An Easter Sermon By Bishop Peggy Johnson Philadelphia Episcopal Area: Peninsula-Delaware Conference and Eastern PA Conference April 12, 2020
Scripture: 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. 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 worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them. “Do not be afraid;
go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, there they will see me.”
The Bible is full of angelic appearances from Genesis to Revelation. Angels do all kinds of things. They are warriors, protectors, hurry-uppers, chastisers, ministers of comfort, professional wrestlers, guides, worship leaders, singers and angels even catered a meal for Elijah the prophet.
But the main role of an angel is to be a messenger for God.
They were often telling people about pregnancies: Sarah and Abraham, Samson’s mother, Zechariah, and the Virgin Mary. They also proclaimed the good news of great joy for all people on Christmas night.
I would be safe in saying that this Easter gig topped them all. This angel came down from heaven on Easter morning, sets off an earthquake, rolls the stone away from the tomb and then sits on top of the stone! He got to tell the very frightened women that Jesus had risen from the dead. It doesn’t get any better than that. It still is, and always will be, the greatest message ever told in history.
With every gift there is a responsibility. With every “so what” there is a “now what”. With every great truth we need a “therefore”
The angel doesn’t stop with the good news of resurrection. There is a directive, a call to action, a pair of rollers on those sneakers. Easter is not a noun but a verb. Easter people believe and then live the story.
So….what is the angel’s marching orders for the women and for us on this rather not normal Easter Sunday 2020?
II. Angel’s Directives
A. Don’t Fear
It is understandable that these women were afraid. The whole weekend was a fearful mess with the crucifixion and fear of retribution by the Jews, and now this earthquake. I didn’t go to Puerto Rico in January because of the earthquake. This angelic figure that appeared like bright lightning was not a little bit of a shock either.
When the angel said “don’t be afraid” it is not because this wasn’t a fearful thing. It was. Jesus’ disciples were in a boat once with Jesus during a pretty violent storm. Being afraid is natural part of being human. I don’t like flying in planes on a windy day either.
We are experiencing a great deal of fear right now with the Coronavirus epidemic and all the sheltering in place and social distancing is so that we do not get sick and spread the virus. We have a healthy fear of this kind of disease. But there is lots of fear about the economy, our way of life, our loved ones, our health care workers, fear upon fear!
When the angel said “don’t’ be afraid” he was talking about ultimate things here. Death was swallowed up into victory. Love beat out hate. Satan was thrown a decided one-two punch. Resurrection is now our ultimate hope. It doesn’t mean that this life is free from fear-making things. It means that we can count on new life after we die. We can count on God to be with us through the storms. So come what may we have the final ace card in the game: eternal life.
French writer, Victor Hugo (who wrote Les Miserables) once wrote about a bird who was sitting on the end of a branch during a wind-storm. He wrote “Be like the bird that, passing on her flight awhile on boughs too slight, feels them give way beneath her, and yet sings, knowing that she hath wings.”
This is the meaning of faith, not fearing because you know in the end that “God’s got this,” you’ve got “wings” and you are safe in the arms of God in the end. This is a gift of Easter.
B. Be Sure
The angel tells the women to “Come and see the place where he lay.” The angel removed the stone not to let Jesus out but to let the women in so they would have 100% proof of the resurrection.
God wants us to be sure about this resurrection reality as well. He wanted them to have proof so they would be convincing evangelists. There is nothing worse than someone whose heart is not sure.
I used to have to sell candy bars or wrapping paper for school projects to earn money for trips or sports equipment and I hated selling things. I would look down while approaching a customer and say “you don’t want this, do you?” And of course with a salesperson like me, I never sold many products and my parents always ended up buying all the stuff I couldn’t sell. I just wasn’t convincing. I did not believe in what I was doing.
God wants his witnesses to be totally convinced about Jesus’ resurrection because the effectiveness of the mission depends on it.
Remember Jesus went back to Thomas in the Upper Room when he missed the first post-resurrection visit. He told Thomas to put his fingers in the nail marks and his hand in his side so that he would be sure.
Hold fast to the truth of the gospel. Jesus died for you and rose again and he is coming again. If you are not sure about it, read up on this in the Word and pray. Ask God to give you the assurance of your salvation through the power of the Holy Spirit. God wants your heart to be sure, very sure.
C. Go Tell
The angel told the women to go tell the disciples the good news and be quick about it. Good news needs to shared! You can’t keep it to yourself.
I was out of toilet paper recently and when I got to the 5th store and the lady behind the counter says, “sure we have toilet paper in aisle 11.” I just about ran down to aisle 11. Then I told everyone about this store that had paper products.
Friends, we’ve got better news than toilet paper. We’ve got the rocking good news that Jesus gives us abundant life, eternal life, forgiveness of our sins and a story to tell to the nations.
If Easter is just about having a video service or having an Easter service at church whenever we are all able to gather again with the lilies and candy for the kids, new clothes and ham dinner, then it isn’t Easter at all. True Easter is a life-time of telling people about Jesus by your personal testimony of genuine joy and peace and also by the works that you do.
During Lent there is something on Facebook known as “Lenten Madness.” It was invented by a couple of Episcopal priests. Each day during Lent the lives of saints throughout history are shared and they pair two each day. People who wish to play this game vote for which one they like the best and at the end there is one saint who gets chosen as number one. These are Bible characters, famous saints and obscure people throughout the centuries. Some are martyrs, some are brilliant scholars but they all have in common this contagious love for God and they tell the story with their lives and words.
Such a life was “Elizabeth the New Martyr.” She lived in Russia in the mid 1800’s. She was married to a Grand Duke in Russia and they lived a life of luxury but then he was assassinated and she dedicated her life to the poor, gave away everything and with the proceeds opened a Martha and Mary Home in Moscow. They took care of orphans and they devoted much time to prayer. Such a witness this was that many joined her movement and they started a hospital, and numerous social agencies. She was martyred by the Bolshevik regime but was heard singing as they threw her and her workers into a mineshaft with grenades. She sang because she knew where she was going. Many were converted because of her witness. She told the good news and did the work of Christ and gave hope and life to many. That’s an Easter witness. That’s a resurrection life we are called to proclaim in word and deed.
D. Follow Jesus
The angel told the women that Jesus would go ahead of them to Galilee and they were to see him there. Jesus always goes ahead and leads us in the path we are to go. We don’t have to guess what we are to do. There is a living God who shows us the way.
This winter we did not have much snow but one night I did have to drive home in a bit of snow from Delaware and it was dark and hard to see with all those white snowflakes in the headlights. But lucky for me there was a truck ahead of me the whole time and I just followed the truck and that made it easy.
The same is true with the life of a Christian, we follow Jesus and obey his word and commands and we’ve got all the direction we need. He goes ahead of us and has work for us to do and God is not shy about telling you what that would be.
So what is the Lord leading you to do right now? Easter people are always following Jesus into some interesting paths. Jesus calls us to work for justice for people without a voice. Do you know someone who is being treated unfairly? Jesus calls us to be in ministry with the poor. Do you know people you can help? Jesus calls us to bind up broken relationships and make peace with those who have hurt you. Do you have anyone like that in your life? Jesus leads us into mission and ministry always and when we say “yes” it can be an amazing adventure. You will always have the Lord at your side.
you have a blessed Easter! Follow the
angel’s instructions and you will be living the resurrection story in real
time: don’t be afraid, be sure of what you believe, tell the story and follow