though how long it took them to recognize him. And he might have sounded like an angel with his greeting of “Do not be afraid.” Yet, through their fear, their tears, but also their great joy from seeing their beloved friend, the Mary’s had seen what they had come to hope for. A glimpse of the resurrected Jesus.
Mary Oliver has this great poem titled Dampness, Moss, Stone – it goes like this:
Dampness, Moss, Stone by Mary Oliver
Like the dampness of faith comes Spring;
Every depression –
last year’s leaves packed down into it –
is full now of clear water,
the ripples are multiplying,
the frogs are gathering,
they are crying out,
and the moon has come back over the hills,
and everywhere you look
there are the heaviest stones
in unexpected places,
luminous in the moonlight,
moss and dampness, as of darkness,
as though they are messages,
as though they have just
been rolled away.
Which brings us back to that first thing the women saw, the thing that has been troubling me all week, that when they came to the tomb, the stone was still there. They see it rolled away because of the earthquake, and indeed Jesus has already been resurrected. He was already gone!
It’s a little like the famous question:
“If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it really make a sound?”
If Jesus is resurrected, but because the stone is still in the way, we can’t see, did it really happen???
I hope we would answer an astounding “YES!” but I fear that even when we muster all the faith we have, there still might be those days where we have trouble seeing the resurrect Christ, we have trouble believing the resurrection is real, because that stinking stone is still in the way.
I think more often then not, it is a tragedy that forces us to see the power of Christ’s resurrection. Sometimes it’s a cancer diagnoses, or getting laid off work, or hearing in the news of yet another massacre across an ocean with hundreds dead. But what if we were to look for the promise of resurrection in places of joy? What if resurrection comes in the return of a loved one after a long military deployment overseas, the birth of a child or grandchild, finding a job after a long period of being without work, or celebrating years of married life together.
What if we were able to see Jesus in all of our lives highs and lows, and all those in between times too. What if there wasn’t ever a stone blocking our view of that empty tomb? What if we were bold enough to have the faith of those women on that early first Easter morning?
That though there may be times where we are confronted with fear, there is always a sense of joy that comes along with this crazy life, of trying to follow a resurrected Christ. For he’s already gone on ahead of us, and is there waiting. And we have so much more to see!
For friends, He is risen! He is risen indeed!
Alleluia, and Amen.
 From Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality 4.2 (2004) 204, accessed online at http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/spiritus/v004/4.2oliver01.html Saturday, April 4th, 10:46am