Easter sermon: How Do We Go?

Easter 2017

Texts used – Jeremiah 31:1-6 and Matthew 28:1-10

  • “Get ready! We’re going up to Zion to the LORD our God!” … “Don’t be afraid!” … “With great fear and excitement, they hurried away from the tomb.” Hallelujah! Today we celebrate Easter! After 40 days in the wilderness of Lent – 40 days of self-examination and repentance, 40 days of serious soul-searching and working on our relationships with each other and with God, 40 days of drawing nearer and nearer to the cross and the crucifixion – we have come to find the tomb empty, the graveclothes cast aside, and the angel proclaiming the good news: “He isn’t here, because he’s been raised from the dead, just as he said. … He’s been raised from the dead. He’s going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.”[1] Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
    • Like Mary Magdalene and the “other Mary,” like the disciples, like Christian throughout the centuries, we are called to carry this good news in our hearts and on our lips as we leave this place today – as we head out into the world. But how are we supposed to do that? How are we supposed to share the good news with a world that feels increasingly secular, increasingly over-scheduled, and increasingly disinterested? How are we to share the good news of Christ’s resurrection and what that means with a world that feels increasingly intimidating when it comes to sharing something as personal, something as potentially-polarizing, something as touchy as our faith?
      • Come up with all sorts of reasons we can’t/don’t
        • It’s not popular to talk about faith.
        • It’s not comfortable to talk about faith.
        • If somebody asks me questions, I don’t feel like I know enough or am prepared enough to answer them.
        • I don’t want to be ridiculed for my faith.
        • I don’t want to offend someone else with my faith.
        • My faith is too personal to talk about.
        • Faith is just too hard to talk about.
  • But what did our Scripture readings say this morning? “Get ready! Don’t be afraid! With great fear and excitement, they hurried away from the tomb!” Friends, these are words of action. These are words of encouragement. These are words meant to light a fire – a Holy Spirit, Divine Disturber, God-at-work-in-the-world sort of fire – beneath us and get us out into the world. It’s not about changing the story itself – making the story of God easier or less radical. It’s a radical story of radical love – love so strong, so sure, so unconditional that it suffered on the cross, was crucified, died, was buried, and then rose again from the grave! The story we tell is the whole point. It’s about changing our role in that story – from passive observer to active participant. It’s about changing how we go.
      • No more timidity
      • No more fear
      • No more discomfort
      • Go ready
      • Go confident
      • Go with eager and excited
  • Now, I know not all of you are probably up on the PBS Kids’ shows scene these days. Lucky for you, thanks to two little boys, I am.
    • PBS has always had great and enriching kids’ programming[2]
      • Classics: Sesame Street and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood
      • 90’s staples: Ghostwriter and Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?
      • Current hits: Wild Kratts (learning about animals), Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood (animated Mr. Roger’s spin-off), and, one of the boys’ current favorites, Super Why!
    • Let me tell you a little bit about Super Why. It’s an animated show featuring 4 main characters who solve their day-to-day problems by reading classic stories and applying the morals from those stories to their lives.
      • E.g. – story of Goldilocks and the three bears teaches them to clean up the messes they leave behind
      • Focus of the show: teaching kids about reading → reaches all stages of learning to read
        • Alphabet
        • Spelling/letter sounds
        • Rhyming words
        • Reading
      • Toward the end of every episode, the Super Readers hit a snag in the story – something negative that they need to change in order to solve the problem, something that’s part of the original story but, with one simple word change, can unlock the whole solution.
        • E.g. – Goldilocks → change “Goldilocks sleeps in the three bears’ house” to “Goldilocks jumps in the three bears’ house” so they can wake Goldilocks up and talk to her about cleaning up the mess she’s made
        • Friends, that is what we need to do – zap the lethargy, the reticence, the fear, the insecurity, whatever’s holding us back from declaring this incredible news of Christ’s resurrection out of our portion of the story – to allow ourselves to be changed. Today, as we join the women and the dumbfounded centurion guards and the heralding angel at the mouth of the empty tomb, we need to let that good news zap out whatever is keeping us from proclaiming our faith and replace it with boldness and confidence in the glory and grace of Christ’s resurrection. We need to figure out how to leave the tomb with our stories changed.
  • 1st SET OF CHARACTERS AT THE TOMB: Roman centurions – those left to guard to tomb, to ensure that Jesus’ followers wouldn’t steal his body and stage a resurrection
    • Men posted outside the sealed tomb at the urging of the Pharisees, ordered there by Pilate, governor of Judea
    • Little did the Pharisees know that it wasn’t staging a resurrection that they needed to worry about. They needed to be a little bit more concerned with the real thing.
    • Scripture: After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the tomb. Look, there was a great earthquake, for an angel from the Lord came down from heaven. Coming to the stone, he rolled it away and sat on it. Now his face was like lightning and his clothes as white as snow. The guards were so terrified of him that they shook with fear and became like dead men.[3] → “The guards were so terrified of him that they shook with fear and became like dead men.” Think about it. These men – these guards – literally found themselves petrified with fear. They had been guarding the tomb for three whole days, maintaining the status quo, possibly expecting some sort of threat or challenge from outside the tomb but certainly not expecting any such thing from the dead body sealed up behind the giant stone!
