Monday, April 21, 2014

Sermon on Matthew 28:1-10, for the Resurrection of Our Lord, Easter Sunday, "Delivery Confirmation"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Has it caught your attention how many times the words “tell” or “told” appear in the reading; or that someone is in the process of telling about the Resurrection of Jesus? The angel tells the women that Jesus has risen, after they’ve seen the empty tomb, and tells them to “go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead, and behold He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him. See, I have told you.” Then the women go to tell the disciples, and they meet Jesus who again tells them to “tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” There’s a strong connection in the reading between seeing and telling—which is the very role of the first Christian eyewitnesses. Tell, tell, tell!
But why does the angel, after telling his good news to the women, end by saying, “See, I have told you”? It’s like he was the postman, giving a delivery confirmation of sorts—making sure that the message had been sent and received. Have you ever been amused and delighted when either a child or an adult eagerly looks forward to checking their mail, hoping to find a card, a letter, or a package from someone? Sometimes it’s the expectation that something’s on the way; something you ordered. Or it’s the holidays or your birthday, and you think someone will write you. Have you ever signed the delivery confirmation for a package with a sense of eager joy? Perhaps an even greater joy occurs when something comes unexpectedly, and we receive a letter or package from someone we love, by surprise. In contrast, we’ve all known the disappointment of finding a mailbox empty, or that a letter or package we thought was for us, belonged to someone else (or maybe that it was only bills). Although the analogy doesn’t carry over quite as well to our world of email, Facebook, and text messaging; even there we know the pleasant surprise of an unexpected message from a friend we haven’t heard from for a long time.
But what a joy for those first eyewitness to find the tomb…empty! At first it was fear and confusion, but once the message of the angel dawned on them, and they realized that they weren’t going to find a dead Jesus to anoint with burial spices, but rather were soon going to see the living Jesus in flesh and blood, to anoint Him with their praises—it was pure joy. “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified…” the agony, the bleeding, the nails—they shuddered to think of the sight of Jesus suffering, breathing out His last. But the angel goes on, “He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Come see the place where He lay.” As he said…wait, yes, He had told us that He would rise! It’s true! Joy washed over their fear. “Then go quickly and tell his disciples that He has risen from the dead, and behold, He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him.
A little sentence spoken by Jesus while He was finishing the Last Supper with His disciples, the night He was betrayed. A little sentence lost in the confusion and events of those chaotic days—“Jesus said to them, ‘You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.’” Yes, Jesus had foreseen their fear, He had foreseen their abandonment and confusion, as sheep scattered when their shepherd had been attacked. But He told them to be ready for His return, and to meet Him in Galilee! But like a Good Shepherd, He was going to have to gather again His scattered sheep, who had forgotten His instructions and were still captive to fear. And these women, the first eyewitnesses of the empty tomb and of the risen Jesus, would be His messengers to tell the disciples!
See, I have told you.” This was no hallucination or dream, but they really had seen with their eyes and heard with their ears what the angel confirmed for them. Jesus was alive! And as further confirmation, Jesus Himself appeared to them on the way, encouraging them not to be afraid, but to go tell the disciples to come to Galilee. And there they anointed Him with worship—the burial spices could be forgotten, Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
There is always a message for you in the Good News of Easter, especially because the tomb is empty! Though empty mailboxes may disappoint—the empty tomb surprises us with joy! And the message for me, for you, and for everyone, is that Jesus Christ is Lord, and He is risen from death, as the firstborn from the dead. Scripture calls Jesus that because He has died once, never to die again. He lives today in His risen and glorified body—immortal flesh and bones—a body like His is promised to all believers in Jesus Christ.
When the women departed with their message in hand and heart, it says they departed in fear and great joy. Fear lingers in our old sinful nature, that still dreads death, that still doubts and worries and wonders if the Good News can really be true. But great joy belongs to the new person in Christ Jesus—it is the fruit of the Holy Spirit alive in us, filling us with wonder, faith, and hope, to know that Jesus Christ paid the awful penalty for our sins on the cross, but now Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! 
What are the fears or the doubts that you wrestle with? What sin troubles you, or what trouble in your life will give you no peace? Hand them over to Christ Jesus, the Risen Lord, who cares for you. Hand them over to Jesus who has died for your sins on the cross, and who makes a new life for you. Your life is hidden with Christ in God. What is the “delivery confirmation” that God has for you? Most likely no angel has personally visited you with the message, “See, I have told you.” But in Holy Baptism God has delivered you to the cross of Jesus, where you have died to your sins, and been raised with Him to new life. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4).
Sign here! (make the sign of the cross on forehead and heart)…to mark you as one redeemed, by Christ the crucified. Not only has the message and the effects of Jesus’ death and resurrection been delivered to you—but by the very Words of Jesus Christ, you have been delivered by Him! And the Holy Spirit seals us as God’s guarantee, His down payment that you have been delivered, and will one day also be delivered into eternal life. There’s a new life to be lived, and fear to be cast away, because Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Jesus is with you every day of your new walk with Him—your life is hidden with Christ in God.
Just like the women at the empty tomb, we too have a message to tell. It’s the same message delivered to us…the same message that delivered us. Jesus Christ is risen, and there is forgiveness of sins through believing in His name. Now is that a labor of obligation or joy? Is it a burdensome and reluctant task to be a messenger of this Good News, or is it a labor of joy that is its own reward? Is it a burden or a joy for someone to tell that they’ve just gotten married? Had a child? Fallen in love? The very nature of those experiences makes it a joy. And so it should be for us, that the very nature of discovering that God loved us so much that He gave His Son to die for us, that whoever believes in Him shall have eternal life—this is joy! If it isn’t, we need to hear the message again, and take it to heart that God has spoken these words for us too.
For our old sinful nature that’s still caught in fear, it might seem hard, it might seem overwhelming. And its ok to be nervous! The women were too! But for the new spiritual nature that we are in Christ Jesus, it is joy! I’ve never been a mailman, but I imagine that sometimes they find joy in seeing a person’s face light up when they sign for a Christmas package, or receive a letter from a soldier who’s overseas, or for anyone who delivers an unexpected gift, and gets to see the smile or the tears of one who has received an unexpected kindness, or a long hoped for word of love. Who is waiting for you to bring them a message? Who is lonely and waiting to hear from you? Who has never imagined that God could still love them, or that there is a victory even over death? Who has never dared to believe that Jesus is our Savior from sin and death, and that He loves us with a compassion so deep, that He laid His life down for us?
Go tell that person. Go spread the joy! “If you cannot speak like angels, if you cannot preach like Paul, you can tell the love of Jesus, you can say He died for all. If you cannot rouse the wicked with the judgment’s dread alarms, you can lead the little children to the Savior’s waiting arms” (LSB 826:2). Jesus is Lord of all, and He preaches good news of peace to all. Peace that our sins are forgiven. Peace that His kingdom is spreading and advancing through all the world, in every heart that believes Jesus Christ is Lord, and finds forgiveness of sins in His name. Peace to know that death is defeated, and life is in store for all who trust in Jesus. Message delivered! The message is for you! We are delivered, in Jesus’ name. Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

Now the peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen. 

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