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I Am

heisrisen2Matthew 28: 1-10
Introduction to the reading
The last we heard of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, his body had been taken down from the cross and laid in a tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man who was also a follower of Jesus.  Joseph had wrapped the body in a linen cloth, laid him in the tomb, rolled a great stone in front of it and then went away.

Later, at the request of the chief priests, Pilate sent guards with the priests to make the tomb secure by sealing the stone in place.

Our reading for today begins on the third day after…

Sermon
All the Gospels give an account of the resurrection of Jesus, the defining event of the Christian story, the reason for his being, the essence of our faith.  Each Gospel, however, differs slightly in the details.

  • Mark:  Three women – Mary Magdelene, Mary, mother of James, and Salome – come to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body for proper burial and find the heavy stone already rolled away.  A young man dressed in white tells them not to be afraid; they will see Jesus again in Galilee.  But they are terrified; they run away and tell no one.
  • Luke:  Three women – Mary, the same other Mary and this time, Joanna, plus others - also find the stone rolled away and two men in dazzling clothes tell them not to be afraid.  They remind the women of what Jesus had said- that he would be crucified but raised- and the women run to tell the apostles the good news.
  • John:  Mary Magdelene comes alone, sees the stone has been removed, and then reports this directly to Peter and another disciple.  They depart.  Mary looks into the empty tomb and sees two angels in white and then Jesus himself, who, she assumes at first, is the gardener.
  • Today’s reading from Matthew adds other details.  The women who come to the tomb are shocked by a great earthquake; an angel descends from heaven, rolls back the stone and sits on it; Jesus himself suddenly appears to them as they are on their way tell the disciples what has happened.

Even with differences in detail, these stories are remarkable coherent. They all point to one clear fact:  Jesus is not dead and buried anymore.  But none of these stories is an actual account of the resurrection.  None of the Gospels describes what actually happens.  Even here in Matthew, when the angel rolls back the stone, we don’t read that Jesus came walking out.  It’s just that the tomb is empty. The means by which God raises Jesus from the dead remains a mystery.

The stories we have of the resurrection of Jesus are not accounts but testimonies, evidence given by the first and closest witnesses to the mystery.

Bearing witness to the mystery of resurrection is the repeated emphasis of the second part of the reading.  The angel says, “…go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised … and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him’ ”.  And Jesus reiterates that when he meets the women on the road:  “…go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”  Go, go, go… They cannot be satisfied with what they saw, that Jesus’ body is no longer in the tomb.  They have to go and see where he is now.
    
They do.  And in the final verses of each Gospel, they see him again:  on the road to Emmaus; breakfast on the lakeshore; in the upper room where the disciples have gathered.

Many people over the centuries, and well into our own time – our sophisticated, scientific, cosmopolitan, tech savvy time – have seen Jesus.  Most are reluctant to talk about it because it seems farfetched.  And it doesn’t happen to very many people and not very often.  But I have heard at least three during my ministry here.
    
One woman told me her story just last week, although it was some time ago that she saw him.  She wondered, What was the purpose of that revelation?  Why did she see Jesus?  My reply was this:  Jesus was confirming his presence in the world and in her life.  Jesus was saying simply:  I AM.
    
I AM is the classic, ancient declaration of who God is.  We heard it first in the Old Testament, in Exodus, after God appeared to Moses in the burning bush and told him to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go.  Moses said, “If they ask me what is your name, what shall I say?”  And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.”
    
Jesus repeated this name, especially in the Gospel of John.

  • John 6: 35 – “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
  • John 10: 11 – “I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.”
  • John 11: 25 – “I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live…”

We never know where or when it will be that we encounter Jesus, directly, as does happen, or through an intermediary, a sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit.  He may come as a friend, counselor, parent, teacher, one who prays for us, cares for us, one who sits with us in difficult times, one who loves us.  He may come calling, asking, encouraging; comforting, soothing, healing; chiding, challenging, even daring; but always, always loving.

Jesus Christ is risen today.   He is risen indeed.   Alleluia, alleluia, amen!

Rev. Kathryn Henry
Peapack Reformed Church
Gladstone, NJ
Easter, April 16, 2017

khenryRev. Kathryn Henry
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