Matthew 28:1-10 – Fear Not

Death Swallowed Up in Victory

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the tomb. Look, there was a great earthquake, for an angel from the Lord came down from heaven. Coming to the stone, he rolled it away and sat on it. Now his face was like lightning and his clothes as white as snow. The guards were so terrified of him that they shook with fear and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Don’t be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He isn’t here, because he’s been raised from the dead, just as he said. Come, see the place where they laid him. Now hurry, go and tell his disciples, ‘He’s been raised from the dead. He’s going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.’ I’ve given the message to you.”

With great fear and excitement, they hurried away from the tomb and ran to tell his disciples. But Jesus met them and greeted them. They came and grabbed his feet and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Go and tell my brothers that I am going into Galilee. They will see me there.” (CEB)

The Resurrection of Christ from death has changed everything – especially when it comes to fear.  In this season of Eastertide, we discover and explore the vast implications of what it means to possess a new life.  Because Christians serve a risen Savior, this newfound awareness brings courage and confidence.  Fear isn’t something we can simply exercise willpower over.  Rather, fear begins to give way to the presence of God among us.  Consider just a few of the many references to this in Holy Scripture:

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9, NIV)

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6, NIV)

“So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, NIV)

“God has said, ‘Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.” So, we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5-6, NIV)

Believe it, or not, the Bible tells us 365 times to not be afraid.  Maybe that’s not a coincidence that we can quote a verse every day of the year about our own fearfulness in the face of so much of the world’s cruel circumstances.

When it comes to fear and bravery, God does not so much command us to be courageous, as he wants us to draw from the great reservoir of bravery within.  That is, God has already created us strong, as creatures in his image.  We just need to get in touch with what is already there.  And the reality of Easter awakens and calls forth that life.

We can act with boldness and overcome fear because Jesus is the pioneer of our salvation.  He is the One which enables us to draw from the deep well of courage….

“So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all the same testing we do, yet he did not sin. So, let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” (Hebrews 4:14-16, NLT).

You and I really can face the fears in front of us.  You can surmount the adversity you are in the middle of – not because of some words I say, but because Christ has risen from death.  He’s alive, and his presence makes all the difference.

St John Chrysostom
“Let all therefore enter into the joy of our Lord. Let rich and poor dance with one another.” –St John Chrysostom

The following is an Easter homily from the fourth-century preacher St. John Chrysostom to the Church of Constantinople:

“Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.

He destroyed Hades when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
“You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below.”

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!”

Click Because He Lives sung by Guy Penrod as we are reminded that the living Christ makes all the difference today.

Colossians 3:5-11 – Eastertide

 

Eastertide

Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).  On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all! (NRSV)

Today’s New Testament reading impresses on us the necessity of choosing life.  On the Christian Calendar, Easter is not merely one day – it is an entire season.  It’s a time to focus on living into a new reality through intentionally putting to death old unhealthy practices and adopting new healthy life-giving habits.  It is the season we call “Eastertide.”

It could very well be that you have never heard of the word “Eastertide.”  Eastertide is a significant season in the Church Year which spans fifty days until Pentecost.  That’s a hefty seven weeks of bringing the new life we enjoy to the forefront.  Eastertide’s spotlight is to recognize and celebrate the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and, thus, exult in our own new life in him.

Now, you might be saying to yourself: “Why do we need to have some liturgical season about Christ’s resurrection?  Shouldn’t we be living like we recognize this every day?”  Yes, of course we should.  Yet, consider this:  If we only sing songs of resurrection on Easter Sunday; only occasionally direct our attention of Christ’s resurrection outside of Easter Sunday; then, perhaps it is sage to bring a highlighted focus to the resurrection in a special season.  Just as we would likely not think of taking only one vacation day in the year for renewal, so it is necessary to take more than one day to enjoy Easter.  If nothing else, Eastertide gives believers an opportunity to let Christ’s resurrection percolate in our hearts so that we become people in real life who exhibit an alive-spirit.  And, God knows, we could use much more of that in our congregations and our world!

