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April 17, 2022

Places of the Passion: The Garden Tomb

Preacher: Rev. Jack Meehan Series: Lent 2022: Places of the Passion Category: Biblical Scripture: Matthew 28:1–11

The Resurrection of Our Lord: Easter Sunday

April 17, 2022

Matthew 28:1-11

 “Places of the Passion: The Garden Tomb”

The Most Rev. Robert Runcie (1911-2000), the late Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote in his book, Seasons of the Spirit, that he once got on a train in England and discovered that all of the other passengers in the car were patients at a mental institution who were being taken on an excursion. An attendant was counting the patients to be sure that they were all there: “One, two, three, four, five…” When he came to Runcie, he said, “Who are you?” “I am the Archbishop of Canterbury,” Runcie replied. The attendant smiled and, pointing to him, continued counting, “six, seven, eight…” (Holy Humor: Inspirational Wit and Cartoons, by Cal and Rose Samra. Carmel, NY: Guideposts, 1996; p. 9). We’ve all had moments when nobody knows who we are, and we are unrecognized by others. As Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb on that first Easter morning, they were expecting to find a corpse that they would recognize as that of Jesus. But that’s not at all what they found. Instead, an angel of the Lord greeted them, telling them that Jesus had risen from the dead. Today on this Easter morning, our preaching series, “Places of the Passion,” comes to a close as we go to the Garden Tomb and rejoice in our risen Savior Jesus Christ. That becomes the theme for preaching. May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.

The first Easter begins with fear. In today’s Gospel lesson, the angel of the Lord and the Lord Jesus himself both say the same thing to the women: “Do not be afraid” (Matthew 28:5, 10). There’s two kinds of fear going on in what Matthew tells us here: “And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men” (Matthew 28:4), and “So they [the women] departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy…” (Matthew 28:8). Same word, but two different meanings. The first meaning is terror and dread because what you put your trust and confidence in has suddenly left you in the lurch. The second meaning is different. To be sure, it’s fright and shock, but this gives way to joy and gladness because what you had put your trust in has suddenly become very real. So which do you want to be: the soldiers on guard detail at the tomb who fall down like dead men, or the women who thought all hope was gone only to discover that life was just beginning?

Truth be told, we live with a lot of fear, which can take over our lives and paralyze us. Fear can rob us of sleep at night, and make us unable to concentrate during the day. Fear usually deals with lots of “what if’s.” We get caught up in things that we can’t control, but we worry about them anyway. “What if I don’t get the grades I need in school?” What if the contract at work isn’t renewed?” “What if the test results come back positive?” “What if he or she doesn’t love me anymore?” Try as we might to keep that fear in check, it makes itself known in our bodies with things like high blood pressure and other physical problems. We may try to numb the fear by self-medicating with alcohol, food, or other escape tactics. Despite our best intentions, the fear in our lives can show up in angry outbursts or stony silence. How do we address the fears that we face?

Listen to the angel of the Lord and the Lord Jesus again, who said to the women and who say to us today: “Do not be afraid” (Matthew 28:5, 10). Actually, the original words here are more descriptive, which are “Stop being afraid” (μή ϕοβεισθε). I like that better because here Jesus acknowledges that we are, in fact, afraid, and he tells us that this isn’t working. He tells us: “Don’t do that. There’s a better way that I have for you. If death and the grave cannot hold me, then life is forever changed.”

Life in Ukraine has been forever changed by the Russian invasion, even as the war rages on. Long before the present day, life was forever changed for a man in Ukraine named Grisha Siklenko. His story is decades before the present time of the Russian invasion. In 1960, Mr. Siklenko appeared one day in the tiny village where he had lived, but his friends and neighbors were shocked because everyone thought that he had died in World War II. Instead, the night he marched away to war, he returned home where his mother made a hiding place for him under a manure pile. For eighteen years, Grisha Siklenko lived in a constant state of fear there under the manure pile, thinking that any day he would be discovered. In the winter, he nearly froze to death and in the summer, he nearly suffocated because of the heat. And of course, there was the constant terrible smell. Finally, in 1960, he walked out from his hiding place, expecting to be prosecuted, punished, and imprisoned. But the statute of limitations had expired and his fears proved to be groundless. He had wasted all those years, living in filth and fear (as found in a sermon by Reed Lessing from Creative Communications, 2021).

Fear can do that to a person, leading you to waste precious time and causing you to do things that are just bizarre. Fear can make you feel like you’re locked in a prison; unable to escape. The most frequent command in the Bible is not “Be good,” or “Be holy.” The most frequent command in the Bible is “Do not be afraid,” “Fear not.” These words appear in Scripture 365 times, one for each day of the year! And now, on this Easter morning, the angel says these words to us once again: “Do not be afraid.” We worship and serve a risen Lord Jesus Christ who triumphed over death and the grave, who now lives and reigns to all eternity. Like the women whom Jesus met as they returned from the grave “with fear and great joy,” we also fall down and worship him. Jesus is with us! All of the fears that cause us so much worry and distress may not go away entirely this side of heaven, but they do diminish in size and intensity in the light of Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus understands all of the things that prey on our hearts and minds, but he calls us to trust in him, as the words of today’s Epistle lesson remind us: “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”  The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:15-18).

What began there at the Garden Tomb on that first Easter morning continues to flow out into the world today. People living in darkness and fear receive the risen Savior’s power for living that is greater than the power of fear, and lives are transformed for the kingdom of God. May it be so with each one of us for Jesus’ sake.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.