Easter Sunday 2020 – Matthew 28

Welcome & Introduction

Tracey and I would like to wish you a warm Happy Easter! We wish we could be together this morning, but despite our current circumstances, we still have many things to be thankful for as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the garden tomb.

  • Thankful that there is no one in our congregation that we are aware of who has contracted this virus!
  • Thankful for the stories I am hearing of people who are helping each other out; caring for your families, neighbours and friends.
  • Thankful for the ways we are finding to keep connected through new and old technologies – from zoom Bible studies and prayer meetings to good old-fashioned phone calls!
  • Thankful for the opportunity this forced isolation has given most of us to pause from most of our normal pursuits and activities and find new space in our lives we thought we could never have.
  • Thankful that our government has been willing to make difficult decisions as they co-operate between provinces and parties finding ways to care for those who have been caught short of resources.
  • If you know of anyone who needs some help during this time, please contact the office and we will help out if we can.

Join with me know as we celebrate our hope, anchored in the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ!

Call to Worship

This morning we are celebrating Resurrection Sunday in a way that is unlike any other year. There will be no gathering in the sanctuary of the church, no big Easter dinner, no travelling to family gatherings, no taking part in a community egg hunt! The list of how things have changed for us this Easter is endless; however, in all the ways that are most important, nothing has changed!

Because Easter has never been about all those things anyhow. They are enjoyable and we do look forward to them through the cold, damp winters of Essex County, but Easter is far bigger than that. Easter is about Jesus rising from the dead and leaving the tomb He was laid in, empty. Easter is about our hope: because Jesus is alive, death for those who follow Him has been conquered! We celebrate the resurrection because it was the sign of the promise that we too will experience the very same thing!

As we prepare to hear the resurrection story found in the Gospel of Matthew, let’s first hear a familiar song that celebrates all that Easter has given us.

Easter Song of Celebration: Because He Lives

Pastoral Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father,

On this day we give thanks for the overwhelming gift of Your Son, Jesus Christ. As the eternal Word described in John chapter 1, Jesus is none other than God in the flesh who was born, lived and died as a human, yet at the same time was fully God. May that Divine mystery overwhelm us today as we consider the depth of your sacrificial love for us!

On this particular Easter morning, we are more fully aware of our need to experience your resurrection power in our lives. Our plans have all fallen away, our freedoms have been restricted, and our fears intensified – but Your promises and your presence remain. May we learn more and more every day how to live out that hope, even in our present reality.

We pray for those in our midst who are experiencing this isolation as a more severe hardship than others. Those who are alone; those who are ill; those who are afraid; those who are overwhelmed. I pray that they will know your presence, and I pray that they will know our presence. Help us to respond to the nudges of Your Spirit, and to be willing to reach out to them in their need.

We pray for those who are not able to isolate, but must continue to venture out every day into the community into their places of work to serve us. We pray for doctors, nurses, other health care workers, grocery and retail workers, truckers and everyone else who have answered this call to duty. May they experience protection and safety as they serve, and may they know our gratitude.

We pray for those who are most vulnerable, living in nursing homes and care facilities. We hear the stories of their suffering and the deep concern of their families who are unable to help them, and we ask for your protection on them this Easter Sunday. While we have our ultimate hope in the future resurrection, we ask that they be spared of suffering.

We pray for our leaders in all levels of government in Canada and around the world. May they continue to set aside the things that may divide in more typical times, and work together for the good of all.

We confess Lord, that there are times when we feel overwhelmed in this new reality we are trying to adjust to. May we continue to lean on You for the strength we need to continue to be faithful and content – even now. And may we be reminded that You our God has overcome even death, and if we place our lives in your hands, we have already overcome death too!

Use all of this Lord to build us, to strengthen us, to transform us as we continue on in our journey to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ, inviting others to join us!

In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen

The Empty Tomb by George Richardson
The Empty Tomb by George Richardson

The Easter Story – Matthew 28:1-15

Jesus Has Risen

1 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

The Guards’ Report

11 While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

Reflection

Matthew’s gospel gets right to the point in this last chapter. In only 15 verses, he summarizes the events surrounding the resurrection of Jesus. While Luke and John give us far more details, it seems like Matthew’s intention was to provide just a hint of how those who were there received this life changing, but unexpected good news!

The Fear of the Guards

The first to encounter the risen Jesus on that day were the guards who were assigned to make sure no one stole the body so they could spread the rumour of resurrection. It seems that perhaps the chief priests and Pharisees had been listening to Jesus’ words more closely than even the disciples!

That put the guards right at the scene when the resurrection occurred, and it left them undone! The earthquake and the overwhelming brilliance of the angel of the Lord who rolled the stone away left those poor guards in shock – shaking with fear and looking as though they were dead!

