- Psalm 16:1-11
- Acts 10:34-43
- Matthew 28:1-10
Today we hear a number of paradoxes in our gospel reading. I love a good paradox. A paradox is a statement, an event, or something that is true, but also stands next to something that, well, if the first one’s true the second one can’t be. A paradox.
It comes from two Greek words; “para” and “doxein,” meaning contrary to thought. It’s two things, two ideas presented side by side that shouldn’t be there. An actress from the 1940’s shared this paradox. Pearl Bailey said, “some of the biggest failures I ever had were successes.” Or CS Lewis, one of my favorite authors, said, “someday you’ll be old enough to read fairy tales again.”
Or how about these last few weeks? I’ve been seeing a lot on the news and hearing from people and on social media everyone saying, “we are all alone, together.”
Certainly an Easter with empty churches is a paradox. For 2000 years Christians have been celebrating the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday together. And now we do it at a distance.
In fact, every Sunday is a little celebration of Easter. Every Sunday we remember that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. So for 2000 years, once a week, 52 times a year (some more or less than others), the church has celebrated Easter together approximately 104,000 times. And then you multiply that by all the individual congregations across the world. It’s no mystery why, when John is given a glimpse into Heaven in Revelation, he sees a crowd around the Lamb that was too great to be counted.
What other event in the history of the world has brought this kind of unity? We are not alone together – we are one together in Christ.
Not even the notion of physical distance can take us away from the assurance of Christ, who has defeated death, that we are one in Him and He is always with us.
Now this is no paradox, this is the promise of a man who though he died did not stay dead. This is the promise of God himself, “Lo, I am with you always.” A God who is not bound by paradoxes, in fact, who relishes in them. A God who is never far, always near his people, and yet he is unapproachable.
Today’s reading from Matthew 28 teaches us a few paradoxes to help clear up for us precisely what the resurrection of Jesus means for us. That, though we are sinners, for Christ’s sake God accounts us as righteous. That, though we perpetuate death by our sin, God forgives us and gives us eternal life. In our reading the women initially went to the tomb knowing that there are no paradoxes when it comes to death – death always wins.
There is nothing that stands in opposition to death – there is nothing that can stand next to it. You die; you’re dead.
Many of you know this as you’ve stood over the grave of loved ones. The women knew this as well, certainly they knew the story of Lazarus, the man the Jesus raised from the dead. But now, the guy who appeared to have power of death… why would he let himself die?
Isn’t that a paradox of the first order?
If you have power over death, wouldn’t you use that power to avoid our greatest enemy? They even yelled this and scoffed at Jesus when He was on the cross, “he saved others but he can’t save himself!”
A successful failure.
A losing Savior.
But, the women went. They had no thoughts of ganduer, or that they would steal the body. What could they do against the heavily armed guard? Not to mention the stone. But then, as they arrived at the tomb, there was an earthquake caused by the angel as he comes down from Heaven and moves the stone. And Matthew tells us he did something interesting.
He sat on the stone.
This is a little strange, almost paradoxical. Angels are messengers. They are moving from Heaven to Earth. They are on the move – they stand. They have the authority of God. When Gabriel met Mary, he stood before her to tell her the child to be born to her was God himself. Gabriel also stood at the altar when he met Zechariah, when Zechariah was offering his priestly service at the altar, Gabriel stood at the altar. Angels do not sit – they stand.
But this angel sits. He sits on the stone. A pulpit of sorts. He is the first preacher of the Good News, and the women there are the first congregation. The first Easter sermon, a paradox, “do not be afraid.” How can the angel expect the women not to be afraid?
The women who did not fear the grave, the women who did not really fear the soldiers, now they’re really afraid. They were fearful because they were in the presence of God’s messengers. Messengers who bring the authority of God. And when sinners come into contact with God there is no social distance that can save you from your sins.
God is everywhere. He sees all things. His law is the basis for our universe and that law is immovable. The laws of nature don’t bend. The law of God is not flexible. Like the rock that covered the tomb. And God’s law says, “The wages of sin is death.” These women were sinners who were now face to face with one who carries the authority of God, were they now going to die? If the angels caused the soldiers to be as living dead men, what would their fate be?