If life, eternal life, and the necessity of being alive are all needs for us, then it only makes sense that we would want to take advantage of what Eastertide has to offer: A deliberate look at Christ’s resurrection, exploring its implications and impact for us.  Simply assuming we all know about resurrection will not do, any more than my wife simply assuming I love her without looking her straight in the eye and telling her so.

If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile (1 Corinthians 15:17).  Without Eastertide, there’s a sin-as-usual kind of approach to life with a sort of shoulder shrug that says, “Meh, what’s a guy to do?”  Instead, we have the hope of vibrant everlasting life because Christ has risen from death.  We have the hope of individual renewal, corporate revitalization, and worldwide revival because there is a risen Savior.

Therefore, this is the perfect time of year to engage in some renewal practices or even make a few simple changes that show signs of life.  Here are just a few ideas for lifting Christ’s resurrection into the next few months:

Pray for revival of spirituality.  Christ brings life, so praying for revival is a deliberate way of connecting with God.

Squarely address practices of the “earthly nature” which are death-dealing.  Gossip, back-biting, slander, and an entire host of sins of the tongue kill and murder people.  Simply sluffing-off someone’s acerbic speech as “that’s just the way they are” will not do, unless you want to exist in a pro-death culture.

Promote life-giving practices.  If sins of the tongue bring death, using our speech for encouragement, love, mercy, forgiveness, and building up one another promotes growth, health, and life.

Proclaim resurrection.  I believe the church is meant to be the hope of the world because Christ is the risen Lord.  This is the time for Christians to profess the resurrected Christ and how the spiritual life makes a difference in life.

Start that new ministry you always believed would make a difference.  It is the season to take a risk.  After all, if you have eternal life can you really fail?  Host a new virtual small group.  Take initiative to up your knowledge of technology.  Use your time at home to read some significant books and start an on-line book club.  Those are my ideas. I’m willing to bet you have some idea(s) rolling around inside you about blessing the world.  Now, during Eastertide, is the time to turn that idea into reality.

Focus on your daily habits of spiritual health and life.  If you would not think of skipping meals for days at a time, then consider the erosion to your soul and/or your church when folks don’t read their Bibles on a regular basis or pray with any kind of consistency.  This is also a wonderful season to explore new spiritual practices you haven’t tried or considered before.  Stick to a plan.  It will not only bring growth to your own life, but will impact those around you.

Just keeping the word “Eastertide” in front of us for the next few months can be a simple yet powerful way of reminding us that God, in Christ, has ushered-in new life.  Let the reality of Christ’s resurrection take root in your heart to such an extent that life itself informs all your thinking, speaking, feeling, and acting.

In the joy and hope of Eastertide, we pray:

That You, our risen Savior, may fill us in this season with the joy of Your life-giving resurrection.

That You, Compassionate Savior, will enable isolated and persecuted churches to find fresh strength in the good news of Easter.

That You, Loving God, may grant us humility to be subject to one another in Christian love.

That You, Lord God our Provider, may give necessities for those who lack food, work, or shelter.

That by Your mighty power, Almighty God, war and famine may cease through all the world.

That You, Great God of Mystery, may reveal the light of Christ’s presence to the sick, the weak, and the dying, to comfort and strengthen them.

That, Steadfast God, according to Your promises, You will raise at the Last Day all who have died in the faith of the resurrection.

That You, Consuming God, may send the fire of Your blessed Holy Spirit upon people of every nation and ethnicity, so that we may together bear faithful witness to Christ’s resurrection.

Heavenly Father, You have delivered us from the power of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of your dear Son: Grant that, as the death of Jesus has called us to life, so may His continual presence raise us to eternal joy.  Amen.

Click Christ is Risen, He Is Risen Indeed by Keith and Kristyn Getty to keep the Easter songs coming.

