Page last updated



He is Risen Indeed
a sermon based on Matthew 28:1-10
by Rev. Thomas N. Hall

Today is that one time in the year when the pastoral staff out-numbers the congregation. We end up with more preachers than congregants! We all get into the act and become preachers on Easter Sunday. And have we preached a whale of a sermon this morning! The choir has preached to us in four-part harmony, the lectionary readers have proclaimed the story. And did you see what happened right at the beginning of our service? This parade of people walked through the middle of this congregation bearing altar candles, white paraments, offering plates, and that big Bible that sits on the lectern. In their own way our processional has proclaimed visually what the musicians have proclaimed audibly: Christ is risen! And did you hear the preaching from the orchestra pit? The sermon came out a tad jazzed up thanks to the brass and percussion sections. We heard the sermon in bold pizzicato; in other places that tune was plunked, whacked, honked, bowed and trilled. Even our orchestra has preached a powerful sermon.

Yes, the entire congregation becomes preachers on Easter. Your raised voices, your presence in this place, your joy have preached the most eloquent sermon of all. We don't need another sermon . . .

that raises and debunks resurrection theories . . .
or preaches about caterpillars becoming butterflies . . .
or empty egg shells with chicks peeping out . . .

easteregg.gif (3630 bytes)It's hard to improve on Mystery. We can affirm God's faithfulness even when we don't have all the answers. So your sermon has preached loudly and clearly that Jesus Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!

But just in case someone may still be a bit out of the loop as to what we've been preaching for the past twenty-five minutes, I'm going to ask you to help me. Everytime I say, Christ is risen, you respond by saying, He is risen indeed! Now just a note of caution. This is one of those occasions when you don't want to be too polite. There is great power in number when we say together what we affirm and hold to be true. Remember, you're on the pastoral staff this morning. So I invite you to throw caution to the wind on this Easter Sunday morning and preach the sermon with me. Whenever you hear those three words, Christ is Risen, please respond with the four words, He is risen indeed! Ready for a trial run? Christ is risen . . . he is risen indeed! That is our sermon and that is our faith. That call and response tells us that God is faithful. Was, is, and will be faithful to us.

Matthew tells us that on the first Easter morning, two women make their way to the to the graveside of Jesus. We are told that they have come “to look” at the grave. But why? Why would two women want to come unaccompanied in the early hours to a cemetery? Maybe they sought a quiet place to reflect upon the past days' events? To be as close to their master as they could. But standing inside a cemetery at 4:00 am is not my idea of a quiet, reflective place. Wouldn't that place give anyone the creeps? But perhaps they went because they wanted to give Jesus a decent burial. That's what Mark's gospel suggests. Jesus was dead. So they'd gone to honor their fallen hero. That's the least they could do. Give the man the dignity that the Romans stripped from him Good Friday. These women had no clout with the Roman authorities—they could not offer Jesus a proper burial. The Sabbath had further frustrated their plans. So this morning they move toward the cemetery under the cover of darkness to pay their final respects.

But have you ever considered that maybe; just maybe they went to the cemetery because they expected the resurrection to happen? After all, they must have overheard Jesus speaking about rising from the dead. On three occasions Matthew lets us in on Jesus' vision of the future that once in Jerusalem he would suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. So the women here probably caught wind of the conversations. Maybe, just maybe they had enough faith to believe that Jesus had survived death.

We could almost believe that except that the women had seen it all. The disciples had high tailed it out to safe houses; only the women had stayed. These die-hard fans had sat through nine innings; they saw soldiers strip his clothes to be the door prize; they had heard the taunts, saw the body wrenching, jerking from pain. They saw the parched lips crack open and cry: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” They had watched it all that afternoon. And when the body was finally torn down and buried, so had their faith been torn down and crucified, dead, and buried. They had heard the grinding of rock against earth as it fell into the groove that covered the cave. Resurrection was certainly not on their minds when the two women made their way to the tomb. Jesus was dead—no matter what he had told his disciples. No, the women made their way to the tomb because they weren't expecting any surprises. Nothing different. Death is death. That's it. Here today, gone tomorrow. So we can imagine some of their astonishment when the women arrive. It's not what they expect.

Some extracurricular things have started to happen. Some unplanned spontaneity here. The ground swells and rolls in a gigantic wave and in the wake of the tremor, the women are confused by an even stranger scene: bodies of tomb guards lie scattered about like dead flies. The opening to the grave is ajar. But to add perplexity to perplexity, the women are addressed by an angelos. The heavenly messenger tells them what we've been preaching all morning—Christ is Risen!” (congregational response). The angel's words trigger their memory to recall Jesus' words. They’re starting to make sense. Jesus had spoken of God's faithfulness; that though he would be crucified, dead, and buried, yet three days later he would survive even death—such is the faithfulness of God. Not ones to argue with an angel, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary scramble from the tomb site with a strange mixture of fear and joy. They are dreadfully frightened yet surprised by words about Jesus being alive. They're out of breath when his voice stops them in their tracks. “Good morning, ladies!” he says. They throw caution to the wind and fall to their knees to worship him.

“You're holding on to me for dear life,” he say. “Don't be frightened; get up and go tell the brothers that I'll meet them in Galilee.”

Well, that's Matthew's story of Easter morning. Sure, the women can believe this stuff—look at all the advantages they had. But what about us? We don't have the benefit of earthquakes, soldiers scattered across the sanctuary, an empty tomb, angels, or personal appearances of Jesus.

Yet tucked away in our resurrection story is the real core of their faith and ours. And it's a faith that doesn't depend upon this parade of resurrection witnesses—of tremors, rolled stones, angeloi, the fallen soldiers, or even a personal appearance of Jesus. At the core of our faith are the words the angel spoke—

There is nothing to fear here.
I know you're looking for Jesus, the One they nailed to the cross.
He is not here. He was raised, just as he said.
Come and look at the place where he was placed

That forms our earliest confession of faith stated by Paul the Apostle that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, and that he was raised the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. “So we preached and so you believed,” he says. And so we preach on this Easter day and so we believe.

That means that in the face of surgery—one that doesn't promise us a sure recovery—we can recall those three ancient words, Christ is Risen! (congregational response) and that means that God is faithful. And that means that God is right with us in that room with us, for us, and even in us sometimes even in the presence of Death. That means that during our darkest hours, our least faith-filled moments, when we feel like the women going to the tomb, going through life with no room for surprise—we can trust the God who is faithful, before whom even Death cannot have the last word. Even in those times we can utter those words and remind ourselves that God is faithful. Because Christ is Risen! (congregational response). And that means that God is faithful. Nothing will ever keep us from God's love—not even death. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is proof of God's faithfulness and love. Friends, believe the Gospel. Amen.