Dawn of a New Day
The setting is everything.
Any writer knows that setting the stage/opening sentences for a story requires care—
The location, the time, the descriptions of the surroundings
All have symbolic content.
The way a story opens not only prepares the listener for what is to come
It contains the seeds of the message of the story, its final outcome--
The destination of where it’s all heading.
The setting of Matthew’s account of the resurrection points to endings and beginnings.
Matthew first says that the women come to ‘see the tomb.’
Unlike the accounts of Mark and Luke, here in Matthew the women have no job to do
They carry no spices to anoint his body
They simply come to honor their grief.
It is as if they needed to see the tomb to get it through their heads,
To absorb all that had transpired in the past week-
to confront the shock of his death, this terrible ending.
But Matthew also says that the women came to the tomb
“as the first day of the week was dawning.”
A new day is often considered a fresh start.
In scripture, so is a new week.
In Genesis, God created the earth in six days,
crowning the work with the Sabbath, they day God rested.
Jews kept the chronology, observing the Sabbath on Saturday,
the last day of the week.
When Jesus arose from the dead on a Sunday, therefore,
it was not only the first day of the week
from a calendar point of view, it was a sign of a whole new era, a whole new way of looking at things.
Matthew’s described the resurrection as a cataclysmic event:
The earth quaked
An angel appeared as lightning, shining like brightest snow
And rolled the massive stone from the entrance of the tomb.
It was so terrifying that the guards passed out in fear.
It was as if the world were ending in natural disaster.
But the angel said to the women
“Do not be afraid, I know that you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth.
He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said…
Go quickly and tell his disciples, He has been raised from the dead
and indeed is he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.”
Contained in the cold finality of the tomb was a message of a new day dawning.
This is the message of a new epoch:
Jesus is not in the tomb
Jesus is alive
Laws of life and death no longer apply
Reality has shifted
Jesus is not gone—
They will see him
He will be with them in a new way.
They worship him and share his story of hope and life.
The promise of being with Jesus in a new way and in a new era speaks to me right now.
Occasionally I come to church to take care of business that I can’t do remotely,
And it’s as if the church is frozen in time from mid March,
the last time we were together:
The snacks for the college kids still sitting in their bins
The posters on the bulletin boards advertising canceled events weeks old
Even though I am in regular contact with you all and the ministries continue
It feels kind of sad…
Like Jesus has left the building.
Without you all, it feels like what the angel said to the women at the tomb:
He is not here.
Perhaps you have felt something similar in recent weeks—
a sense of missing being with Jesus,
with the Body of Christ, the community of believers.
It was almost something we took for granted.
And perhaps we even believed, like the women,
that we knew where to find Jesus.
That Jesus was somehow in this building
That we had to go to the church
and do certain things to experience his presence
And now that we are deprived of those opportunities, we feel a little lost.
We are turned out of the very place where we met Jesus so powerfully
Where he was alive to us.
Even though we know we will be back in the space in some weeks hence
We feel the loss now.
We grieve it.
Because it is a kind of death.
But like the women, we have the message that Jesus not dead, but alive.
The women were told that Jesus had gone ahead of them
And were promised that they would see him.
For us, it is important to remember that though the church is where
we may have first met Jesus, it is not the only place to find him.
Jesus promises to be with us in the sacrament of life
Especially wherever there is suffering
Jesus said in the last week of his life,
“When you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.” (Matt 25)
Hard times increase our awareness of our need for Jesus
And as we pray with scripture, sing hymns, sit quietly,
or take a walk
he comes to us
his peace comes and settles us down
we breathe deeply, and in the moment, experience wholeness and even joy.
I hold onto these words from this Gospel story: Jesus has gone ahead of us.
Jesus is not asking us to go anywhere he has not already gone himself.
In fact sometimes I wonder
if Jesus has been trying to lead us outside the walls of our churches for a long time.
Some might say its easy to get preoccupied with the running of a church
Instead of the message of life that the church brings.
And in this, Matthew’s resurrection story is crystal clear
The new era brings a new job to the women, and later to the disciples:
Go and tell the disciples that Jesus is alive, the angel says.
And at the end of this chapter, Jesus himself takes the disciples up a mountain
And says, Go and make disciples of all nations.
There are so many who need this message of new life.
People who only know rule following, not the liberating word of grace
people who only know how to hit back, and haven’t tasted forgiveness
people who only focus on what’s wrong and need help seeing what’s right
people who are so pushed down, they need a hand up.
Jesus left the tomb on that first day of the week so long ago for those people,
and for us!
We may not be able to gather in church, but Jesus has gone ahead of us
He is not confined to the building or a particular tradition but is out in the world
Moving, changing, inspiring, and healing
His Holy Spirit lives in you and me,
and we are the ambassadors of his message of hope and life.
Jesus’ resurrection is the new beginning, the dawning of a new day
Our job is to get on out there – virtually, from 10 feet away, via phone or FB,
In our own families
Forgiving, loving, renewing, hoping, and praying
Til all the world hears the message:
A better world is possible
New life is here.
We are part of it.
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Easter Sunday, 4/12/2020