“Holding On for Dear Life”

Matthew 28:1-10 (MSG)
South Presbyterian Church’s Fellowship of Faith – April 16, 2017
Easter Sunday
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift

 Matthew 28:1-10The Message (MSG)

Risen from the Dead

28 1-4 After the Sabbath, as the first light of the new week dawned, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to keep vigil at the tomb. Suddenly the earth reeled and rocked under their feet as God’s angel came down from heaven, came right up to where they were standing. He rolled back the stone and then sat on it. Shafts of lightning blazed from him. His garments shimmered snow-white. The guards at the tomb were scared to death. They were so frightened, they couldn’t move.

5-6 The angel spoke to the women: “There is nothing to fear here. I know you’re looking for Jesus, the One they nailed to the cross. He is not here. He was raised, just as he said. Come and look at the place where he was placed.

“Now, get on your way quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He is risen from the dead. He is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.’ That’s the message.”

8-10 The women, deep in wonder and full of joy, lost no time in leaving the tomb. They ran to tell the disciples. Then Jesus met them, stopping them in their tracks. “Good morning!” he said. They fell to their knees, embraced his feet, and worshiped him. Jesus said, “You’re holding on to me for dear life! Don’t be frightened like that. Go tell my brothers that they are to go to Galilee, and that I’ll meet them there.”

So many memories on Easter. Aren’t there?

Memories of when we were little and there were Easter egg hunts and waking up to find baskets of candy. Memories of when the message about Jesus finally took hold.

Maybe some of those memories were shaped by movies like The Greatest Story Ever Told, or Barabbas, or The Robe  and Ben Hur.

Easter is such an enigma … it keeps changing for us. As WE mature, it’s MEANING matures.

And this year we read Matthew’s account of that day.

It’s interesting, isn’t it? Each of the Gospels tells the story. As well they SHOULD because it is this singular event that DEFINES Christianity. There were other teachers. There were other healers. But for CHRISTIANS … it’s the RESURRECTION that defines who we are. We are the people of the resurrection – we believe in new life – we believe that love can overcome ANYTHING. We see today’s event and we know there is always room for HOPE. The despair of the crucifixion is supplanted by the joy of NEW LIFE!  NEW possibilities.

For the early church, THIS was the definitive event. Not Christmas. THOSE parts of the Gospels came much later. The first thing was that Jesus ROSE from the dead.

In MARK’s Gospel – which was the first one written – there are really TWO endings. The earlier one just had the women arriving at the tomb and the stone was rolled away. There was no Jesus sighting at all.

In Matthew, Luke, and John, though  … there were interactions with him.

And so today’s account is one of those.

Matthew’s account. First there was  an ANGEL talking with the women and the guards were scared to death. It’s the ANGEL, not Jesus, who tells them to go tell the Disciples that he’ll meet up with them in Galilee.

Now let’s look closely for a minute at what Matthew says about this and see what the message for this morning US might be. 8-10 The women, deep in wonder and full of joy, lost no time in leaving the tomb.

Deep in wonder and full of joy. That feels about right. Doesn’t it? If WE were in their sandals, I think we would be wondering about what was happening AND we would be full of joy at the thought of our Master, our friend, our Rabbi being alive.  And I have to say that if I were those women, I, too, would lose no time in leaving the tomb as Matthew wrote.

I mean … it’s a little creepy … MORE than a little strange. I’d want to get out of there, too.  PARTLY because I wanted to TELL people, but PARTLY because I’d be in a little SHOCK, I think. Seeing an ANGEL??? The GUARDS are stunned???? Oh yeah … get me OUTA there!

So they ran to tell the disciples. And THEN … who do they SEE?  Jesus!  It says, Then Jesus met them, stopping them in their tracks. Ya think?  You’ve watched this man you love be tortured to death, you go to prepare his body for burial and sit vigil there, and you find that he’s MISSING. You see an ANGEL so you’re running back to your friends – extended FAMILY, really – and you meet up with the very guy who was killed. That’d pretty much stop ME in my tracks, too.

“Good morning!” he said. They fell to their knees, embraced his feet, and worshiped him. Who. Among. Us. WOULDN’T?????  Right? Who WOULDN’T do that?

They were RELIEVED. They were THANKFUL. They were STUNNED. Probably, they were in AWE and feeling that they were in the presence of something HOLY … of GOD, maybe.  …   I think *I* would!

But then he says, “You’re holding on to me for dear life! Don’t be frightened like that. Are you KIDDING me? Why WOULDN’T they be holding on for dear life? Isn’t that what YOU’D do? Sure it is.

