Rev. Susan M. Hudson, St Pauls Presbyterian Church, April 20, 2014
The Beauty of the Son Rising
None of us can control the weather. Another cold snap has swung through St. Pauls, even though Easter falls late in the spring. The “sun” rise… we hoped to see this morning is cloudy… but the story of God’s greatest Son Rise of all time is being painted in bright colors in Matthew’s Gospel.
Matthew, written to a primarily Jewish audience, has an apocalyptic, end-of –the world flavor. He is the only Gospel writer who describes an earthquake on Easter morning. He also describes an angel descending from heaven to roll away the stone in front of the tomb. The angel then sat on the stone and looked like “lightening” with clothing white as snow when the two Mary’s came at dawn to see the tomb where their beloved Jesus was laid. When the angel rolled away the stone, the guards were terrified and shaken and looked like “dead men,” Matthew writes.
It is fitting that our service takes place adjacent to the church’s cemetery, where we have respectfully laid to rest generations of believers in Jesus Christ. We have to look “death” in the face this morning, because we KNOW that when a person is buried…it feels quite final… and irreversible. But we are here so early this morning because we have come to believe and affirm with all our hearts that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, exactly as Matthew describes, and so shall we. But how can it be that a torn and mangled body, hanging from a cross for many hours, and pierced with a soldier’s sword, was no longer in that tomb.
The Son of God…was raised… by the power of God who created the universe and all that is in it… hence the earthquake… and the angel… the fear and the awe that the guards and the women felt. Life would never return to normal again. In fact that mangled, torn body made whole by God’s power is already on the move… heading towards Galilee, where Jesus ministry was so powerful. Jesus would meet the disciples there rather than in Jerusalem.
Not only had God’s Son arisen, God’s Son was on the move: alive, well and lighting the pathway to a resurrected and empowered life for his disciples.
William Willimon, the former chaplain at Duke Divinity School, compares the rocking of Jesus’ disciples’ world to the impact of Martin Luther King Jr.’s agitation for civil rights. When local church leaders begged Dr. King to ease up, he preached a sermon in Montgomery called: “Our God is Marching On” and in it he vowed: “No, we will not allow Alabama to return to normalcy.” He mocked the desire of white moderates for a return to more comfortable, placid world. King rejected “normalcy” not as a savvy political strategy, but, rather, because of his Christian faith: after God raised Jesus from the dead, forget “normal.”
If we really begin to fathom the depth of the mystery of God’s raising Jesus from the dead, our lives cannot return to normal. It either makes a profound difference in our lives or it means nothing at all. The earth has shifted on its axis. What was broken is being restored. What was upside down is made right side up and we become part of the team God has called to be “reconcilers” and “restorers” in the land.
William Willimon suggests that most people come to church to hear sermons that comfort or pacify them and make them feel good about their lives, but this is NOT what happens in the Easter story. This story rises above the merely ethical (What am I to do?) and pushes us into the threateningly theological (What is God doing?) The most interesting character in this drama is not us or the women who bravely testify, but God who makes a way WHERE THERE IS NO WAY. This is God’s new “normal.”
God has disruptively shaken the world by resurrecting His Son, Jesus Christ from the dead. This Son Rising exceeds the beauty of the most gorgeous sun rise you have ever witnessed before. If you have ever been out waiting for the sun to rise, you can often see light radiating across the horizon even before the sun appears. There are beautiful pinks, yellows, blues… and then the sun itself is lifted up above the horizon until it is so bright you have to turn your eyes away.
The light of the sun dispels all darkness and illumines everything. In exactly the same way God’s Son rising irradiates and illumines everything. Words are inadequate to describe the phenomenon of spiritual rebirth and renewal, but the metaphor of a sunrise comes close. It is breathtaking, expansive and illuminating. When a person experiences a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, even death is no longer the dreaded enemy it once was, because it is only a “passageway” between life on earth and life in heaven.
Paul made it very clear when he wrote to the Christians in Corinth that if Jesus was not literally and historically raised from the dead, then the Christian faith is in vain. But Jesus WAS raised from the dead and many witnesses saw him and recognized him as Jesus of Nazareth.
When Jesus greeted the two women in Matthew 28, they immediately recognized who he was, took hold of his feet and worshiped him. They didn’t stop to question how this could be; they simply fell down in awe, profound respect and worshiped the One who is God.
The most authentic response to the earth-shaking miracle of Jesus’ resurrection is breath-taking awe, sighs too deep for words, songs of hallelujah, dancing, prayer, & praise. God breaks God’s silence by breathing life back into His Son.
God is not finished with creation. God is not finished with history. And God is not finished with us. Can you see the rays of light breaking across the horizon of your life? Can you see the rays of light reaching out to St. Pauls Presbyterian Church? Can we be drawn into this beautiful picture of God’s Son rising? What colors do you see? What new brush strokes is God getting ready to paint? Powder blue with coral highlights? How will we participate in God’s works of art on the canvas of God’s salvation story? Let us pray.
William Willimon, “Matthew 28:1-10: Pastoral Perspective,” Feasting on the Gospels , Matthew, Vol. 2, p. 356.