John 20:1-18 – Resurrection of the Lord

Empty tomb

 

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.  So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb.  Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.  He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in.  Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb.  He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head.  The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen.  Finally, the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside.  He saw and believed.  (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)

Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying.  As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”  At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

“Woman,” he said, “why are you crying?  Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have carried him, and I will get him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father.  Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news:  “I have seen the Lord!”  and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Although Peter and John have a role in this story about Christ’s resurrection, the main character is Mary Magdalene.  This is significant and symbolic of the fact that it was Mary who experienced one of the most profound and deep changes of life due to the ministry of Jesus.  Mary had been an immoral woman and spiritually enslaved to the machinations of seven demons.  It was Jesus who thoroughly delivered her from her personal hell.  Mary was forever thankful to him for changing her life, and so, she followed Jesus and supported him in any way she could.  Mary was at the foot of the cross when Jesus died.  While other disciples were keeping their distance out of fear, Mary was bold in standing with the other women for all to see that they were completely devoted to Jesus.  Mary never turned her back on Jesus.  It was Mary who was there on the Sunday morning of Christ’s resurrection.  Whereas the other followers were nowhere to be found, Mary came to the grave, still with a heart given to Jesus and grieving over his death.

Because Mary had been given a new chance at life, she was deeply thankful and everything she had belonged to Jesus.  Mary Magdalene was forgiven much, and, so she loved much.  Here she is, after her Lord’s crucifixion, death, and burial, at the grave of Jesus.  Mary came to the tomb on Easter Sunday still living in a Good Friday world – grieving, sad, and discouraged.  She soon discovered, however, that Christ is risen!

In the midst of your days of disappointment, loss, or sadness, how have you been surprised by joy and the presence of the risen Christ?  How has your grief been turned to gratitude?  Have you seen the risen Lord?

One day, 33 years ago, I was down sick with the flu and in bed.  I barely remember my wife coming into the bedroom after a doctor’s appointment upset and crying.  She was trying to rouse me with a mix of good and bad news.  Mary had gone to the doctor thinking that she probably had picked up my flu.  Instead, the doctor gave her the news that she was pregnant with our first child.  But there was more….

After the examination the doctor had reason to believe that our little baby might be in the wrong place – that she was not where she should be and may very well be in the fallopian tube and not the womb.  So, here I am – barely able to move getting out of bed – driving my wife to the hospital for an ultrasound with such a range of emotions within me that all I can do is weep, feeling, much like Mary Magdalene, that my Lord has been taken away from me.  It just felt like I didn’t know where Jesus was at that moment and why I was going through this surreal craziness.

I will never forget the words and even the tone of voice of the ultrasound technician as we anxiously stared at a screen we didn’t understand.  The technician said, “She is right where she is supposed to be!”  The tears turned to complete joy.  And the words were prophetic.  There was no way that the technician could know at six weeks in the womb that we were having a little girl, yet she referred to the peanut within my wife as “she.”  And we immediately knew what her name was:  “Sarah,” which is the Hebrew name for “Princess.”  God had graced us with a precious gift of royalty, coming from the grace of King Jesus.

I want us to know this morning, on this great Day of Resurrection, that we are right where we are supposed to be.  It might seem out of place spending so much time at home; not working in ways we’re used to, or even working at all; wondering where God is or how the divine fits into this topsy-turvy situation of pandemic and economic instability.  The truth of matter is this:  You are right where you are supposed to be.  God has you precisely where he wants you.  This morning, right now, you are a witness to the resurrection of Jesus.  Along with Mary Magdalene there is the astonished declaration, “I have seen Jesus.”

Do Not Hold On To Me - He Qi
“Do Not Hold On to Me,” by He Qi, 2013. Jesus and Mary Magdalene

Let Mary Magdalene’s experience be of encouragement to you.  Mary had been given a new life and was transformed by the Lord.  Yet, on Easter Sunday she did not immediately get what the heck was going on.  Jesus rising from death was not anywhere on her radar.  The empty tomb and the angels did not immediately lead her to faith – not until she saw Jesus, and even then, she did not recognize him.  Only when Jesus called her name did Mary recognize him and respond, believing it was her Lord.  And Jesus is still calling out names.  He is calling your name.  Jesus had said to his disciples that the sheep listen to the shepherd’s voice; he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out (John 10:3-4).  One little word can change our lives forever:  our name.

