Easter Sermon April 12, 2020
Scripture: Matthew 28: 1-12 “ The Risen Christ on the Go.”
One Sunday late in Lent a Sunday School teacher decided to ask her class what they knew about Easter. The first little fellow suggested, “ Easter is when all the family comes to the house and we eat a big turkey and watch football,” The teacher suggest that perhaps he was thinking of Thanksgiving. Next a little girl answered, “ Easter is the day when you come down stairs in the morning and you see all the beautiful presents under the tree,” A this point the teacher is really feeling discouraged. After explaining that the girl was probably thinking about Christmas, she called on a lad with his hand tentatively raised in the air. Her spirits perked up as the boy said “ Easter is the time when Jesus was crucified and buried.” She felt she had gotten through to at least one child until he added, “ And then He comes out of the grave and if he sees his shadow we have six more weeks of winter.” ( p. 65 An Encyclopedia of Humor ed. Lowell D. Streiker)
Not too long ago we had a family event called , “ Easter beyond the Bunny” We had a good time doing a puppet show, playing outside with a parachute and doing an egg hunt in the sanctuary and retelling the whole story with the contents of the eggs. Did the children get it, did they understand what Easter was all about? Actually do you and I? We know the story or stories. We may even have a couple of the songs almost by heart. But each year we learn anew the meaning of those stories and songs.
I invite us today to delve in to one of the stories of Easter told by the writer of Matthew.
In Matthew’s gospel the tomb of Jesus is opened with great fanfare- an earthquake, an amazing angel with an appearance like lightning, and terrified guards. Whew. But the women who had come to the tomb were unfazed. The angel told them not to fear. Then they received the message which would change their lives. The resurrection message to these woman was that the risen Jesus was going before them to Galilee. It was there that the disciples would see him.
It makes me wonder, why have them return to Galilee? It was not so easy a journey as today. It would take time and resources. Couldn’t they like the women who went to the tomb have an experience of the Risen Christ’s presence there is Jerusalem where all the tragic events had occurred? Surely it makes sense like in Luke that the new mission of the disciples as apostles, witnesses to the resurrection would start in the religious center. Why do backwards to Galilee?
Of course Galilee was home. Most of the disciples are from the province. This is where they had their pre Jesus lives and livelihoods. There they would have places to stay and an environment they knew. Here was where Jesus had been received as a wonderful healer and teacher. Galilee was home.
But also, Galilee was not the center. Galilee was on the margins, at the intersection of various groups in the Empire. It was on the edge, far from the Jewish religious and cultural center. Jesus had chosen to start and do most of him ministry in this back water land. For Matthew, returning there symbolizes Jesus continued concern and connection with the more vulnerable and poorer parts of the world. His ministry had been with everyday people in Galilee. To there, he tells the disciples to return. There they will see him.
Of course, the women who went to the tomb on that early morning had a different experience. They had shown their faithfulness already by going to the tomb, even when it was still dangerous to do so. They became the first apostles or witnesses to the resurrection. But then as they went to share the news, Jesus himself appeared to them. They had received the news of his resurrection, now they experienced the personal revelation of his aliveness and they received their mission directly from him. “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee and there they will see me.” They received not only the word of mission- “go and tell” but also of grace, “ my brothers.”
The Risen Christ to whom the women are witnesses is on the move in two ways.
1. He’s going to Galilee to a place on the margins to give a great commission, to start a new movement of God through the disciples.
The truth is that our calling from the risen Christ can start at home. We may wander far. We may find ourselves tempted to stay in Jerusalem, at the center of power and influence. Why go back to little, powerless Galilee? I can imagine those women coming back to the group and saying- Ok fellas, it’s time to pack up and go home.
-But shouldn’t we stick around here, surely Jesus will appear near his tomb, or at the temple.
-No guys, Jesus told us that he was going before us to Galilee. He wants to meet you back home in Galilee.
I can imagine the thoughts of the disciples. How can we go back? Everyone had such high expectations and it all came to naught with him dying on a terrible cross? We are failures, all of us. How can we go back and face everyone. But the women are firm. Jesus said that when you go back home, you will see him, you will discover for yourselves the reality and power of Jesus resurrection! We saw him and he told us.
What does this mean for our lives and mission? How are we willing to meet Christ Jesus in the marginal places of our world, our society, our lives? This means a certain vulnerability. Like the disciples, we may need to pack up and move on, or even to go home in a renewed way.
