Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this Easter Message on April 16, 2017. The Festival of the Resurrection. The gospel reading is Matthew 28:1-11.
Dear Fellow Believers in the Resurrected Christ,
About a week ago I ended my trolley tour and a couple remained on the trolley to talk. In the course of our conversation, she told me that she was Greek Orthodox. I told her about our practice of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and Easter Morning. She in turn told me about how Orthodox Christians observe Holy Week and Easter. She told me about lighting candles at the Saturday Night Easter Vigil that ties to something called “the Miracle of the Holy Fire in Jerusalem.” Have you ever heard of it?
It has occurred every year since the 4th century at the place in Jerusalem that we believe is the site of Jesus’ burial and resurrection. That you haven’t heard of this miracle probably has to do with church politics through the ages. This miracle happens as a part of the Orthodox Easter and not the Western Church Easter. This means that neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant leaders have been invited to participate.
In order to understand what is taking place, we must read today’s gospel account of what happened at the tomb on the first Easter morning. Matthew tells us that 2 women came to the tomb early in the morning to anoint the dead body of Jesus. These women are Mary Magdalene and the Mary. What they found was amazing. The large stone was rolled away from the entrance, and an angel was in the tomb, sent by God with a message for them. Here is an important detail: the angel’s “appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.” The importance is that this light appears in scripture whenever God has an important message to proclaim. Remember the great light that blinded Saul on the road to Damascus, and the great light that led the people of Israel through the wilderness, and the light of the burning bush that God spoke from to Moses?
Here's the message that the angel delivered from God to those 2 women: “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.”
Matthew further tells us that these two women raced out or the tomb to do as they were told and ran into the risen Jesus! What did they do then? They knelt and worshipped him.
What happens at the Miracle of the Holy Fire in Jerusalem that ties to Jesus’ resurrection? IN the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which the Orthodox call the Church of the Resurrection, people gather on Holy Saturday in this ancient church. Everything is in darkness and the Patriarch of Jerusalem enters the Resurrection Chapel with 2 candles. He kneels before the stone on which Christ was laid after he death and prays. And every year since the 4th century without fail, something happens. Light proceeds from the core of the stone – a blue, indefinable light that does some amazing things. Sometimes it kindles oil lamps, sometimes people who are standing in the church have their candles suddenly light. The 2 candles of the Patriarch are always instantaneously lighted. I read on the internet that indeed this took place this morning in Jerusalem and the flame that lit the candles of the Patriarch not only lit the candles of the worshippers in Jerusalem but was carried to a waiting airplane to be flow to Greece to light the candles of Orthodox believers.
The late Diodorus I, the Orthodox Archbishop and Patriarch of Jerusalem, said that about the Miracle of the Holy Fire: I believe it is not coincidence that the Holy Fire comes on exactly this spot. It is from here that he rose again in glory, and it is from there that he spread his light to the world. In Matthew 28:3, it says that when Christ rose from the dead, an angel came, dressed all in a frightful light. I believe that the striking light that enveloped the angel at the Lord’s resurrection is the same light that appears miraculously.”
What does the appearance and message of the angel on the first Easter and the Miracle of the Fire in Jerusalem have to do with us today here? The angel told the women to share with others what they had seen and heard, to proclaim the good news that Jesus is alive. In seeking to obey this they ran right into Jesus. I think this is a message in itself. When you and I proclaim the good news of resurrection, we too will run right into Jesus.
The good news is wonderfully pictured as the light of Jesus that spreads from the hearts and minds and tongues of believers to others. This day each of us is given the command by God to spread the light of Christ, to share the good news, and to live in the light of the knowledge that we are resurrection people.
He is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!