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“Resurrection Light” on Matthew 28 by Joe Ellis — March 31, 2024

Remember the Christmas Eve Service? In your hand, you are holding one of the candles that play such an integral role in our Christmas Eve services.   The candles are a palpable declaration of the heart of Christmas.   Their light proclaims the Gospel message: 


“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.   He was with God in the beginning.   Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.    In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.   The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  ” (John 1:1-5)


In the quiet darkness of a winter’s night, we turned the lights off — then beginning with One candle, we shared the light throughout the congregation, the light moved from candle to candle until the whole sanctuary was aglow.   


We sang, together: 


Silent Night! Holy Night!

Son of God, loves pure light

Radiant beams from Thy holy face

With the dawn of redeeming grace,

Jesus, Lord, at Thy Birth!

Jesus, Lord, at Thy Birth!


The reverse imagery emerges on Good Friday.   On Friday, as we retold the Passion of Christ, as we remembered His agony on the cross, we slowly extinguished candles.   So powerful was this imagery that explaining why we were extinguishing the candles would have been stating the obvious.   We know what happened.   


As you know, every metaphor breaks down if you push it far enough.   On Christmas Eve, after we light our candles, we eventually need to blow those candle’s out.   And on Good Friday, when we extinguish the candles that represent Christ’s light — part of us knows it's okay.   It is in the nature of candles to be extinguished.   Candles are meant to be blown out and later relit.  


If we wanted to push this imagery a bit deeper, on Good Friday we would have broken the candle in half.   We would have removed the candle's wick.   Then we would see in the place of what was a candle a mere broken mound of wax.   The point would be inescapable.   No longer a candle.   It could not be relit — the candle would be ruined.  


That was what the disciples would have carried during those first days after the crucifixion.   There was no expectation that the Christ candle would simply be lit again — Christ’s body and soul were ruined.   He can no longer be what He was.   You hear this in the words of two of Jesus’ disciples in their conversation as they walk along the road to Emmaus in Luke 24.   For the moment, Jesus conceals himself from them and asks: 


 “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”  The two disciples stood still, their faces downcast.” (v.17)


They’ve seen the crumpled bloody pulp that was Jesus’ body.   They know he’s not coming back.   The two disciples eventually confess that they had been talking about Jesus of Nazareth (in Luke 24:19-21), 


“He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.   The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”   


If there were no Easter morning, these would be the only conversations had by those who had followed Jesus: “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”   In other words, how could we have been so wrong? Did God fail us? 


In this alternate universe, where there has been no resurrection, the light of Jesus did not get relit.   His light wasn’t simply blown out for a couple days simply to be relit again.   He was utterly, totally broken.   His light did not come back.   Look at the candle you hold in your hand.   In this alternate universe of no resurrection, your candle could not be lit with the light of Christ.   It is dead.   He was utterly broken by Rome, stripped of all power and light.   No one is coming to light your candle.     


 BUT Praise be to God!   We have an altogether different story:


“After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.   

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.   His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.   The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.   (Matthew 28:1-4)


This event forever changed the course of the world.   Something has happened that mercifully transforms our story into a beautiful happening.   In the darkness of that tomb, the Father comes to His Son.   The Father takes the broken, pulped flesh of His Son, and remakes Him whole.   The Father breathes His Spirit back into Christ.   He reignites the light of Christ.   In the tomb — the place of the deepest, thickest, most impenetrable darkness — Christ’s light breaks through ablaze.   


So the women are making their way to the tomb, wanting to anoint that broken body — to impart some scrap of dignity to their dead.   But “Who will roll away the stone”, one of them asks. (Mark 16:3)  Imagine these women with their own candles, they had once caught something of Christ’s light, but now they have no expectation ever to encounter his light again.   They’ve come to anoint his body.   But instead, they find an angel: 


The angel said to the women, “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.   Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee.   There you will see him.  ’ Now I have told you.  ” 

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.   Suddenly Jesus met them.   “Greetings,” he said.   They came to him, clasped his feet and worshipped him.   Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid.   Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me. ” (Matthew 28:5-7)