These guards were not of the Barny Fife variety (ask someone over 50 if you need to), they were hardened men who knew that failure was not an option. In fact, the penalty for losing a prisoner was usually death. In verse 11 we read that “some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened.”  Why some? Why not all? For that matter, why any? It is clear that this was not what they were expecting, and we can only speculate whether or not any of them would eventually be counted among the Jerusalem believers in the days after Pentecost. It is certainly a possibility – how many of us would trade places with those who were privileged to become eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus?

What about you? Can you imagine yourself as a guard that first Easter morning? Your first reaction would certainly be fear- as was theirs – but what about after? Would you be able to forget what you saw that day? All of us, can only believe by faith – we cannot prove the legitimacy of the resurrection, but we resolve to believe it is legitimate, based on the evidence and on our conviction of truth. But those guards? They had proof!

The Joy of the Women

In Matthew’s account, the only recorded witnesses of Jesus among His followers were the two women who went to the tomb to apply the funeral spices. Other gospels have different details, but Matthew concentrates on these two women as the witnesses to the empty tomb and then witnesses to the risen Jesus Himself!

This very interesting detail has for me been one of the key affirmations of the truth of the Biblical story in general. In that day, women were not in any way equal before the law to men – their testimony not nearly as valued as the word of a man. And so, if I were Matthew and I was fabricating the details of the resurrection story, I would never have restricted the sightings on the first day to women only. The only reason for him to write it the way he did, was that it was true!

Verse 8 summarizes their feelings: “…, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell the disciples.”

There is a realism here that can, if we want to, help us to enter into the scene that morning. Take a moment and imagine yourself with the women. You got out of bed early to go to the tomb to perform one last duty for your Master, your rabbi (other gospels tell us they were there to do the final funeral preparations to the body). You were probably unsure whether you could get past the guards, not to mention the stone blocking the entrance. It may have been a long-shot, but you were determined to try.

And then when you got there, nothing was as you expected. The guards were gone, the stone was already rolled away, and an angel was there to greet you with news that was too good to be true; Jesus had risen from the dead! You hurried back to tell the others about the news and the instructions from the angel, and then you see JESUS HIMSELF!!

What would you do? How would you feel? Would you be afraid?

The truth is, we who believe have all actually received the same news that those women received on resurrection morning. Jesus is alive; Jesus is calling us to meet with Him. Do we realize this? Have we allowed it to change our lives? Or has the news of the resurrection become a dusty truth to us – something we believe is true, but we rarely do we let ourselves sit back and really think about the implications.

Jesus is alive! Can you receive that news as if it was brand new?

The Cover-Up

The news of Jesus absence from the tomb began to get around as the morning wore on. The women told of it, and so did the soldiers. The reactions of these two groups couldn’t be more opposite!

While the women and the disciples began to wake up with joy to the new reality of a post-resurrection world, the chief priests and elders went in another direction. They began the cover-up; damage control.

All through the last three years, their reaction to Jesus’ ministry had been to feel threatened. When Jesus healed a man in the synagogue, they didn’t dispute the validity of the healing. Instead they plotted to be rid of Jesus because he was becoming too popular, not to mention breaking the law by healing someone (working) on the Sabbath! Nothing could convince them that God was doing something new – there was just no room in their hearts for anything that strayed from their tradition, their religion.

How stuck have you become on your traditions? Are you a follower of Jesus, or a follower of religion? At it’s best those are the same thing, but when religion is at it’s worse it can be damaging and actually push people away from the real Jesus. When He was asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus said it was to love God with all you are, and love others as you love yourself. Loving God and loving people – that is the religion of Jesus. And that was what got Jesus killed – by the most religious people in Israel.

Could you be accused of loving God and people above and beyond everything else in your life? Let us all take a moment to confess that we do not always choose love and ask God to forgive us and show us how to change.

The Next Step of Faithfulness

Matthew 28:16-20

The Great Commission

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 

Reflection

Jesus called the disciples north to Galilee: back to where His ministry began and back to where most of them had grown up. While an in-depth study of the content of this passage known as “The Great Commission” is beyond the scope of our time this morning, I do want to leave us with today emphasizing the truth that the resurrection has radically changed each one of us who is a follower of Jesus; and the resurrection is a call to ministry. Not just pastors or specialists, or even gifted people. It is a call to all Christians to do our part in spreading this good news around as widely as possible. News like this isn’t something we are to keep to ourselves; it is to be taken to the furthest reaches of the earth, and the furthest reaches of our neighbourhoods and the furthest reaches of our homes.

Before we close this morning, spend a little bit of time reflecting on this question: How much has the resurrection of Jesus changed my life? And are there more changes that God is calling me to?

Final Easter Song

Resurrection Power by Chris Tomlin

Benediction

May the loving power of God,
which raised Jesus to new life,
strengthen you in hope,
enrich you with his love,
and fill you with joy in the faith

Jesus is alive!