During the Sundays in Lent, the weeks leading up to Easter, I preached on the 7 last words of Christ. Jesus spoke about forgiveness. He spoke to His mother and a Disciple about family. He spoke to criminals near Him on crosses about paradise. He spoke about His thirst. And, He spoke to His Father.
His very last words were to His Father. He said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Those are the words we heard last week from the pulpit. I gave you notecards and asked you to write down something you were willing to commend to God.
You were very honest. I am honored and humbled that you would share these with me to pray for. My heart broke when I read the burdens you carry. You were truthful and vulnerable. I hope you have allowed God to take that from you and not tried to continue to carry it.
I told you I have heard prayer described as the act of taking something to the altar, giving it to God and leaving it for Him to handle. Unfortunately, we too often take our prayers to the altar, lay them down, tell God about them, then pick them up and take them with us to worry about more. In writing something on your card last week, I asked you to commend it to God, leave it at the altar, not pick it up and take it with you, to let go and let God.
Jesus, in His final breath, commended His life to God. God would have the final word on Jesus. That word was resurrection. That is what we’ve come to celebrate today. For all Christ did in His life and ministry as the Son of God, it means nothing without His death and resurrection, the act of God overcoming the grave. We can trust God with the things we commended to Him last week because we are a people of the resurrection. His promise to us is resurrection, but we don’t always expect it.
Matthew tells us that Mary and the other Mary went to the tomb early on the first day of the week. He tells us they went to look at the tomb. Luke and Mark suggest that the women go to the tomb to prepare Jesus’ body for final burial. John just tells us that the women went to the tomb, not why. Matthew tells us they went to the tomb to look at it. Regardless of why they went, they went expecting to find the tomb sealed and holding Jesus.
When they arrived, the earth shook and an angel of the Lord appeared. The earth shook on Friday when Jesus died and shook when the women arrived at the tomb as the angel appeared to them. We often remember when the foundation beneath us is shaken by bad news. In those moments, we don’t immediately think about the good news ahead, that moment when God will upset the ground beneath us with resurrection.
In the life of the church, more of us come to Easter morning than Good Friday services. We want to remember the resurrection more than we want to be reminded of the cross. When it comes to our lives, though, we more remember the earthquakes in our lives caused by moments of tragedy, loss and bad news. It is more difficult to remember the earthquakes caused by grace and resurrection in our life because it is easier to remember the wounds of tragedy than the joy of salvation.
We can guess that the angel who appeared to the women was Gabriel. During Advent, we heard about the angel’s visits to Zechariah, Mary, and Joseph heralding life altering news. Each time, he delivered a message he said, “do not be afraid.” At the tomb, he tells Mary and the other Mary, “do not be afraid” as he rolled the stone away from the opening of the tomb.
We know the message Gabriel has for the women is good news and has to do with Jesus, because that is what he does, brings good news about Jesus. Gabriel told Zechariah that he would have a son who would prepare the way for the Savior. Gabriel told Mary that she would have a son and told Joseph to call Mary’s son Jesus. Now, Gabriel has another message concerning Jesus to tell these women at the tomb. Gabriel says, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as He said. Come and see the place where He lay.” Gabriel told the women that God’s response to the cross was the resurrection of His Son from the grave.
Those things you commended to God last week, God has heard your prayer. The earth is about to quake in your life. An angel is on his way to bring you the news that God is at work. We can expect resurrection because we are people of the resurrection. For those of us who believe in Jesus Christ, we can expect that God too will resurrect our lives. Not just beyond the grave resurrection. Life, this life, resurrection because God is about transformation and reconciliation.
For people who don’t believe, they carry burdens with little hope. They don’t have anyone to hope in. They don’t know what is possible. We who believe have hope because our hope is founded in God. That hope is rooted in our belief that resurrection is possible. We hope in resurrection, but we don’t expect it. Commending our concerns to God requires at the very least hope, but I want us to expect resurrection.
There is a big difference between hope and expectation. Hope is a feeling that what is wanted will work out for the best. Expectation is anticipation. Hope is the feeling that it might happen. Expectation is waiting for it to happen.
When I was in seminary, I was on the board of directors as the student representative. One meeting, the president presented the grim news that we would not be able to continue as we were. We lost a lot of money when the market crashed in 2006 – 2007. Registration was down and giving was down. We would not be able to do what we did if things didn’t change.
We huddled around table to brainstorm about our future. Most of us were stuck on the bad news, the Good Friday news, that the future was bleak. We couldn’t get past the thoughts of how we could continue to do what we were doing well. If we didn’t continue to prepare students for ministry in the local congregation as well as we did, who would?
Then, someone said, “We are a people of the resurrection!” That’s all we needed to hear to get us out of the grave and hoping again. She reminded us that we could continue to prepare leaders for church ministry if we allowed God to transform us and do it in a new and different way.
We are a people of the resurrection.
I have tons of resurrection stories, but I don’t think you want to sit there all day and listen to my stories. But, these stories are why I believe in the resurrection of Christ. I believe God raised His Son from the grave just like He has transformed my life. If God can resurrect Jesus and defeat the grave, my problems are nothing He can’t handle. I can preach every Easter morning because I know God has the power to defeat the grave, to defeat death, to defeat illness and all the things you commended to Him last week.
God is capable of resurrection.
The earth is about to quake and the angel is coming to bring you the good news that God is at work.