Go!

Scripture:  Matthew 28:1-10

In the process of doing youth ministry it would often come out fairly early that my original career plan was to be a history teacher.   When young people learned this, I could anticipate that there would always be the same response.  Inevitably, one of the teens rolls their eyes and expresses their disgust by loudly proclaiming “I hate history.  It’s boring.”  Yet, there will also always be at least one teen who stays quiet but their eyes light up.  They are excited to hear that they are not alone and someone else finds the stories and details of the past as neat as they do.   It seems there are two types of people:  Those who can “feel the history” and those who cannot.  I am very much in the “feel the history” camp.  Reading a history book or watching a documentary is fine, but I really value experiences that put me there and let me experience the history for myself.   I find a lot of enjoyment in touring historical locations.  One of the reasons why I enjoy historical war gaming is that allows me to experience the history of the event more than simply reading about it does.   I am not alone in the rush of wanting to feel the history.  For some people this manifests in collections.  They want to literally feel history as they handle and own things from bygone eras.   For others they feel the history by immersing themselves in it.  Historical reenactors go to great lengths to recreate the history.  They will spend hundreds of dollars for clothing that is created using antiquated techniques instead of modern ones so that it is as historically accurate as possible.  A common thread for those who love history is that it is more than just memorizing dates and names, a love of history comes from wanting to understand and ideally experience the past.

So from that perspective, perhaps a small silver lining that we can get from all that we are experiencing is that this Easter we get a chance to better feel the history.   Easter, the day we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, is one that has a lot of pomp and circumstance around it.  It has lilies, egg hunts, choir cantatas, and celebratory gatherings.    Those are all beautiful, meaningful traditions but we have to admit it is a long removed from the experience of that first Easter.  Our experience this year is perhaps a lot closer to the first Easter experience than normal.   This year there is not a lot of pomp and trappings.  We are isolated.  All being at home it does at times feel a bit like we are all in hiding.   Despite our best attempts to see the sunny side of life, all of us probably have some trepidation or even fear about the future.  On the first Easter the followers of Jesus were scattered, in hiding, and very afraid of the future.   Obviously our experiences are not quite the same, but today we probably get closer to the feelings that the first followers of Jesus felt than we normally get on Easter.  Given that we are closer to feeling our Christian history today more than normal, the question I am pondering is will we respond the way the disciples did?

There is one aspect of the feelings and experiences the disciples had that we are clearly missing out on and that is the confusion.  I do not think we can truly wrap our minds around how off center the followers of Jesus were.   The bottom really did fall out on their life.   They had dared to believe that the Jesus truly was the Messiah, I am sure the triumphal entry only a week before had all but confirmed it.   Yet, after the crucifixion, after his body was laid in the tomb, now what?   That had to be the question they all contemplated.   When we are confronted by problems that are bigger than us and completely out of our control, it is in our nature to try and find a way to gain control of something.  This is why a few weeks ago so many people panic bought and hoarded toilet paper.  There was so much confusion and uncertainty about the state of the world.  There was so much unknown, but ensuring there was not a personal shortage of toilet paper is something people could control and that is what led to the shelves being emptied out.   I have to wonder if it was this same motivation to gain controls that led the women who followed Jesus to go to the tomb at the earliest possible time.   There was so much they could not control, but properly preparing the body was a concrete action they could control.  It also served as a therapeutic action that would help them begin to gain some semblance of closure over all that had happened.   Of course, we know that is more or less the opposite of what happened.

The events of this morning’s scripture must have been incredibly chaotic and confusing.  The biblical record supports this because all four accounts of the resurrection have some variance.   Only this morning’s account from the gospel of Matthew mentions an earthquake and passed out guards.  Mark’s and Luke’s version does not mention Jesus appearing to the women.  John’s version is quite a bit different.  It focuses only on Mary Magdalene and puts the appearance of the angels at a different spot.  All of these changing variables can make it confusing for us today.  Perhaps it is because of the matter-of-fact top down tone our history books often take, but we like it when historical facts can fit neatly on a time line.   The reality is that it is almost impossible to construct an accurate timeline of first Easter morning based off of the gospel accounts.

There are a couple of really good reasons for this.  First, the resurrection of Jesus was a momentous history changing event.  The events of that first Easter morning were chaotic and confusing.  The gospel authors worked with different sources and should not be surprising that the events that stuck out as memorable in the mind of one person was different than in the mind of another person. If you have ever had two people try to recount a story from their shared experiences, then you run into this.  The two people will often interrupt each other to add in details the other person did not mention.   They might even disagree slightly about how the memory really happened, and the longer in the past the event happened the higher the likelihood that it is remembered differently.