      • Sometimes the stance that we take when it comes to faith
        • So set in our preconceived notions
        • So confident in the “expected/acceptable” outcome
        • So cemented in our ways
        • So sure that “the way things are” is the way they always have to be
        • So closed to the idea of anything out of the ordinary
        • We let our presuppositions guide our belief instead of letting our belief open our eyes to the potential all around us. We let our assumptions close our hearts and minds to new paths and new possibilities. We let our fear freeze us in place, incapacitating both our words and our actions and rendering us only a spectator in our own journeys of faith.
        • Forget that our God is a God who can move mountains … a God who speaks in fire and wind and silence and even a betrayer’s kiss … a God of second and third and seven-times-seventy-seventh chances … a God who, simply by existing, blows all our expectations and presuppositions out of the water … a God who, after three days, can rise from the grave to bring us the gift of grace
    • And yet, we hear the calls from our Scripture readings this morning: “Get ready! We’re going up to Zion to the LORD our God!” … “Don’t be afraid!” … “With great fear and excitement, they hurried away from the tomb.”
  • 2nd SET OF CHARACTERS AT THE TOMB: the women – “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary”
    • Unlike the rest of the disciples who had fled upon Jesus’ arrest and stayed away throughout his trial, sentencing, and crucifixion, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there with Jesus through it all. They wept at the foot of his cross. They watched his body taken down. They prepared him for burial. And they watched that stone seal his tomb – heard and felt the finality of the crash as it was rolled into place, forever separating them from their beloved teacher and friend … or so they thought.
    • Had come to the tomb that morning to mourn
    • Certainly never expected what they found
      • Startling encounter #1 angel – text: The angel said to the women, “Don’t be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He isn’t here, because he’s been raised from the dead, just as he said. Come, see the place where they laid him. Now hurry, go and tell his disciples, ‘He’s been raised from the dead. He’s going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.’ I’ve given the message to you.” With great fear and excitement, they hurried away from the tomb and ran to tell his disciples.[4] → “With great fear and excitement, they hurried away from the tomb and ran to tell his disciples.” That part is really important because it acknowledges that the women still had their fear. They were still uncertain. They were still anxious. They surely still had a million questions and yet only one answer … one that didn’t even make sense: Christ is risen! They still had their fear, but unlike the petrified Roman centurions, that wasn’t all they had. They also had excitement – they had joy and eagerness and enthusiasm. They had good news to share! And for the first time in three wretched, fear-filled, tear-soaked days, they had hope. A wild hope. A crazy hope. A completely unexplainable yet wholly essential hope: Christ is risen!
      • Startling encounter #2 – text: With great fear and excitement, they hurried away from the tomb and ran to tell his disciples. But Jesus met them and greeted them. They came and grabbed his feet and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Go and tell my brothers that I am going into Galilee. They will see me there.”[5] → Suddenly, they are no longer going just on the word of some random angel sitting on a tombstone. Not only have they heard the good news that Christ is risen, but they had seen him, touched him, spoken to him, worshipped him. And so they go with confidence. They go with assurance. They go with their hearts overflowing with joy and peace. They go with their experience of the risen Lord.
        • Ways that we experience the risen Christ in our lives = just as pivotal, just as inspirational, just as encouraging in our journeys of faith → And it’s just as important that we share those encounters with others so that they can hear the good news as it continues to bring joy and unconditional love and hope to a weary and frightened and broken world.
      • Don’t feel like you have the words? Let Scripture guide you – word of God through prophet Jeremiah from this morning: I have loved you with a love that lasts forever. And so with unfailing love, I have drawn you to myself. Again, I will build you up, and you will be rebuilt. … Again, you will play your tambourines and dance with joy. … “Get ready! We’re going up to Zion to the LORD our God!”[6] → Friends, this is the good news. Throughout the centuries, it is news that has not changed. God loves you with an unfailing love – a love that could not be quashed by death or tombs or stones. And through that love that bridged even the most unknowable gap – the gap from death into life – God has drawn you to Godself, not because you deserve it. Not because you’ve earned it. Not because you’ve said the right thing or because you know the code word and the secret handshake. But simply because God loves you too much to let you go.
        • Loves you enough to build and rebuild you on the days you’re feeling broken down
        • Loves you enough to teach you to dance again in joy when you have forgotten the steps
        • Loves you enough to cover you in grace just because
        • Friends, this is the good news of the gospel yesterday, today, and every day. So how will we go out to share that good news? Hallelujah! Amen.

[1] Mt 28:6, 7.

[2] http://www.pbskids.org.

[3] Mt 28:1-4.

[4] Mt 28:5-8.

[5] Mt 28:8-10.

[6] Jer 31:3-6.

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