"Going Ahead"

Easter, April 24, 2011, Colossians 3:1-4, Matthew 27: 66-28:10

The Reverend Thomas C. Willadsen 

How many of you rolled out of bed this morning and shouted, "Hallelujah!"? I remember waking up like that on Christmas morning when I was a child, the waiting was finally over, but most mornings I do not rise filled with excitement at what lies ahead--or with appreciation for what has already happened. Someone told me once there are two kinds of people: those who say wake up and say, "Good morning, Lord." And those who say, "Good Lord, morning!" I tend to be in the latter group, I confess.
Easter is the most joyous day of the year for Christians. It's our holiest day. It's the reason Christians nearly 2,000 years ago bent the calendar and chose the first day of the week for worship. Every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection. And yet, I am convinced that we often move too quickly to the joy and celebration of the resurrection on Easter. I need, and I believe many of us need, to take some time to experience the good news, the best possible news of all... that Christ is risen!
This morning, instead of jumping off the dock of Lent, and doing a cannonball into the joy of Easter, I want to wade in slowly, dipping one toe at a time, before moving forward.
We need to start with the silence that was the Sabbath. There's a day-long pause between the first verse of the reading from Matthew and the rest of the reading. We can imagine the despair of that silence. Jesus had died on the cross-just as he had told the disciples he would. The Pharisees and the priests went to Pilate on Saturday and asked him to make the tomb as secure as possible. The tomb was sealed with a stone, and everything was silent as death.
At the first moment they were permitted to do the work that was tending the corpse of their dear friend, two women went to the tomb. That's when the special effects started: an earthquake; the descent of an angel; the guards were petrified with fear...and the angel spoke to the two Mary's-why weren't they petrified like the guards?-do you think they knew something the guards didn't know? Anyway, the first thing the angel says, the first words spoken at the tomb on the morning of the resurrection, "Don't be afraid!" or perhaps it sounded more like "Don't be afraid!"
There's another story in the Bible that begins with an angel saying, "Don't be afraid!" It's when the angel announces Jesus' birth to the shepherds in Luke's gospel. There's something frightening about Jesus. There's something eerie and scary and supernatural about Jesus when he was born and after he died.
So we started with silence...then there was fear...the angel told Mary and Mary not to be afraid...that Jesus was on his way to Galilee, and they should go and tell the other disciples...and it says, "They were frightened and very happy." And as they were going ahead, Jesus appeared to them and then the first words Jesus spoke after the resurrection were "Don't be afraid."
On Thursday night, after the Last Supper, when Jesus went off to pray, he told his disciples "after I am raised to life, I will go to Galilee ahead of you." [Matthew 26:32, CEV] I love that phrase, "raised to life."
The Mary's turn to Jesus and bow down in worship, but Jesus nudges them forward, reminds them of the plan to meet up again in Galilee. Tells them everything is different now.
Everything is different now. Everything is already different. Right now. That's the word that Paul wanted the Colossians to hear in the Epistle Lesson this morning. They have already been raised with Christ. The joy of the resurrection, the knowledge that God's love is stronger even than death, the cleansing forgiveness we know in Christ, has happened and it's making us brand new. And it has made us brand new. Right now. He uses a surprising word, I think, Paul writes that our lives are "hidden" with Christ. Maybe he means our lives are "kept" with Christ, but I think Paul is telling us that the life we lived apart from Christ, what we used to be before we accepted the life-changing love God sends us in Christ, that life is gone away forever.
Jesus offers us freedom from sin and a fresh, new life. It is the greatest gift we will ever receive and it is the hardest gift we can ever accept. Because accepting the gift of new life in Christ means that we also accept the deep, constant, relentless love of God who is alive and cares for us passionately. God who delights when one of us wakes up, turns from sin, accepts acceptance and walks into the future. God ‘s love forces us to grow and change. At the very end of Matthew's gospel, after the part that was read today, Jesus says, "and remember, I am with you always to the end of the age."
Words cannot capture the love that God expresses in Christ. Words can't capture the joy of reaching out from what is comfortable and familiar to be embraced by the abiding, constant and constantly changing love of the living God. Words can only point at the confusion the women felt at the tomb, the fear mixed with joy. The mystery of falling down to worship the one who hung dead on the cross Friday. It's a mystery.
But Christ told them that he was going ahead. And so should they. And so should we all. Go ahead. Walk into the future, knowing that your old selves are hidden and gone forever. That God's love is profound and real and mysterious. Trust the mystery. Don't hold onto the mystery, but trust it. Trust it as it moves your forward.
Trust the mystery of Christ's presence with us here as we celebrate the joyous feast of the people of God.
God loves you! Walk into the future. Christ is risen!