The other good reason, is that each gospel was written with a different audience and intent in mind.  Yes, the gospels are divinely inspired works through which the truth of God and the way of salvation is revealed.  However, they are also works of literature and as such they seek to communicate a specific message.   In his telling of the resurrection, the message that Matthew is trying to relate is clear.

One of the aspects that pops out in this morning’s scripture is just how similar the words of the angel to the women and the words of Jesus to the women are.   In verse 5 the angel states “Do not be afraid” Then in verse seven the angel continues, “Go quickly and tell his disciples; he has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee.”    As the women hurry from the tomb, Jesus meets them and Jesus says to them in verse 10, “Do not be afraid.  Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee.”

Matthew’s gospel then concludes with the disciples in Galilee with Jesus.  There Jesus tells them “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” The tone of Matthew’s resurrection narrative is one or urgency.  The theme of the resurrection narrative in the gospel of Matthew is clear, “Go!”

Upon learning that the tomb is empty, upon discovering that Jesus had defeated both sin and death, practically the very first thing the women are told to do is to go and tell other the good news.  This is so important that Jesus himself appears to them to reiterate the message. The first disciples were shocked into inaction, and the events of this morning’s scripture were meant to be a wakeup call to action.  We are far removed from the first Easter today but there is still a lot of inaction among the disciples of Christ.   However, the message we should take away from Easter is the same one the women took from the tomb, the same one the disciples took from the mountain in Galilee:   “Go”

I think understanding the “why” is always important.   This morning’s scripture clearly puts a large emphasis on going and sharing the good news, so I think it is important to be on the same page as to why that emphasis is there.  Fortunately, this is an easy question to answer.  Why should we go and share the good news?   Because it is good news!    Because of the resurrection, all who believe in him shall not perish but have eternal life.   Because of the empty tomb Jesus has defeated sin and death, the grave has lost its sting.  I know we are living in chaotic, uncertain, and scary times.  I do not want to mitigate that, but friends because of the good news of Jesus Christ we can have a hope that cannot be defeated and an assurance that cannot be weakened by any virus.   Because of the resurrection Jesus lives yet today, he reigns at the right hand of the Father and no amount of fear, anxiety, or uncertainty can change the joy of that foundational truth of reality.   Christ Jesus lives today and because He lives our sins our forgiven, our transgressions are erased, our souls reconciled, and our future is a world without end.    Given the enormity of that good news, how could we do anything else other than “go” and share it with everyone?

Unfortunately, like the women at the tomb, like the original audience that Matthew was written for, we still need to be prodded to go.  The reality is we are not doing it very well.   A Barna study on evangelism was conducted in 1993 and then the very same survey was re-administered in 2018.   This study found that there was a 25 point drop in church-goers who agree with the statement “Every Christian has a responsibility to share their faith.”  The overall results of the study were published in the book Spiritual Conversations in the Digital Age.  The results can best be summarized by the statement, “Spiritual conversations are exceedingly rare for most Americans, and even for Christians, who are at best reluctant to have them.”[1]

Friends it should not be this way.   We have good news, why are we not sharing it?   Now I suppose right now, we could say we are not sharing it because we all have to be socially distant from each other.   But that is an excuse and we know it.    If there was not a global pandemic, we would still have excuses.  Not having the time to invest in sharing the gospel is a common them.  We would claim it is spring and it is just busy time.  Then it is summer with all of the summer activities it just busy, then with school going back to session in the fall it is busy.   Then it is getting close to the holidays and it is just so busy.   It can always be busy.  Most of us have more time on our hands right now than we have ever had, and we are finding our long list of things to do when I have time is still not getting done.   Our excuses are just that, excuses.

If I may be a little blunt, it is time to stop making excuses with the gospel.   It is time to go.   We have the good news of life winning over death, of hope defeating despair, and of love conquering fear.   The news is too good to keep to ourselves.  So may we go and may we share it.  May we shake off our fear and our excuses and may we go.   May we share the good news, may we make disciples.   You may feel tempted to make another excuse.  You may be tempted to claim you do not know how to share the good news.  Well that one is simple.  To share the good news, share the story of Easter.  Share our collective truth.  Share the good news that “he lives he lives, Christ Jesus lives today!  He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.  You ask me how I know he lives?   He lives within my heart!

[1] Barna Research Group. “Sharing Faith Is Increasingly Optional to Christians”  Press Release, May 15th 2018.   Accessed at https://www.barna.com/research/sharing-faith-increasingly-optional-christians/ on April 8th, 2020.

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