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Good morning and Happy Easter to all—
those worshiping together in person,
and those joining us remotely.
Our first indoors and in-person Easter service in 4 years!
How wonderful to be together and lift the roof in song.
But a special welcome to remote worshipers,
because I identify with you, completely, today.
I come to you from home, thanks to COVID.
Which decided to hit me right before
the most important days in the Christian calendar,
when I had four services to plan and lead.
So I’m sad not to share space with you in the sanctuary,
but I am beyond grateful.
Let me count my blessings!
My loving and supportive spouse,
who’s a skilled nurse with lots of COVID knowledge.
My 5 COVID vaccines and boosters,
and antiviral medication,
that made symptoms manageable.
Reliable high-speed internet
that connects me to my office and everyone I work with.
Mental and physical energy to keep working and planning
and coordinating behind the scenes.
Ample staff and volunteers at Park View who
pick up unexpected extra duties and run with them.
I am grateful!
But I am also aware that what makes all this possible is
the multiple support systems I have around me,
my unearned social location, and the privilege that comes with it,
my instant access to medical systems and technology of all kinds.
I am sobered to note that many other pastors and church leaders
in this country and all over the world,
don’t have those advantages,
and are no less called, gifted, and responsible than I am,
but have gotten the same infection,
with disastrous, life-altering, and ministry-ending results.
I did nothing to deserve what I have today.
But I accept it, and pledge to use it in a way to lift others up.
Now, here we are with Matthew’s wonderful resurrection story.
We’ve been traveling with Matthew now for about 4 months,
since before Christmas.
Next Sunday we finish our journey.
We’ve been reading Matthew with a eye to context—
both the narrative context (how the story is arranged)
and the cultural context (the world where this Gospel story
was first compiled and shared as Good News).
In this case, Antioch of Syria, around 70 A.D.,
a world falling apart for all Jewish people,
including Jewish followers of Jesus.
There is something about Matthew’s version of the Easter story
that stands apart from the others, in stark contrast.
We can guess why.
In all the other Gospel versions, disciples arrive after the fact.
They see evidence—empty tomb, folded graveclothes, angels nearby—
and after poking around a bit, they are mostly perplexed and confused.
In Matthew’s version,
the moment of resurrection happens in front of their eyes,
and they are terror-stricken.
Matthew tells us that two women—two Marys—
creep toward the tomb, in the dark, and
“suddenly there was a great earthquake . . .
an angel of the Lord, whose appearance was like lightning,
came down from heaven and rolled away the stone . . .
For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.”
Hear that? Highly-trained and armed military guards were terrorized,
and fell over in a dead faint.
The resurrection was sudden, unexpected, disruptive, and invasive.
And the first ones to feel the brunt of it
were armed representatives of the Roman Empire.
What Matthew portrays, in his telling of the story,
is that the power of God is erupting on this earth.
It is felt by the earth itself, as it shudders and quakes.
It is felt by all the powers on the earth—
the empires who think they are in charge,
the spear-holders who imagine they can ward off any threat—
these powers all wilt in fear,
and become powerless.
And while the soldiers lie there comatose,
the Marys, who saw the same thing, but didn’t faint
(what does that tell you, by the way)
are met by an angel who consoles them,
“Do not be afraid. Jesus is not here.
He has been raised, as he said.”
In other words, “God brought about this disruption.”
Then the angel gives them an assignment,
“Go now. Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. Go meet him.”
This is a missional assignment.
“Go where Jesus is going,
do what Jesus is doing,
be about what Jesus is about.
This is the new order of things.
The powers of evil and death and the empire
have been conquered by the powers of love and life
and the reign of God.”
After all is said and done, after this earth-shaking event,
this is the bottom line of Matthew’s message,
to his suffering and traumatized community in Antioch,
to those who just witnessed the siege of Jerusalem
and a massacre of a million of their people,
and are in the midst of painful conflict and separation
in their local synagogues,
and who have loved ones to violence and oppression.
Matthew’s Gospel word is, “Find Jesus, and don’t be afraid.”
Find Jesus, and don’t be afraid!
The two Marys are then gifted
with the first human encounter with the risen Jesus.
Before they got to the other disciples,
Jesus met them on the road, and repeated the same message—
“Go where I am going, and don’t be afraid.”
“Don’t be afraid”—
the first words out of the mouth of both the angel and Jesus.
Not a coincidence, given the community Matthew was addressing.
Nor is it a coincidence,
in this divided, hostile, and traumatizing world we still inhabit,
that these words of Matthew have been preserved,
made sacred over time,
and continue to be our Good News to treasure.
Find Jesus, and don’t be afraid.
Find Jesus, and don’t be afraid!
Jesus continues to live and appear among us,
in ways we don’t always recognize.
Our job is to be looking for him, always.
And to not let fear keep us from the search.
One place the church goes regularly to find Jesus, and to find ourselves,
is to the Communion Table.
Jesus established this ritual for the church,
and we carry it on, at his instruction.
Let us continue our worship, at the table of the Lord.
—Phil Kniss, April 9, 2023
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