April 21, 2019 Sermon
Response to Resurrection:
With Fear and Great Joy
Scripture Reading: Matthew 28:1-10
28 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 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. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 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.” 8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Message – “Response to Resurrection: With Fear and Great Joy”
Have you ever noticed the response of biblical people encountering an angel of God?
Sometimes I wonder what we think…if we envision these great saints, these pillars of the faith, the BIBLICAL people, encountering an angel of God and responding something like:
- A beatific smile, just soaking it all in, enjoying the season and recognizing God’s favor upon them;
- Or maybe even a determined resolve, a look in the eyes that clearly communicates, “Right on, God. Let’s do this thing for which you’re calling me”;
- Or maybe even just a basking in the moment, a recognition that after a lifetime spent trying to be the best darn person of God they could be, God has finally decided to appear, tell them something akin to “well done”, and audibly, physically, call them to do something great;
I don’t know how you think biblical people responded to angels when you envision such a scene in your mind, but the biblical witness provides a pretty good indication of what the response to angels must have been by these great saints…because almost all such encounters include the angel saying something like, “Do not be afraid.”
Angels are beings from the heavenly realm – the place up there, out there, with God – beings from the heavenly realm sent BY God and so, presumably, if an angel says to you, “don’t be afraid”, it’s because the angel knows you are absolutely, totally scared out of your mind, so paralyzed by fear that you just might miss everything that happens in that amazing encounter…so the angel needs to calm you down.
Imagine a scene like that first Easter morning for yourself, for your own life. Imagine you’re visiting the grave of a person you love who has passed on. Imagine going there to check on the grave, maybe place some flowers, say a prayer. And then, suddenly, some beings show up out of nowhere, maybe right up out of the ground, and start talking to you. If that kind of situation wouldn’t scare you half to death, you’re made of sturdier stock than I am.
Is it any surprise that, upon the appearance of the angel in our reading this morning, “For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men”? Is it any surprise that even such faithful people as Mary Magdalene and the other Mary had to be told, “Do not be afraid”?
But today is Easter Sunday. Today, we remember that The Lord is Risen. (Pause for “The Lord is Risen, Indeed.”) And so today we’re more concerned with what comes NEXT in the story, what comes after this angel reveals to Mary and Mary (henceforth today known as “the Marys”) the amazing news that death just couldn’t keep Jesus down. Today begins the season of Eastertide, the season of resurrection, the season of considering the importance of resurrection for us, here, now. And so today begins a sermon series in which we will explore what the biblical witness offers to us about how we SHOULD respond to resurrection.
And our consideration begins with the very first response to resurrection. Did you notice? Did you catch it?
Matthew actually reveals to us the ORIGINAL response to resurrection, what the Marys did AFTER the angel told them Jesus had been raised from the dead. Matthew tells us, “So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.”
In this short sentence, we receive four separate responses, four distinct things we can learn about how we should respond to Jesus’ resurrection…on this Easter Sunday and always.
The first part of the Marys’ response was URGENCY. “So they left the tomb QUICKLY.” I chuckle everytime I read these words. I imagine if I had been there and had just been told resurrection was possible, no – not just possible but that resurrection had actually just HAPPENED, and someone I knew, someone I loved, had been resurrected. And oh, by the way, I was receiving this news from real live, physical, tangible, dare I say “breathing” angels, messengers from God. I imagine I might want to stick around a while and learn as much about these angels and as much about the heavenly realm as possible. I feel like that’s what I’d be inclined to do. But what we’re SUPPOSED to do is adopt a new URGENCY in life; we’re supposed to move QUICKLY. Something amazing has happened. And everything hangs in the balance. Whatever we do next, we must have urgency. Whatever we do from here on out, we must have urgency. Everything has changed! Resurrection happened; resurrection is possible.
It’s easy to lose the urgency of faith, isn’t it? Day after day, year after year, worshipping on Sundays, trying to pray and read scripture daily, trying to do what we can to live as followers of Jesus. Over time, it’s so easy to lose the urgency…because life is rather long, and if we miss a Sunday of worship, or if we miss a day of prayer or scripture reading, or if we decide to NOT help the person in front of us with a need today, it doesn’t exactly seem like a big deal, hardly a drop in the bucket of our lifetime, much less than a drop in the bucket of eternity. But resurrection, ah, resurrection, it somehow reminds us that faith reveals something bigger, something more important than the everyday. Whenever we start to get stuck in the routine of life, resurrection reminds us that God has surprises in store for us, God reminds us that there’s power in faith well beyond anything we experience that is of this world. God reminds us that we might look out our window five minutes from now and see something we never imagined possible. And so, when we GET the reality of resurrection, we find newfound urgency…or at least we should…because the monotony the world places before us is NOT all life has to offer.
The second part of the Marys’ response is fear. That’s right, fear. “So they left the tomb quickly with FEAR…” I already addressed the fear the Marys must have experienced upon encountering the angel, but fear AFTER hearing about the amazing miracle of resurrection?
