Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017
Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, Colossians 3:1-4, Matthew 28:1-10
Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Throughout the Gospels, there is a common thread, a repeated invitation to come and see. Come and see Jesus, come and hear his teachings, come and experience his healing, come and be fed. Come and see. And the disciples—the twelve, plus Jesus’ other followers—have come, and they have seen. They have witnessed the saving actions of Jesus, including his death on a cross, and now these two women, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, have been witnesses to the resurrection. They have seen what God has done. They have seen life come out of death, a life that is too powerful to ever return to the grave. And now there is a new invitation: go and tell.
Go and tell people that Jesus is alive. Go and tell people that the Lord of Life has broken the powers of sin and death. Go and tell his disciples that they will see him again, that he is with them. Go and tell. Twice in ten verses, the two Marys are told to go and tell. And our Acts reading is Peter telling the story of Jesus to new believers. First, we come and see; then, we go and tell.
What makes this story worth telling? What makes this story important? What makes this story matter, to us here today? This story matters because it is not just a story of something that happened a long time ago to people who looked and dressed funny. This story matters because it is our story, and because it is still ongoing. This world is broken by sin and death—we are broken by sin and death. We live in a world where there is evil, where we hurt ourselves and others, where might makes right and innocent people suffer while the ones who hurt them prosper. We live in a world where people cherish their feuds and enmities, and deny the humanity of anyone who’s not like them. We live in a world where any amount of pain and suffering can be shrugged off and ignored as long as it happens to people somewhere else who aren’t our kind of people. We live in a world where too many of those with power abuse those who have none. We live in a world where people choose to hurt each other, in word and deed, through things we do and things we fail to do. Things fall apart. And especially given what we see on the news, it is so, so easy to focus on all the problems. On all the bad things. On all the general crumminess and misery in the world. It is so easy to be afraid. But that story, the story about how terrible everything is, is not God’s story.
God’s story is this: there was an earthquake, that first Easter morning, and the stone was rolled away from the tomb. God’s story is this: there was an earthquake, and the aftershocks are still being felt to this very day. God’s story is this: death does not win. God’s story is this: God shows no partiality, but loves us, all of us, everyone, rich and poor, the powerful and the vulnerable, of every race and tribe and nation, here and throughout the world. God loves us all, and God chooses to save us. God chooses to reach in to the terrible, crummy world, and work in it, to bring light to the darkness and healing where there is brokenness, forgiveness where there is sin, reconciliation where there is estrangement, hope where there is despair, joy and love where there is fear, and life even in the grave.
We don’t follow Jesus because he was a nice guy who said some wise things 2,000 years ago. We follow Jesus because we have seen the life that he brings, and we want to experience it and share it with all the world. We follow Jesus because he offers us a better story than doom and gloom and despair and fear, a story that looks at the very worst the world has to offer and acknowledges all the worst parts of it and says, this is not the way the world is supposed to be and God is at work to do something about it. We follow Jesus because he brings healing and forgiveness and new life. And some of that new life and healing and forgiveness will have to wait until Christ comes again in glory and heaven comes to Earth. But some of it? Some of it happens here, now, among us. I have seen people be petty and cruel; I have seen people make excuses to heap more pain on those who are already devastated. I have seen people lash out out of fear. But I have also seen people be kind and generous, not just to those they already like but to everyone. I have seen people build bridges instead of walls, and I have seen people stand up to bullies and I have seen people and communities change things for the better. I have seen people bring love and joy to the places it is most desperately needed. And in each of these times and places I have seen God at work, Jesus Christ present in the words and deeds of ordinary people.
This is our story. This is not just the story of one dude who died and got resuscitated a long time ago. This is the story of how Jesus Christ is still at work in us and around us. This is the story of change, and hope. This is the story of God working in us and around us. Come and see. Look around you, and see the signs of God’s presence. Look around you, and see what God is doing. I guarantee you that in every dark place in the world, if you look closely enough you will see God at work to bring light and healing. Come and see. Come and see what Jesus Christ did 2,000 years ago in dying for our sins and rising to new life. Come and see what Jesus Christ is doing in us and around us right now to break the power of sin and death and bring new life to all people. Come and see the seeds of the kingdom God is planting in us and around us, flowers that spring up even though the world tries to choke them to death. Come and see.
And then go and tell. Thank the Lord, and sing his praise. Tell everyone what God has done. And I don’t just mean tell non-Christians. I mean, we should tell them, too, but believers are part of “everyone.” Notice that before Peter got to telling the story to Cornelius and his household in Acts, the women had to go tell the disciples. Both the angel at the tomb and Jesus himself told them to share what they had seen with the other followers of Jesus. We need to hear that story, too. We need to hear about God’s power to destroy death. We need to hear about the earthquake that is in the process of reshaping the world. We need to hear about life even in the midst of death. We need to hear the story of God’s saving actions and let it inspire us, let it help us to see God’s work in us and around us. We need to hear the story, too, so that it can build our faith and strengthen us to be part of God’s mission in the world. We need to hear the story so that we can grow in faith and love. We all need to hear that story, so we all need to be telling it to one another.
We need to hear the story from the time we are very small to the time we are very old. The world has so many stories to tell, and so many of them are bad ones. The world tells stories about pain, about despair. The world tells stories about selfishness, and greed, and hate, and fear. And the only way to counter those stories is with stories about life: the life that God gives, the life that Jesus Christ died and rose again to give us. The life that God wants for all of creation. We need to hear that story, over and over again. And so we need to keep telling it.
In just a few minutes we’re going to baptize young Axel. And his parents are going to promise to bring him to church and place in his hands the holy Scriptures—in other words, to teach him the stories of faith and raise him in the community that tells those stories. We as a congregation are going to promise to tell those stories, to support him in his growth in faith. And in a few weeks we’re going to confirm some young members of this congregation, and they will affirm the promises made in their baptism and promise to live as part of that community of faith, to hear the story of what God has done in Christ Jesus and is still doing around us today. Every one of us has made those same promises, either at our own baptisms, or our confirmation, or the baptism of our children, or the baptism of other children in the community. We promise to tell the stories, to pass them on, to encourage one another, to build one another up in the faith. We promise to set aside our fear, we promise to reach for the joy and love that Christ brings, we promise to tell the story of Jesus Christ, and we promise to open ourselves to let God’s story shape us and our lives.
Come and hear that story. And then go and tell it, and may God be with you every step of the way, breathing new life and healing and hope and joy and love into every corner of your soul and your life.