Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Right from the beginning, I want to know, do you believe that’s true? What does it mean for you that Jesus is alive right now?
After one of the most awful scenes of torture and death that anybody could describe, and then a day of hiding and depression, this is how Matthew tells the story…
Matthew 28:1-10. After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And 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. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then 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.’ 8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
That story is about what happens when people believe. They get surprised by God, God gives them a life that they never thought possible, then God gives them a job description, gives them a mission.
Is there a cemetery that you visit from time to time? Look, maybe it’s just me. I’ve been in and out of cemeteries so much over the years, that I see them a little differently. I am more aware now that for most of those stones you see, at some moment in time, people gathered in that spot. Words were said. Families were going through some kind of emotion, thinking about how they’ll fix what’s broken, or maybe some kind of relief. We’ve all been there. We’re heading there. Life has an end. Jesus was dead.
On this day, of all days, for the resurrection of Jesus to have any meaning in our real lives, we have to remember that Jesus lived a real life and that this was a real death that Jesus died. It was only a couple of days before that he was betrayed and crucified and died.
The living Jesus is just as real, and this isn’t a fairy tale. I still want to know – do you believe? Is it true? Everything you are as a person, everything we are as people, everything we do as church hinges on whether we believe.
- It starts with a quiet, oppressive sadness. Two women named Mary are walking toward the tomb of Jesus. Thinking about, talking about the execution death of their teacher/leader/healer Jesus. They loved him. The images of the cross are still haunting them as they walk. Some PTSD going on maybe?
- Then there’s an earthquake. Have you ever been in an earthquake? I’ve only experienced a mild one, but it was enough to make me realize that there are forces in the world no one can control and then…
- …an angel rolling back the stone from the tomb. The guards faint, the women run, right into…
- …Jesus, who is not dead anymore.
This is where the followers of Jesus start to receive their mission, and this is where the world starts to change – not just for them, but for you and me too. Listen to these words…
The angels say, “Don’t be afraid.” I would think that’s appropriate for the moment. “You’re looking for Jesus, who was crucified. You were expecting to find him dead but he isn’t.”
Now go tell the disciples.
Then go to Galilee.”
When the women see Jesus he says the same thing, “Don’t be afraid. Tell the disciples. Go to Galilee.”
Go to Galilee? They were still in Jerusalem when Jesus gave them their mission. These two women named Mary, who are the only ones who have seen him alive, now have to go tell everyone else that Jesus is alive… and he’ll meet them back home, and they need to walk for about a week and a half to get there. If it happened here in Manheim, it would be like the women running up the hill to tell us to meet Jesus in Pittsburgh – and we’re walking there. It’s a test.
If you want what Jesus has to offer, you have got to leave the cemetery, leave that place, leave the things that are keeping you dead, and trust what Jesus says. Stop living in the past, reach out and grab the new future. If you believe, your new life starts now.
On the ten-day walk back to Galilee, the disciples had to decide whether they really wanted to be a part of this group, and whether they really believed in the risen Jesus. And they had plenty of time to think about it. So, by the time they got where they were going, some doubted. Even with Jesus standing right in front of them, some doubted. And why wasn’t this easier? Why couldn’t Jesus just say what he wanted to say right there in Jerusalem? Why did we have to walk all this way and climb all the way up here? Isn’t it easier to just stay home and be occasionally religious? Can’t we just be comfortable?
Jesus says, “Go to the mountain. I’ve got a job for you.” It’s a test of faith. Jesus has faith in us. He wants to know if we have faith in him. Jesus wants to know if we’re obedient. Jesus wants to know if we’re going to go to the mountain in Galilee if he tells us to. If we won’t go to the mountain as his disciples, then how can he trust us to go the nations?
People of God, Jesus said, “Go to the mountain; I’ve got a job for you.” When we get to the mountain, Jesus has more than a job for us – he has a mission for us, a calling, should we decide to accept it (don’t forget, some of us are going to doubt and turn the other way). We’re going to baptize the nations. Through the power of Christ, we’re going to change the world. We are going to make a difference through the love of Christ. We’re going to bring them to faith. We’re going to feed them and love them and tell people that he’s alive. God will use that good news to make difference. And he’ll be right there by our side – it’s a promise.
What does it mean for you that Jesus is alive right now? What’s your major problem of the moment? Health? Family? Work? A particular relationship? What does it mean for that situation that Jesus is alive right now? You can have hope in your deep place. You can know that God has the end of your story written. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed.
Jesus talked a lot about what his death and resurrection means to us. Let’s go back to something Jesus said on the way to the cross and the empty tomb. We were walking along with Jesus when he pointed to a shepherd and a flock of sheep and said…
I am the gate for the sheep… Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture… I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly… (John 10:7-10)
A life full of hope and confidence. Full of Christ. How does Jesus make this possible?
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.’ (John 10:17-18)
This shepherd lays down his life for you, and for me! Our sins died with him. When he takes up his life again, he gives us new life if we believe in him. Our sins are gone, and the only thing left to do is believe. Have you entered the gate? Come to the gate; come to the shepherd. Christ is risen – he is risen indeed!
O God, on this day you amazed the world. You took the worst that the human race had to offer and turned it into the best thing that ever happened. You saved us. You make life out of death. Now bring that abundant life to us. Make the living Jesus real to us in ways we’ve never experienced or expected. Help us make him our Lord. Help us remember that he is the master of our lives and of our church.
Then use us to bring life to the world you love and sent Jesus to die for. Give us opportunities to show people that Jesus lives in us. Heal our relationships, give us a greater ability to love and forgive. Give us eyes that are sensitive to pain and injustice, and hands willing to do something that makes a difference here in Manheim and everywhere else that we have opportunity. We pray with faith that as we give ourselves to you, you will give us the kind of life that never dies, because of the risen Jesus. Amen.