Readings: Matthew 28.1-10
After the long Sabbath, the rest in the cold tomb - and now, still in the darkness, the first day of the week. The new week. The new creation. The eighth day.
Eyes red from weeping and sleepless Sabbath nights. Women at the tomb; perhaps to bring more spices, perhaps just to weep, perhaps just to be there, because there was nowhere else to be, nothing else to do, nothing else that mattered, that would ever matter.
The men are nowhere to be seen at this hour, it is the faithful women who have the devotion and the courage to be out this early. Mary Magdalene, with the other Marys; who stood at the foot of the cross, forcing herself to witness everything. Now these women become the first witnesses to the Resurrection. Now they will be the first apostles, the apostles to the apostles: the first to bring the news that the tomb was empty and the first to see, to meet, to speak with the risen master himself.
Who can move the stone?
As they arrive they would have expected to see the soldiers guarding the tomb and have to persuade them to move the stone for them so they can pay their respects to the body of Jesus. It won't be an easy or pleasant task.
But then something totally unexpected. “Suddenly there was a violent earthquake; an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled the stone away, and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid that they trembled and became like dead men.”
Somehow they manage to stop themselves running away – this sight is enough to floor even strapping well-trained soldiers. The Angel speaks tenderly to them: "You must not be afraid," he said. "I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has been raised, just as he said. Come here and see the place where he was lying.”
They peer inside and see that tomb is empty. From the other Gospel accounts we know that they will have seen the linen cloths lying there. Someone has not only taken the body away; they have first gone to the trouble of unwrapping it.
Matthew tells us that they don’t stop to think about such details – instead they do what the Angel has told them: “Go quickly now, and tell his disciples, 'He has been raised from death, and now he is going to Galilee ahead of you; there you will see him!' Remember what I have told you."
So they left the tomb in a hurry, afraid and yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. I’m so impressed by Mary’s courage and dedication – with such emotions running through them: afraid and yet joyful. Joyful. Perhaps filled with a wild delight at God's creative power; perhaps it felt a bit like sunrise after a long dark night; maybe a bit like the sound of rain at the end of a long drought. Afraid and yet Joyful, they tumble away from the tomb eager to tell the others.
And that’s when they run straight into Jesus. Matthew tells us: “Suddenly Jesus met them and said, "Peace be with you." They came up to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. "Do not be afraid," Jesus said to them. "Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me."
That must have been even more shocking – seeing their beloved Jesus standing right there in front of them in the flesh. This is no mere ghost – nothing ghost like about him here – they hold on to him in love and worship.
He’s not the same battered and bloody body they last saw – here is Jesus filled with new life, glowing with health, but recognisably the same Jesus they have known and loved all these years.
And he is pointing them to a new future – go and tell the others that he is alive and everything is now different. Bless them; they go as he asks them.
New Purpose and Hope in Life
Over the next few weeks we will be seeing the difference this encounter makes for all the disciples. They are changed from being fearful, uncertain, broken and confused men and women into men and women with a new quality of life.
They had witnessed Jesus’ agony of the cross, seeing him bearing the sin of the whole world – taking on himself their sins and guilt – and your sins and my sins too. The message of that Good Friday is that because of Jesus we have been saved FROM separation from God, saved FROM our sinful nature and FROM the judgement that brings.
And now those disciples meet the risen Jesus and know that they have been saved FOR a future with God, FOR a new purpose, FOR a life lived in harmony with God. And we can know that too.
Jesus’ resurrection is OUR present strength and our future hope, it's the guarantee of our own resurrection, a future that isn’t just for when we die – but starts right now, if we accept Jesus Christ as our own personal Lord and Saviour.
This new quality of life begins when we let Jesus come into our lives, renewing our minds, filling us with his Holy Spirit, and re-creating us from the inside out. This is what Jesus calls abundant life – and it's what he promised to all who believe and trust in him.
It started with some loving and dedicated women, who braved the darkness and the Roman soldiers to visit the tomb. They found the risen Christ – that he was there for them, banishing sadness, betrayal and fear. The risen Jesus changed their whole lives.
This is the moment of new creation. This is the first day of God's new week. The darkness has gone, and the sun is shining.
This is the whole point of the resurrection: that we can meet Jesus today – through the Spirit and by faith. And the encounter can be no less life changing.
Triumphant over death, he is alive for ever. He still comes to transform broken, sorrowing and fearful lives with the sheer uninhibited gladness of discovering him, alive and with us.
So, on this holy day, let us celebrate.