In the Gospel of Matthew there are actually two stories of Easter, sandwiched together. One story is the familiar story of the women coming to the tomb and being greeted by an angel. The women then dash off to tell others the astonishing news that Christ is not dead but has been raised back to life. That’s the story that we expect to hear on Easter morning.
But there’s another story, a story that Matthew knows that many people are telling. That’s the story that explains that the disciples came by night and stole the body of Jesus while the soldiers were asleep. That’s all. No resurrection. No mystery. Just duplicity and fraud. It is not the story the Gospel writer Matthew believes, nor is it the story that Matthew tells, but Matthew knows that some people are telling it.
The question is, which story will you tell?
Perhaps you were expecting to be asked a different question, such as which story do you believe? Which story do you find most credible? But that isn’t really Matthew’s chief concern. Now, to be sure, what you believe is important, but Matthew seems to be concerned first of all about which story you are going to tell. (Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead.” –Matthew 28:7).
To quote a friend and mentor of mine, “as long as the only question we are asked is, ‘What do you believe?’, we can postpone indefinitely. We can give the matter more thought before coming to a conclusion. We have all the time in the world to figure out what we believe until circumstances demand that we say something.”
A common misunderstanding is to think that talking about faith means getting our belief system all worked out in advance before we open our mouths. Before we tell the Easter story, we had better have the mechanics of resurrection worked out thoroughly in our heads. (Do any of us have the mechanics of resurrection thoroughly worked out?)
According to preacher and writer Tom Long in his book Testimony, we don’t just say things we already believe. To the contrary, saying things out loud is a part of how we come to believe, or come to a place of deeper trust. We talk our way toward belief, talk our way toward believing more fully, more clearly, more deeply. Putting things into words, into stories, is one of the ways we acquire knowledge, passion, and conviction.
For instance, let’s say that you try to comfort a frightened child with the words, “everything will be all right.” By what authority do you say that? After all, life is full or horrors, and every child will eventually have to face heartache and tragedy. So, if you say, “everything will be all right,” are you merely concocting a loving lie, or are you telling the greatest truth that you know?—that there is more to life than the terrors and fears that assail us here and now, more than suffering and pain, destruction and death that are the fate of all of us. These things do happen to people, but they are not the only realities, not even the most important ones. The everything will be all right story points beyond the immediate situation to a deeply held conviction about the nature of reality itself, “that finally and ultimately there is a trustworthiness about the universe and its God that allows for peaceful sleep at night and courageous living in the daytime.” (Long, Testimony, p. 84 )
The everything will be all right story insists that Jesus Christ is alive, vastly alive, and, in ways we can scarcely imagine and sometimes only barely believe, everything will be all right.
Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!
Please join us during Holy Week, Easter, and all the Sundays that follow as we tell stories about the Risen Jesus.
Grace and Peace,