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Some thoughts about Easter after a day to reflect on the message of Jesus’ resurrection in the gospels:

Matthew 28 is almost, but not quite the shortest chapter in the whole gospel of Matthew.  I realize that the chapter divisions were not part of the original writings of Matthew and were added over a thousand years later.  But to see it put so starkly with chapter divisions is amazing.

The reason I think it is stark is because we can look and see all the verses Matthew devotes to telling the story of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, trial, execution and burial.  75 verses of Matthew 26 and 66 verses of Matthew 27 detail all of those horrible events.  Yet only 15 verses tell the most amazing part of the story, Jesus’ resurrection.

Matthew’s account forces our minds to focus on the simplicity of the truth.  It’s the Joe Friday version of the Resurrection.  Just the facts, please.

And what a set of facts they are!  Just before dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary get up to “go look at the tomb.”  On their way an earthquake happens.  The ground shakes just as it did in the afternoon on Friday when Jesus died.  This earthquake signals the completely opposite story, Jesus is alive.

The earthquake is brought by an angel rolling the stone away from Jesus’ tomb and then casually sitting on it.  Yet there are guards posted around this tomb.  They are supposed to be keeping the tomb from being opened and Jesus body disappearing.  But they cannot prevent the tomb from being opened by the angel.

In fact when the angel appears the guards get frightened out of their wits and fall over as if they are dead men.  They faint completely away.  Nothing has prepared these battle-hardened and courageous soldiers for what they are seeing.  The scene Matthew paints is that they are at their posts with their weapons ready only passed out in fear.

The women come upon this scene, see the guards down and the tomb opened and no doubt think someone has attacked the guards, opened the tomb and stolen Jesus’ body.  Then they hear the good words of the angel telling them to not be afraid, He is risen just as He said he would rise.  Hurry, go tell His disciples of all this news.

And they run off.  But to make sure they have the story right because things could be kind of confusing, after all how can a dead man live, they run into Jesus who says Hello, Greetings.  They fall at His feet and worship Him.  They are convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that He is alive!  They have met the Risen Lord!

Now the guards get back into the picture.  They come to, get up and some of them head for the city to report everything that has happened.  They know the facts of what happened and they report them to the chief priests and rulers of the people.  Those leaders do not like this set of facts and invent a story to explain why Jesus’ body is no longer in the grave.

That story requires people to believe some incredible things happened.  First, that the guards fell asleep.  Any Roman soldier falling asleep on their post or failing to carry out their assignment would be punished by death.  No Roman soldier is going to willingly spread the story that he slept on duty unless he wanted to die.

Second, the guards didn’t just fall asleep but they slept so hard that the disciples could move a two-ton rock without waking them up.  The rock moves without any noise being made to disturb the guards’ sleep.  No noise from the disciples, no crunching of the ground and pebbles as the rock moves.  Right.

Third, the guards are supposed to have slept right through the earthquake.  Everyone in the city had to have known about it.  You can’t hide an earthquake that is strong enough to move a huge rock.  The ground is going to shake; people are going to wake up.  But yet these guards were so sound asleep they missed the earth shaking?

Fourth, into all of this sleeping by the guards, the disciples just got lucky.  They found everyone asleep, they moved the stone away without a bit of noise and they got Jesus’ dead weight out of the tomb without making any noise to wake up the guards.  At night, in the pitch darkness no less as the moon begins to set behind

Jerusalem.  What an amazing coincidence that the disciples just happened to be there at the right time to get Jesus’ body out of the grave.  How lucky can you get?Matthew is just giving us the facts.  Facts that show us the truth that Jesus is alive.  He was seen by the women running back into the city.  The guards saw the angel move the stone and open the tomb as casually as if he had been rearranging his living room furniture.  The story is made up by the rulers that has no grounding in reality but is incredibly hopeful in its deception.  If the small lie doesn’t work, go for the big one, right?

It is just the facts.  We can believe that Jesus rose from dead.  The facts are there from those who were present at the time to report the news.  Even those who didn’t like the news understood the story and needed to find a way to spin it to their liking and hopefully keep everyone on the same page.

Believe it!  He Is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed!

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He is Risen indeed!

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ALMIGHTY God, You Who through Your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ have overcome death, and opened to us the gate of everlasting life; we humbly pray that, through Your grace going before us, good desires will enter into our minds, and, by Your continual help, we shall be enabled to bring them to their fulfillment; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and for ever.  Amen.

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GRANT, O Lord, that we who have been baptized into the death of Your blessed Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, may continually put to death our evil desires and be buried with Him; so that we may pass through the grave, the gate of death, to our joyful resurrection through His merits Who died, was buried, and rose again for us, Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree,

that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.

By His wounds you have been healed.

1 Peter 2:24

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MERCIFUL God,  You Who have made all peoples, and neither hate nothing that You have made nor desire the death of sinners, but rather desire that they should be converted and live; have mercy upon all who do not know You as You are revealed in the Gospel of Your Son. Take from them all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt for Your Word and bring them home to Your fold, blessed Lord, so that they may all become one flock under one shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever.  Amen.

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As they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said,
“Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me, one who is eating with Me.”

Mark 14:18

So after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out.
And it was night.

John 13:30

And as they were eating, He took bread,
and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them and said,
“Take, this is My body.”
And He took a cup,
and when He had given thanks He gave it to them,
and they all drank of it.
And He said to them,
“This is my blood of the covenant,
which is poured out for many.
Truly, I say to you,
I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine
until that day when I drink it new
in the kingdom of God.

Mark 14:22-25

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