Scripture - Matthew 28:1-10
I am here to make an announcement, a brief announcement. Today’s music has probably given it away. And our Scripture reading & prayer time. But I will make the announcement anyway.
This morning, a little before daybreak, God raised from the dead Jesus of Nazareth. That’s really my whole assignment, to make the announcement. I know it is difficult to hear. Announcements are always difficult to hear. Nobody pays attention to announcements. The announcements about our church’s life are put in the worship bulletin, sent out in a weekly email, & announced at the beginning of worship: “There will be a covered dish lunch next Sunday.” And then somebody on their way out asks me, “Is there going to be a covered dish lunch next Sunday?” I know it is hard to listen to announcements. One reason is we hear them over & over & over again. Like the announcements about social distancing. If I wanted to make someone deaf, I would do it by repetition.
Jesus warned his disciples that when you go out to sow the seed, which is the Word of God, be ready for it. Some of the seed will fall on the path where the repeated movement of people, back & forth, will harden the path like concrete. The seed falls on the path & the sparrow from the tree & the chicken from the barn peck, peck, peck & they’re gone. Nobody received it.
Yet it’s never been easy to hear this announcement. You heard the Gospel lesson. The women running from the tomb when they got the announcement. They ran, afraid, traumatized, in total silence because they were absolutely terrified & said nothing to anyone. That’s the story in Mark. Who can hear this announcement? Matthew says: Now the 11 disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him, but - & this is a huge ‘but’ – some doubted. Luke says: They were terrified & afraid. They tried to put it aside like an old wives’ tale, something the women are repeating at the well, but, of course, we men don’t believe what they are saying. And then Luke adds that extraordinary phrase (24:41): They were wondering & questioning in the midst of their happiness.
This is not easy. And John, John says that one of the people closest to Jesus said: Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, & put my hand into his side, I won’t believe. It has never been easy to hear this announcement. But I want you to know that I’m not going to make it easy for you. I’m not going to trivialize it by speaking of eggs & flowers & daffodils & things. No, no. There is a cross in this resurrection. I’m not just going to fill the air with good cheer & let Easter evaporate into a vague cloud of good feelings. I can’t do that. My job is simply to make the announcement. And the announcement is this: Sometime this morning before first light, God raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. I cannot shrink it by giving you a few minutes explanation as to what resurrection means. And I’m not going to shrink it by trying to give you some scientific parallels that will help your believing. No, no. I will tell you that for a lot of people it is very, very important.
One example is the early Christian leader named John who was in exile on the island of Patmos & he said on a Sunday morning, I was in a Spirit-inspired trance. He was trembling, trembling not because of fear for himself, but fear for the church, because the whole earth was shaking with the marching of soldiers. They had been sent out from Rome, column after column after column, against the church. Already Antipas had killed & here they come. And in that trembling moment, John got the announcement & when he got the announcement, he said: “Find your fastest runner & have that runner go to Rome & tell the Emperor, ‘Wait, wait. You can’t win. You won’t win.’ God has pulled the sheet off the coffin & made it the cloth for the banquet table. And there’s going to be a lot of good, rich food, a lot of well-aged wine, & there will be dancing & singing, & God will move among us & wipe away every tear from our eyes.” That is what this announcement meant to him.
It meant a lot to Paul in strange ways. It never ceases to amaze me how this announcement affected this man. I don’t know if Paul was sick most of his life or had gotten some kind of illness during his ministry, but he had an abused body, a painful body. He said, “I groaned in the body. Just when my spirit is getting richer & fuller & more alive, my body is going down, down. My spirit is going up & my body is going down & all I can do when I lie down at night is groan. When I am going to have the redemption in my body?” Why is it that the more we live & become qualified to witness for our faith, the body won’t go? Some of the finest witnesses I’ve ever known in the church were on walkers & in wheelchairs. And groaning.
Paul said, “I die every day.” What kind of shape must his body have been in. He said: I was shipwrecked 3 times. I spent a day & a night on the open sea. I was beaten with rods 3 times. I received the ’40 lashes minus one’ from the Jews 5 times. I was stoned once. I’ve been beaten more times than I can count. I carry around in myself, he said, the dying Jesus. I die every day. I groan, longing for the redemption of my body so that I will have an instrument adequate for my work. And then he heard the announcement & he said: Death is swallowed up in victory. Death is dead & all her children are dead. Cynicism, criticism, fear, despair, discouragement, they are all dead.
But you will have to make of the announcement what you will. I can’t tell you what to do about it. I was just given the assignment to make the announcement. I can tell you that for me personally the announcement is of supreme importance. Who was raised from the dead? Jesus of Nazareth. Not King Herod who tried to stab that baby while it was still in the cradle, not Pontius Pilate who as governor screamed in the face of Jesus & said: Don’t you know I have the power to kill you? I can! Not Tiberius Caesar who sat like a marble statue in Rome & said, “I have nothing to do with peasants, especially Jewish peasants. What was his name again? Jesus? Never heard of him.” Who was raised from the dead? Jesus of Nazareth. Do you know what that means? It means God lifted up this person & said, “This is the one I’ve vindicated. This is the one I affirm. This is the one I confirm. This is the one I exonerate. This is the one that tells you this is what I had in mind when I created you in my image. Look at him, totally without violence. You could walk among the people of his land & say, ‘Anybody raise a hand if Jesus ever spoke ill of you. If he criticized you. If he put you down. If he laid hands against you. If he betrayed you or lied to you. Can anyone? No!’”
Do you see how important it is that it was Jesus of Nazareth God raised from the dead & said, “Now this is what I have in mind for the world?” You know. In fact, in every church I’ve ever served there are a few sitting there who were active in ministry. A few lasted a year or 2, or maybe 4 or 5. “I never thought it would be like this,” they say. “I don’t like to row upstream. I don’t like to be the only one who shows up. I began in ministry & found myself at Golgotha & I said to myself, ‘Who needs this?’” To all of you I say that God raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead.
Look at him. Nonviolent, turn the other cheek, love your enemies. “How often must I forgive, Jesus? Seven times?” “No, no, 70 times 7.” “But when I get kicked in the groin time & time again? I don’t need this!” I want you to understand this is the life God has raised from the dead & said, “Look, this is what I had in mind.”
You know the experience, volunteering to be chair of a committee. Or you lead the youth group, a few other jobs like that & you get in the boat all excited & start pulling at your oars. You look around & everybody else’s oars are in the boat; they’re not pulling. You’re the only one tugging at the oars. Who needs this? This is the kind of stuff Jesus had to put up with. Exactly! But I want you to understand God has raised him from the dead. Do you see what this means?
Now, you don’t have to be in a hurry to make this something important in your life. Easter lasts 50 days, remember. We think of today as Easter Sunday. Whoopee, let’s get it over with. But Easter, according to the church, lasts 50 days. Easter ends on May 30, so don’t be in a hurry. Take the afternoon, take this evening, take next week. You have 50 days. For some people it takes longer.
My assignment is simply to announce to you that this morning sometime before sunrise, God raised from the dead, Jesus of Nazareth. You have 50 days. But I’m sure if you applied, you could get an extension.
Let us pray. Loving God of light, we hid in the darkness & you brought the light of Salvation to our eyes & our spirits. We praise you for the resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ. We have received the greatest good news of healing, hope, & restoration. Praise be to you, eternal God, for this gift of love. Amen.