April 16, 2017
For those of you who haven’t been with us throughout the season of Lent, let me bring you up to speed. We’ve been reading a book together called Unbinding Your Heart. It’s about learning how to share our faith. Some of you are here today because someone handed you a green card and said, come worship with me on Easter. Welcome! We are really glad you accepted the invitation.
You need to know that, before the person who invited you here today put that card in your hand, a lot of us were praying for you, not even knowing your name. Our hearts are getting unbound, and I hope that today, your heart will be opened, too, so that you can let in a little bit of the love that is filling this church.
Last Sunday, I talked about expecting the unexpected when Jesus shows up. We considered the fact that Jesus is always with us, but we have to start expecting him in order to see him. And it was a Sunday full of unexpected surprises.
One of the behind the scenes surprises was that the palms did not get delivered as we had expected. I had gone to bed Saturday night expecting to improvise, inviting everyone to wave the palm of your hand. But Cleo, faithful servant that she is, went to HyVee early Sunday morning to pick up the palms, so we had leafy branches to wave after all.
Claire brought her whoopee cushion to the children’s message. That was unexpected. Several people spoke of ways they had seen Christ at work in the last few weeks. They spoke of hope being restored, of healing, of prayers being answered.
Over the past six weeks, this church has been doing a lot of praying, and some of the evidence is on our prayer wall in the Library Lounge. Each of those ribbons represents a prayer. Some of them are prayers of thanks for prayers that have been answered. If you would like to add your prayer to the wall today, there are ribbons and pens in a basket for you to use. Feel free to write your prayer and weave it into the prayers that are already on the wall.
The Spirit of God is on the move at First United Methodist Church, and I am really glad you are here today to experience Resurrection Sunday with us.
After the Sabbath as the first day of the week was dawning Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descending from heaven came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.
But the angel said to the 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.”
So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said “Greetings!” And they came to him took hold of his feet and worshiped 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 28:1-10
“This is my message for you,” the angel tells the two Marys at the very heart of this story. This is my message for you. And what a message it is! The one whom you seek, the one who was crucified, the one you came here expecting to still be dead – isn’t! He is alive! He has been raised, just as he said he would be.
Matthew’s version of the resurrection story sounds a lot like the other gospel writers’, but there are a few details he adds that are worth our attention.
First: the earthquakes. Not only does the earth shake at the crucifixion, it shakes at the resurrection, when the angel rolls back the stone that has sealed this tomb since Friday night. But that’s not all.
The guards shake, and Matthew uses the same exact word to describe their quaking with fear. It’s also the same word Matthew used to describe the tumult of the crowds last week, at the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. God has been busy shaking things up here.
When God shows up, the unexpected happens. For example, there is nothing ordinary about this angel. He looks like lightening. He looks like snow. It isn’t clear if the angel uses the earthquake to move the stone, or if the act of moving the stone causes the earthquake. But one thing is clear, as the angel sits nonchalantly on top of the stone that has been removed from the entrance to the tomb: this tomb is already empty. The women who came here to see the tomb were not expecting this. They were expecting to find a dead body here. They were expecting to find trouble when they saw the guards.
But when God shows up, the unexpected happens. The soldiers who were stationed to guard a dead man’s grave have passed out from fear. They look dead, and the one who was dead is now alive!
When God shows up and the unexpected happens, it can be a frightening experience. Even the women are afraid, and these are strong women. They followed Jesus to the cross and witnessed his horrific crucifixion, even when the other disciples ran away. Throughout the Bible, when God shows up, the first thing we hear is this: “Stop being afraid.”
The angel says four things to the 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. Stop being afraid – there is nothing to be afraid of when God keeps his promise.
- Come see the place where he lay. Come see for yourselves – this way, his story can become your story.
- Then go quickly and tell his disciples ‘He has been raised from the dead. Go tell others what you have seen for yourselves.
- and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ Look for Jesus, because he is already going ahead of you to Galilee.
Why Galilee? Because that is where you live. It’s your familiar territory. It’s the place you know best, but now that Jesus is alive, it will never be the same. Jesus goes ahead of you into your world, to make everything new. And when you look for Jesus there, in your everyday world, you will see him.
Fear and joy go hand in hand, as the women run to go tell the others what the angel has told them. And no sooner do they take off running, than they run right into Jesus himself. In other versions of this story, they mistake Jesus for a gardener, but not here in Matthew. They know exactly who he is the minute they see him. He greets them with a word that can be translated as “Hail!” or “Greetings!” but it means much more than that. It also means “Rejoice!” And they bow at his feet to worship him.
Remember the last thing the angel said to the women, before they took off running? “This is my message for you.” It is such an important message that Jesus tells them exactly the same thing:
Stop being afraid! Their joy is still mingled with fear. The guards were visibly shaking with fear, and I’m sure the women, filled with fear AND joy, were shaking, too. But Jesus rose from the dead to dispel all fear.
Go and tell … Go tell my brothers, sisters.
Come and see … Tell them to come see for themselves, just as you have seen for yourselves, so that from now on, they can tell this story, too.
I will meet you back home in Galilee.
“This is my message for you.” This time, the message is in first person. The angel talked about Jesus, but now, the women have met Jesus personally. They know him. The message is personal for us, too. It is directed at you and me. Jesus is ready to meet us, wherever our Galilee might be.
This is my message for you: The Lord of Life has risen from the dead, and you can know him. Not just know about him, but know him personally. Whatever is wrong in your life, whatever is broken in you, he can take it and make it new. He can give you life, because he has defeated death.
So stop being afraid.
Go to Galilee – go home to your everyday life, but know that it will never be the same once you have called Jesus your Lord and your God.
You will see him. He will be evident to you everywhere you look for him. Jesus is alive. The Kingdom of God has come near to you. You can reach out and touch it.
Once that reality has begun to change you, go tell someone! Who will you tell?
Jesus told the women to go tell the other disciples first. When you are new in faith, telling other believers helps you form your own belief in Jesus Christ. Those disciples told others, and soon, a church was forming among people who may have not known Jesus during the time of his ministry, but they came to know Jesus through the stories the disciples told. And they believed, and were baptized, and started telling their own stories of how Jesus had changed them and made them new.
So who will you tell? It depends on how well you know Jesus now. And if you don’t know him yet –really know him – there are some people here today who can introduce you to him. They would love to tell you what Jesus has done in their lives. They’ve been unbinding their hearts, getting ready to share their faith with someone who matters deeply to them. That might be you. If you were invited here today, the person who invited you has been praying for you. You can ask them anything. Ask them about their own experience of knowing Jesus.
And if you want to know more, come and join me next Sunday after worship, or next Wednesday evening during Family Night, and let’s talk about your own journey of faith. Together we can discover how Christ is inviting you into a life of faith.
This is my message for you. You can stop being afraid right now. Because Jesus, the Lord of Life, has risen from the dead. You can see him yourself, and get to know him personally, even as you head back to your own version of Galilee. And once you see him, once you know him, once he walks beside you every day, you will have a story to tell. It’s a simple story. It starts like this:
The Lord is risen!
He is risen indeed!