He is not here, for he is risen

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Matthew 28:1-15

Woody Allen is famously fearful of death (of course he maintains he’s not afraid, he just ‘doesn’t want to be there when it happens’).  He was once asked, ‘Aren’t you pleased to know you’ll live on in the hearts and minds of those you’ve touched?’  Woody said ‘I don’t want to live on in hearts and minds, I want to live on in my apartment.’  That’s what we all want – resurrection.  It’s exactly what Jesus offers.  And yet it’s the last thing we expect.

It sounds like madness to even contemplate “living on in my apartment.” Sure, living on in memories is reasonable.  And living on in some non-physical, spiritual dimension sounds plausible… at a stretch. But living on in immortal, bodily, earthly life?  That’s the stuff of fairytales surely.  Everything in our natural experience works against resurrection hope.  Our ordinary lives teach us to believe Monty Python’s line:  “Life is quite absurd and death’s the final word.”  Life leads to death.  That’s the trajectory of this world and of Adam its original head.  Life and then death.

But Jesus came to reverse the way of Adam.  He came to turn the world right-side-up.  And therefore it strikes the children of Adam as utterly new and strange.  On that first Easter Sunday, the women came to the tomb expecting to pay their last respects to a departed friend.  They came to mark an ending.  Instead they were witnesses to the one great beginning:

“In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. And, behold, there was a great earthquake:  for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.  His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow:  And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.  And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye:  for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.  He is not here: for he is risen, as he said.  Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” (Matthew 28:1-6)

Imagine an alternative Easter story.  Imagine that the women found the body of Jesus, but were startled by the angel who proclaimed:  “This is only the body of Jesus.  Don’t worry, the spirit of Jesus lives on, and so will you when you die.  Don’t be afraid, you will meet with Jesus again when you’ve all gotten rid of your earthly encumbrances.”  What kind of gospel would that be?  The Apostle Paul answered in 1 Corinthians 15:

“And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain…. if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.  Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.  If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”  (1 Corinthians 15:14-19)

Some sort of life beyond death is not good news.  The gospel of God is that Christ has entered His own world to remake it from the inside.  He has come as our true Head, to take hold of the old world and put it down to the death it deserves.  The old order is a matter of ‘life unto death’, and that’s where Jesus takes it.  But then He rises up again to reverse the way of all flesh.

That’s why it’s so critical that He rises with the same body.  He is not abandoning Creation 1.0 and starting 2.0.  He is recapitulating His handiwork – going over the old ground and redeeming it all.  He is risen in that same body because He wills to fix this very world.  And just as the old body is restored and glorified, so will the whole universe.

On that first day of the week a new beginning was birthed.  Jesus had put the old to death on the 6th day.  He’d rested on the Sabbath, and brought light and immortality to life on the first day.  Jesus renews all things by rising up as the true and better Adam, the eternal King.  And as surely as the King was raised – so His Kingdom will also be raised.  Therefore “fear not”!

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