I think of my friend Elisues or Chuckwuka. I first met him as a Nigerian student at OSU when I was in High school. I remember that although he spoke English it was with such a thick Nigerian accent, I couldn’t understand him. Our family took him in a part of our family so he came to our place for all the holidays. He was a devout Christian, Catholic I believe and part of the Ibo tribe. His tribe had experienced oppression and discrimination in Nigeria. Eliseus lived in the US going to college and graduate school for ten years. But after all that time, he decided not to look for work and make more money in the US but instead married a Nigerian woman in a traditional way and went back to his home. It was not an easy thing to do. Yet, he sensed the call of his Christ to go home with new skills that he hoped could help his people.
I wonder, what is the Galilee of my life? What is the vulnerable yet familiar place where the Christ wants to meet me? When I think about Galilee as home, I realize that most of us have vulnerability around our homes. All this staying at home with the pandemic has been tough on some, especially if home is a dangerous or uncomfortable place or our close relationships are broken. There has been a rise in domestic violence in this time. For some home is tough because there is no stable place to live and be safe. Some organizations like Carry it Forward and St Vincent do Paul are working to provide some respite spaces for such folks. Could it be that part of our Galilee is recognizing Christ in the marginal places and people of our community? It makes me wonder? How am I open to the Risen Christ’s presence in my home and family and neighborhood? Who is isolated and in need of reassurance, food, human caring? Galilee is the place we start. The place we receive the Risen Christ into our lives and hear his call and mission.
2. For Jesus the Risen Christ isn’t just heading to a geographical place. He’s also going into their hearts- transforming them into forgiven, gracefilled apostles
For the women, the encounter with the Risen Christ changed their lives. They were no longer looking for a dead body but received a new vocation- to be apostles, witnesses to the good news of Jesus resurrection but also to new leadership roles. They were entrusted with the word about the next steps for the group of disciples. These were steps that maybe some of the male disciples might question and some had troubles believing. But the empowerment of seeing the Risen Christ led the women to take on their new roles. . They were witnesses not just to the power of the resurrection but also God’s forgiveness and restoration of relationships. The women affirmed that the disciples are no longer deserters and deniers but “ my brothers.”
Even so, the disciples will have to wait for their personal resurrection revelation. They will have the journey to Galilee to contemplate what the women had told them, to wonder and to confess; to deal with the fact that they had fled and left Jesus defenseless and alone. They had not lived up to their expectations of themselves. Now they were hearing from the women the incredible news that Jesus had risen, had called them brothers and wanted to meet them in Galilee. They had another opportunity for faith and faithfulness. This word to them was grace.
So this journey is not just about going to Galilee, but the power of the Risen Christ to change our hearts, setting us free from the sins, guilt and shame that burdens and drags us down. The disciples are offered the opportunity of new life themselves as they move toward their newly alive Lord. It was said in the simple words of the women, “Tell my Brothers!” Although they had deserted him, Jesus still called them his brothers. I like this image for the forgiveness of God in our lives. It means that God is willing to have the relationship restored. We can move from deserters, sinners to brothers, welcomed into the family of God. Notice the women ‘s testimony names them as brothers even before their personal encounter with the Risen Christ. It is God’s love, God’s desire that they be brothers. The Risen Christ is always at work in our world offering this brother and sisterhood to people who feel lost or afraid or guilty. There is a love big enough for everyone- even you!
I was looking for a story to summarize Matthew’s message for us. That the Risen Christ will meet us in the Galilees of our lives: our homes and the marginal vulnerable places and that that Christ calls us in grace brothers and sisters, ever ready to transform us in love. Some of you know that President Jimmy Carter has been a devout Christian for most of his life. In his 90’s, last I heard, he still teaches Sunday School at his little church in Georgia. Yet, he like most of us continues to grow in faith and faithfulness, to keep open to the living Christ in our daily lives. He tells this story about learning to love his wife and a change he made. He tells it this way, “ Perhaps because of my Navy training, punctuality has been almost an obsession. Rosalynn has always been adequately punctual, except by my standards. A deviation of five minutes or less in our departure time would cause a bitter exchange. “ One morning I realized it was Rosalynn’s birthday and I hadn’t bought her a present. What could I do that would be special for her? I hurriedly wrote a not : “ Happy Birthday! As proof of my love, I will never make an unpleasant comment about tardiness.” I signed it and delivered it in an envelope with a kiss. More than four years later I still keep my promise. It has turned out to be one of the nicest birthday present for Roslynn and for me.” ( CCS Publishing 12/31/2004)
What do you think? Was the Risen Christ, involved in that simple choice? I want to close with a little poem that Rev. Brenda Wills, maybe you remember her, she came and preached for us recently.
She wrote a long time ago, I kept it in an Easter bulletin from 1986:
We are people of his resurrection- Easter People
People who stake our lives on God’s presence in us,
In the world, transforming our very lives into the image of Christ
People who live as though
Justice and peace are possible today
And are not simply outdated dreams
People- we are- who live in sin and grow through grace
Family in Christ