What would your fate be? Face to face with an angel of God, or even God himself? Certainly we do all we can to avoid death. To avoid meeting God face to face. We try to flex that law, the wages of sin is death. We try to pretend our sins aren’t that bad or we try to think, well, we’re not as bad as that guy. Certainly we wouldn’t deserve that wage of death. Or would your life be defined as a paradox? Would you think yourself not a sinner, when God’s law says you are?
St. Peter in our reading from Acts today, he puts those thoughts in their right place, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Anyone who does what is right. Would your good outweigh your bad? Well, we can’t even argue that much, because here it says God doesn’t rule on a scale, he shows no partiality. Do you always do what is acceptable to God? I don’t either.
So then how can we be saved? Should we be as the soldiers, frightened to death? How then would we be able to do as the angel says, to not fear? How is it that we would be saved from death, this immovable wall?
Notice what the angel says to the ladies, “Do not fear.” Meaning do not fear that the tomb is empty and do not fear, I am not here to kill you. The tomb is not empty because the body was stolen, the angel continues, “He is not here, for He has risen, as He said.”
Paradox of paradoxes! The one who was crucified is alive. The women do not need to fear the wrath of god because Jesus was crucified for their sins. He took the wages for their sins, and now He is raised. Their sins, the immovable law of God, has been moved and sat upon, and the gospel proclaimed from that pulpit. The angel’s sermon preached as he sat. The gospel over-ruling the law.
This paradoxical sermon is the greatest sermon they had ever heard! No jokes. No engaging stories, just the facts. Jesus crucified for your sins, raised for your justification. Meaning you are right with God. Your sins are forgiven. Taken away. Your sins that you know so well that you did, God forgives them.
The one who knows all, paradoxically forgets your sins.
The one who created life, paradoxically dies.
The one who was dead, is now alive. All of this for you! For me. For the whole world. For the God who shows no partiality forgives equally. No matter how bad you think you’ve messed up, Jesus’ death covers all.
So the women departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy. Another paradox, fear and great joy. They ran – now they fear rightly as Peter said in Acts. To fear God is a recognition that the gospel, the good news is somewhat paradoxical to our human logic. We are forgiven yet we don’t deserve it. Our salvation is not anything we do but solely based on the mercy of God in Christ Jesus. We rightly fear God when we see him as he truly is, far above us in power and wisdom. The Judge. Peter says, “anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
So then what is right? How are we acceptable to God?
Peter tells us at the end of the reading. He says, “by faith.” That’s what he means when he says, “anyone who fears him and does what is right…” He means anyone who fears Him and believes is acceptable to him. “Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
In order to receive Christ must first give and he gives. With this being such a paradox, it would then make sense then that his giving also might be paradoxical. The one who is far above us in power and wisdom comes and gives himself to be the least. The unapproachable comes to us in humble means, through the waters of baptism where he places his name on us. Look at what Peter writes, “receive forgiveness through his name.” Where are we given God’s name?
When the waters of baptism are poured over your head, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit. It is all his work. Paradoxical? You bet.
Our salvation is a paradox. We are sinners deserving death, yet for the sake of Jesus, God regards us as saints promised that we will rise from the dead in our own flesh. Until then though we run now our race as the women did, in fear and great joy. Fear as in respect and awe of God. Joy knowing that Jesus is risen and we will rise too. Your loved ones who’ve died in the faith they too will rise with him.
Easter is the realization that a man died and was raised. That there is an answer for death but there is no opposition to the promise of God in Christ Jesus. Death does not win. Jesus does. The fear of death is not the beginning of wisdom, but the fear of God. The wisdom of God is the end of the fear of death for all who believe and are baptized. In the resurrection, we will be raised. We will finally see with no paradox. In the very flesh you have now, you will see with your eyes that there never was a paradox for us after all. It was just our flesh clouding our vision. We will see Jesus as he is in his glory. And we will be in glory too. God preserve us until that day.
Alleluia, Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!