The women are forever changed.   Nothing will ever be the same.   The resurrected Christ encounters them.   For these women, there is no place for conversations wondering how Christ could have been so thoroughly broken and extinguished.   They cannot join those other disciples’ dejected conversation: “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel”.   Instead, they run with an intoxicating mix of fear and joy, they run to tell the disciples, “We have seen Jesus!  He’s alive!”  When the disciples heard the women, they may have tried to be calm, or maybe they were irritated, or maybe they hoped, or maybe they simply dismissed these women as hysterical.   Their minds perhaps struggled to find the usual explanations when people’s behaviour so profoundly deviates from reality.   Maybe they reached for the supernatural option: “Perhaps you saw his ghost.”   Perhaps they reached for the compassionate option: “You need to rest, your grief has consumed you.”  Perhaps they reached for the blunt option: “You silly women, he is dead.”  But the light these women received would not so easily be extinguished.   “This is not grief.   This is not silliness.   He was not a ghost.   He has risen, body and soul, from the dead.   HE IS ALIVE!”  But these women cannot force the others to believe, they can only point the way toward an encounter.   “Go to Galilee, on the mountain, there you will see Him.   So, the disciples go.   


How do you imagine their journey as they made their way to that mountain in Galilee?  I picture an almost oppressive weight of unknown cloaking them as each silently attends to their own thoughts, doubts, wonderment, fears and hopes.   But the women light the way.   

Matthew 28:16-17 tells us what happens on that mountain:

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.   When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.  


They encountered the Risen Christ.   "Some worshipped, but some doubted."   So much mystery in that verse.   So much honesty.   How the light from such a direct encounter could spread to some, but not to all of them is a great mystery.   Yet the light of Christ does spread, it moves from disciple to disciple as they worship.  

 

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.   Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.   And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) 


From that mountain, His light will spread throughout the World.   All authority in heaven, and on earth.   His Kingdom will know no end.  As we’re told in the seventh chapter in the Book of Daniel:

“He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshipped him.   His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” 


How will this light spread? How will this reality come to be? From person to person.   The women encounter Jesus.   They return to their friends, they point them toward Jesus.   The disciples follow their direction.   They encounter Jesus themselves.   And so it goes, the light of Christ ignites, moving from person to person.  


And the light will continue to spread as each disciple responds to the call of Christ: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”   And so Christ's light spreads as baptism and teaching are alight with His presence.   So we see the story unfold.   


One of Jesus’ disciples, Philip, is moved to approach a man in a chariot, an Ethiopian, a eunuch.   Christ’s light encounters this Ethiopian, he is baptized and Christ’s light moves with this man as He returns to Ethiopia. 

 

On his way to Damascus, Paul encounters the risen Jesus — Paul is baptized into Jesus, Paul learns the way of Jesus.   And so with Paul, the light moves into Philippi, and Corinth, and Rome and on.   


The story continues of the resurrection light of Christ moving across time and space.   Among other things, the History of the church is one long account of Christ’s light moving from person to person.   Stories of women and men, aflame with Christ, pointing the way to encounter.   Mark goes to Egypt with Christ’s light.   Patrick journeys to Ireland.   Francis Xavier carries Christ’s light within and on into Japan.   And so the light of Christ spreads through women and men to China, to southernmost Africa, to Northern Europe, across the Atlantic into the Americas.   Women and men encountered Christ and His light, baptized, taught the way of Christ, and so His light moved into the lives of others.   


And Christ, His light, has sought you, has searched for you.   Christ, His light moves toward You, steadily across time, across history, across the world in search of your heart.   The Living Christ is moving into you.   The Living Christ desires to set your heart aflame.   And so He drew near You.   First through one of His people, someone you know very dearly brought His light near.   Who was it?  Who brought Christ’s light so near to You?  Christ sent someone into your life to show you the Way of Christ; to undergo His baptism; to live into His way, to experience His love; to receive His forgiveness; to receive His compassion; to exhibit His fruits; to receive His power; to suffer in Him.   And so you, in a way that you were not perhaps even aware, were touched with the light of Christ — and so shall nevermore be the same.

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