Easter Sunday 2017

Sharing the Good News – Matthew 28: 1-15

28 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. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

11 While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 telling them, “You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.

Sharing the Good News 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

15 Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain.

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.

Resurrection and new life

Too often, we turn our faith into a contest to see who is more right than their neighbour – who has it all figured out?  Which religion[1]…which denomination…who’s going to get to heaven first…and we miss the point of the discernment it takes to decide what’s right for us.  Yet this journeys is instead a cobbling together our beliefs: a mixture of history, and what we’ve grown up with, our current understanding of the world, and really, what we’ve learned about “the more” that calls to us.

Specifically for our church, for Lent, we’ve thought about what it means to be followers of Jesus.  As we talked about last week, the death of Jesus and the honouring of Good Friday reminds us that to be a follower means that we must be comfortable with failure, loss, death.  Easter doesn’t take the sting of that away.  It just reminds us who is telling the story.

If it were our story, if it were a human story, the crucifixion on the hill would have been enough to kill Jesus.  To finish that story once and for all.  Miracles would have become a distant memory as his body was laid in the tomb.  Guards would tell a story of a stolen body…disciples would have gone back to their nets.

Yet none of that took hold, because it is God who tells this story of life.

As God completes the story of Jesus’ life, the women left the tomb “quickly with fear and great joy” and met a living breathing Christ on the road.  When they told their friends, those who heard it struggled with what they heard.  They struggled as you and I, because what we know of life and death limits our understanding.  Augustine said it best: si comprehendis non est deus[2]… if you think you comprehend…then it’s not God.

Nevertheless, the women persisted[3] – they shared the story of God’s new life until it grew – whispers grew to songs and were shared for years before reaching Paul, who was freed from his old life of “rounding up the Christians” and given his own experience of new life in Jesus.  When he related the story of new life, the women were not the ones at the tomb, nevertheless, they persisted, for when the Gospel of Matthew was written, when the story of the resurrection was told to new communities of followers of Jesus…the women were the carriers of this new life.

This new life…new life is persistent.

I love this time of year for the signs of life – the growth and springing up of all things – and I am both amazed and driven mad by those little weeds poking between the cracks of asphalt and sidewalk.  Persistent signs of life growing tall to reach for the heavens which declare amidst stony encasements, that they cannot be contained.  And if you’re like me and try all sorts of removal techniques – pulling it up, spraying it down – to no avail – that persistent life mocking me, mocks those who would seek to crucify and destroy…for new life is God’s story.

New life is persistent.

I’m not sure if everyone saw this story, but in January of this year, the National Post carried the story of a tragic accident near Milverton[4], just a short 45 minute drive from us.  It happened when a young girl was heading home after work when her car struck the Mennonite buggy carrying a family of four to church, killing one of them.

But the language of those in the community was life changing…they looked for reasons why the accident must have happening guessing “the sun at the time was at line with the road” and praising the teenage driver’s strength in the midst of it all.  Instead of looking to blame, causing more pain in the midst of sorrow, those in the community turned to their faith, approaching the young driver, and hugging her, offering forgiveness saying “it’s not your fault,” and “I’ll be praying for you.”[5]

They offered her new life.  New life challenges old ways of being (and our human understanding of justice).

Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran pastor out of the U.S., doesn’t look like your typical preacher.  Carrying the tattoos from her days of addiction, a mouth that would often make a sailor blush, and the emotional scars of her early days in church, when she speaks about her faith, and new life, especially as she lives it out at her church in Colorado, it’s hard not to listen…She says:

Resurrection never feels like being made clean and nice and pious like in those Easter pictures. I would have never agreed to work for God if I had believed God was interested in trying to make me nice or even good. Instead, what I subconsciously knew, even back then, was that God was never about making me spiffy; God was about making    me new.

New doesn’t always look perfect. Like the Easter story itself, new is often messy. New looks like recovering alcoholics. New looks like reconciliation between family members who don’t actually deserve it. New looks like every time I manage to admit I was wrong       and every time I manage to not mention when I’m right. New looks like every fresh start and every act of forgiveness and every moment of letting go of what we thought we couldn’t live without and then somehow living without it anyway. New is the thing we      never saw coming, never even hoped for, but ends up being what we needed all along.  “It happens to all of us,” “God simply keeps reaching down into the dirt of humanity and resurrecting us from the graves we dig for ourselves through our violence, our lies, our selfishness, our arrogance, and our addictions. And God keeps loving us back to life over and over.”[6]

This is new life.  New life is messy.

Was anyone in here one of the millions of people that watched April the Giraffe[7] give birth live on youtube these past couple of weeks?  It was a slow process.  And it was miraculous that on Easter, on the day of waiting, the baby made an appearance, wobbly and messy and beautiful.  There is something about watching it all happen that is spellbinding.  That the created part of us greets the created part of that small being – us breathing the same breath – us needing the same nurture and love from those who have come before – us unsure about what comes next.

This is new life.  It is mysterious, and powerful, and captivating, a story told by God the Creator, who seeks life, and brings life, and nurtures life, with the newness of hope.

It is the old old story, that we tell ourselves, every Easter.

For those who join us on Sunday mornings, who call themselves Christian in an attempt to live into new life in the midst of death, for those (according to a recent Angus Reid[8] poll) who still keep the faith, as the Gospel of Matthew commands (Matthew 6:6 – praying to God in secret, without darkening the door of a church), for all of us who hear this story: however challenging, messy, mysterious, and persistent…

We listen to God’s story of new life, even though we do not comprehend, and give thanks:

Jesus Christ is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed!  Thanks be to God.

[1] According to Louis CK and his latest Netflix special “2017” he jokingly says the Christians have totally figured it all out…Christians managed to change the numbering of years based on Jesus’ birth, convincing the world to follow suit (save for a few calendars – Jewish, Chinese).  Ps if you seek out this special – be careful of language and subject matter.

[2] https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Si_comprehendis_non_est_Deus (hit the google translate button as this is in Italian)

[3] http://www.salon.com/2017/02/23/over-100-women-get-nevertheless-she-persisted-tattoos-in-minneapolis/

[4] http://news.nationalpost.com/features/how-the-amish-forgave-the-driver-in-a-fatal-crash

[5] ibid

[6] Pastrix, chapter 16

[7] https://www.youtube.com/channel/UClnQCgFa9lCBL-KXZMOoO9Q/live

[8] http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/canadians-may-be-vacating-the-pews-but-they-are-keeping-the-faith-poll



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