I almost included this response BEFORE the response of urgency…because the two are so closely linked. Y’all, when the Marys encountered the reality of resurrection, the Marys encountered POWER, a power so far beyond what we know and experience in this world that it SHOULD be absolutely terrifying.
Sometimes, I think the biggest problem facing modern society is that we don’t fear God enough. I’m not saying we should be afraid in the sense that we should be scared God is going to hurt us No, I’m saying we don’t respect God’s awesome power as much as we should.
I think about the kinds of things we worry about, the kinds of things that have power over us:
- Whether or not people like us;
- Whether or not we’re worthy, doing anything of value;
- Losing things, even losing people;
- Physical ailments and even death;
- Change – that we might wake up tomorrow and the world will be different in ways large and small than how it’s always been, even CHURCH might be different than how it’s always been;
I may be missing something, but these are the BIG things we worry about, the fears we face of this world. And then I remember the God of scripture:
- Who has power to calm storms, power over nature;
- Who has the power to cure incurable diseases;
- Who has the power to cast demons out of people and into pigs;
- Who has the power to resurrect people, take them from death and back into life;
- Who has the power to give eternal life;
Y’all, compare these two lists for a moment. How can money compare in power to calming storms? How can the power of people’s affirmation compare with the power to cure diseases and cast out demons? How can the power of pain and death compare with the power to resurrect from death? How can the power of change, even change in things we hold dear, compare to the power to give eternal life? God’s power is so BEYOND anything we typically experience down here on this earth, any created power, that when we do encounter it, when we encounter the power of CREATOR, we should be blown out of our socks scared. Which, by the way should give us a kind of urgency we don’t get from anything we encounter down here on a regular basis.
The third part of the Marys response is great joy. “So they left the tomb quickly with fear and GREAT JOY…” Remember all that power I just mentioned a moment ago? Well, what the Marys discovered in resurrection is that God wants to, that God DID, use that power for them, for US. Could there BE a greater reason for joy?
Believe me, I know, I get, that the forces of this world can bring you down. April 15, tax day, was this past Monday, and I was reminded just how much the powers of this world can suck the joy out of my life , or at least my pocket book, on that day. And it seems like a constant in my life that I hear people whispering in the background, gossipping, on a regular basis, spreading negativity about someone or something in the shadows. Sometime, those whispers of negativity are even about me. So I know how much the forces of this world can bring you down. And it seems like illnesses, injuries, terrible acts of nature, and sometime just plain freakish accidents overtake our lives. I’m sure you know as much as I do: the forces of this world can bring you down. Which is why we need to CLING to resurrection. We need to cling to the knowledge, the remembrance, that God unleashed the amazing power of heaven, the unstoppable power of resurrection, for US.
I remember almost 5 years ago, I was in a hospital bed, a little uncertain as to whether I would live or die, and I felt the negative forces of this world seeking to bring me down. But my thoughts, urged on by prayers, turned to Jesus, turned to resurrection. And I was not afraid. I wasn’t even sad. I was ready for whatever the future held. I even had what could be called GREAT JOY…because I understood in those moments God’s great power unleashed for people, for me. Y’all, we must carry the great joy of resurrection with us everywhere we go. We must share with everyone we encounter the great joy of resurrection, which they will most surely find a refreshing change to what they receive from most everything and everyone else in this world. By the great joy of resurrection we share, people will long to know God.
The Marys’ final response to resurrection can be found at the end of this sentence we’ve been considering: “So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.”
The Marys told the disciples. Are we surprised? We shouldn’t be. To me, the most natural response to resurrection is the one: to tell somebody about it. Every amazing thing that has happened to me in life, I’ve longed to share it with someone. The amazing experience just doesn’t feel complete until I share it. Just this past week, I finally gave into the temptation to try a new product I’ve seen advertised for weeks on television: Orange Vanilla Coke. Y’all, I don’t even drink soda. I’m quite certain the last soda I drank before this one was June 2018, and the last one before that may have been years prior. But, I gave in to the temptation. When I went to the store to grab a bottle of this soda, I found myself grabbing two. I had to have one for me and one to share…so I bought one for Cole.
My friends, if I can’t even try a new flavor of soda without feeling compelled to share the experience – we are created to be relational beings after all – how much more should we feel compelled to share something so amazing as resurrection? And, not just share it, but RUN to share the news…just like the two Marys. What we know about Easter – which, by the way, is way beyond what there is to know about Easter in bunnies who deliver eggs – what we know about Easter should compel us to run, not walk, to share with somebody, maybe everybody. (But, I’ll talk more about this response next Sunday.)
Friends in Christ, the Lord is Risen! (The Lord is Risen, indeed!) Everything humanity knew, or thought it knew prior to the empty tomb, has changed…and, as a result, everything about how we live should change. Please, please, please, don’t let the event of Jesus’ resurrection become just another in the long line of happenings to which we respond with actions and words suggesting there’s nothing to see here. Please, please, please, respond to Jesus’ resurrection with every minute of every day, with every fiber of your being, respond in a way that reveals that from here on out EVERYTHING has changed. Amen.