Easter opens a whole new world for us, as it did for Mary – a future of announcing good news and proclaiming resurrection.  There is a simple reason why the grave clothes were left in the tomb just lying there – they were not needed anymore!  We no longer need the grave clothes of discouragement, defeat, and despair.  We no longer need to weep and wonder, because Christ is risen!  He has called our name and we hear his voice.

The 20th century Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, said that what brings people to worship God – not just on Easter, but any day – is an unspoken question clinging to our minds and hearts:  Is it true?  Is it true that God lives?  Is it true that Jesus is alive?  Could it be true that I can live a new life in Christ?  Is it true that I can rebuild my life?  Is it all true?  Mary Magdalene approached the tomb and found that it was true.

All over the world, this very day, followers of Jesus are testifying that this is all real:  Christ is risen, and there is new life in Jesus our Lord.  Right now, believers across the globe are worshiping the risen Lord because they declare along with us, “I have seen the Lord!”

God has always been in the business of changing lives.  British author A. N. Wilson, used to be known for his scathing attacks on Christianity and proclaimed the death of God… celebrated Easter in 2009 at a church with a group of other church members, proclaiming that that the story of the Jesus of the Gospels is the only story that makes sense out of life and its challenges. Wilson said, “My own return to faith has surprised none more than myself …. My belief has come about in large measure because of the lives and examples of people I have known—not the famous, not saints, but friends and relations who have lived, and faced death, in light of the resurrection story, and in the quiet acceptance that they have a future after they die.”

The moment Jesus calls a person’s name, the power of the resurrection is enabled—the same power that raised Jesus from the dead.  See what you consider as immovable slabs of stone in your life—maybe it’s bitterness, insecurity, fear, self-doubt or cynicism. Those immense rocks can be rolled away. To know Jesus is to know the power of the resurrection.  We don’t need to merely hear testimonies of changed lives like Mary Magdalene’s; we can experience new life ourselves.

There is one word, one name, which has forever changed the world: “Jesus.”  And Jesus wants to change the world by uttering one simple word, one name:  your name, so that you can exclaim with great joy, “I have seen the Lord!”

Mighty God, as Christ burst forth from the grave, may new life explode from us and show itself in acts of love and healing to a hurting world.  May your ever-living Son, Jesus our Lord, keep our hearts rejoicing and grant us peace this day and always in resurrection power.  Amen.

Click Christ the Lord Is Risen Today by the Northland Church choir and sing aloud to the One has conquered death!

1 Corinthians 15:50-58

            I had someone mention to me on Easter Sunday how much he enjoys Easter music and Easter cantatas.  He ended the conversation by saying it is too bad we only get to sing resurrection songs once a year.  Here is my proposal:  then don’t just sing them once a year.  In fact, we ought to be rejoicing in God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, in these next several weeks.
 
            All the hopes and expectations of Christians are realized in Christ’s resurrection.  The good news of Easter cannot be contained or limited to a single day (Easter Sunday).  This is why, according to the Christian Calendar, Easter is only the first of fifty days of celebration called “Eastertide” which leads up to the day of Pentecost.  Eastertide is a season designed especially for exploring the new life we have in Jesus and the joyful Christian life we can all experience.
 
            Spring is the time of year that can give shape to the rest of our seasons.  Christ’s resurrection gives us a reason to rejoice; to hope; to persevere; to serve gladly, knowing that our labor in the Lord is not in vain.  Easter is not over; it is just beginning.  Throwing parties for Jesus is in order.  Inviting friends and family into your home just to celebrate life in God will not only be fun, it will be biblical.  Maybe some people outside the church look at Christians as uptight and repressed because we are not throwing the best parties and celebrations. 
 
We have the highest reason possible to celebrate loudly with great passion and joy; to paint the town red; to whoop it up; to raise the roof; to splurge and be effusive with our worship; to hail King Jesus not just today but all through Eastertide because Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!
Almighty God, who through your only-begotten son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Thank you for giving me a reason to celebrate with joy my Lord’s resurrection.  May I be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit and give the best party in the neighborhood; through Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.