But he says, Don’t be frightened like that.

I just find that such an interesting thing for him to say. And that’s why I want to focus on that for us today.

Jesus tells us, “Don’t be frightened like that.” Don’t be paralyzed by your fear.

And then he sends them off with, Go tell my brothers that they are to go to Galilee, and that I’ll meet them there.”

The “holding on for dear life” part is ok. I mean, he DOESN’T say, “Don’t hold on to me.” It’s the “don’t be frightened like that”-part that needs to be changed.  In fact, Paul uses the same phrase in Romans 12 when he says, “Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good” (Rom 12:9 MSG).

And I think that the message for us from Matthew today is that it’s GOOD to hold on for dear life, but NOT out of FEAR! We don’t HAVE to be afraid because we ARE holding on to Jesus for dear life.

When we hold on to Jesus for dear life … we have nothing to be afraid of.

I have to smile because one of my friends is always quick to say (or write), “What do I have to be afraid of, or worried about? I have Jesus. That’s all I need.”

That’s what he was reminding Mary Magdalene and the other Mary about. He says, “Good Morning … you’re holding on to me for dear life. Don’t be frightened like that … go tell the others I’ll meet up with them.”

If ANYTHING, he’s saying it’s just another day in the new normal. Yep, I’m here. It’s ok. Let’s get back to work.

We have ALL had those times when we have had to catch up to what “the new normal” is. Right? Someone dies … we’ll never feel the same … ah, but there’s a NEW normal that develops.

We lose our job … we lose our sense of purpose or identity … and then, well, there’s a NEW normal that develops.

A new child is born, or our kids get married … we lose the feeling of what WAS … but before we know it, a NEW normal develops.

 

Jesus’ Resurrection became the new NORMAL. It just IS. That’s why even when we commemorate Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, we can never forget that we are a POST-Resurrection people because we LIVE in what Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, and all of the Disciples would have to adjust to as the new NORMAL. For US it’s just the normal … it’s not NEW.

 

But how do we DO that?

How do we move from what WAS into what CAN BE?

Think about it a minute. We all have to do that all the TIME … last night I was called by a friend to come to the hospital because their father was dying and they wanted me to be there when they took him off life support. We helped him cross over and in talking with the family, I learned that they have no faith community, nor do they really have any BELIEF system, I think. But they KNEW they wanted someone there who could PRAY with them. Someone who could help them get THROUGH that awful time.

And that person was JESUS. They are now going to be creating a new normal as they make their way without their husband / father / grandfather. And whether they know it or not, they got through last night because they held on for dear LIFE to what they felt deep INSIDE they needed to do.

And how great that they recognized that. And how honored *I* am that they trusted me to LEAD them through that.

How do we get through the hard times and start to create the new normal? By holding on for dear life to Jesus … and KNOWING that he’s there to hold on to is the first step.

Sending our kids off to college, or having our grandchildren move to Florida … finally giving up our cars and knowing we can’t drive anymore, or moving in to a senior living community … taking a new job, or opening our heart up to trust someone again (no matter WHAT age you are) … those are all times when we define a new normal … and those are all times when it’s “holding on to Jesus for dear life” that makes the difference.

Because when we hold on to him, we ARE holding on to life … to DEAR life … to life that is transformative and TRANSFORMED.

Those 2 women … do you think they expected to see him on the road? NO!!! They thought he was dead.

So we have to be willing to see him where we don’t EXPECT to see him.

And we must not be FRIGHTENED because he’s right here WITH us.

 

Y’know, at the beginning of these remarks today, I talked about how the meaning and memories of Easter CHANGE for us as we get older. We see things in a different way – through different EYES, if you will, depending on our life experiences.

Well the same is true for us THIS year.

We can CHOOSE to look at life as we always have … or we can be OPEN to experiencing the Risen Christ in new ways. Like Mary Magdalene and the other Mary who approached the tomb in ONE frame of mind – heavy-hearted, maybe … focused on the job they had to do to sit vigil and, by some accounts, to prepare him for burial … like THEM, I think that we often approach Jesus and this whole idea of Resurrection in one frame of mind. It has to fit one DEFINITION. We’re looking for one THING.

And what Matthew reminds us today is that we need to be open to SURPRISES … we need to be willing to define a NEW normal in our beliefs and understanding … and we need to NOT be afraid … for he is with us ALWAYS and ALL WAYS.

THAT’s what we should be holding on to for dear life.  His love. His promises. The Kingdom of God.

Happy Easter, Everybody … Christ is Risen. He is risen, indeed! And he will meet us on the road when we least expect it. Hold onto him for dear life.a   Amen.

 

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