Be the Church
 — Rev. Phil Hobson

April 16, 2017
Easter Sunday

Matthew 28:1-10

Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.

An earthquake. A radiant being descending from heaven, rolling the stone of the tomb away and sitting on it. Soldiers going catatonic for fear.

Easter is not a pleasant day. It is not a nice day. It is not a normal day.

It is a day of the power of God to make all things new.

It is a day when the powers of sin and death are shown to be bankrupt.

It is a day when love wins.

Ideas have a history. Resurrection is not found in the Old Testament. It was an idea that came about in the time between the prophets of the Old Testament, what my seminary professor had us call the “Prime Testament.” Prime meaning “it came first,” rather than old, implying worn out or not vital any more.

The first ideas of resurrection came about because those who opposed pagan occupation of Israel, those who chose God instead of the emperor, were killed in a number of uprisings. Where is the justice of God if those who oppose pagan empires die with no reward? So it was speculated that they would receive new life in the resurrection somewhere at the end of time.

This is why the rich and well off (the Sadducees) who collaborated with Rome did not believe in the resurrection. They literally had the life anyone would want now. What use have they of some later life?

So when Dawn preached a few weeks ago about Lazarus who had died, and Jesus said “He will be raised,” his sister responded that she knew he would be raised on the last day in the resurrection of the just. The idea of resurrection had moved from the reward for martyrs who died in battle against pagans, to all of those who were faithful to God.

But like most things in the Gospel, Jesus is not just going by the old scripts. He is showing the people that God is doing more than they expect, more than they are ready for.

And he raises Lazarus there and then. Jesus is the Word of God. The Word of the God who makes all things new.

Jesus is the Word of God, a word like an earthquake that breaks every chain, that shatters prison doors.

Jesus is the Word of the God who rolls away the stones.

Jesus is the Word of the God who makes a way where we were sure that there was no way.

And the church of Jesus Christ is the church that claims and proclaims this word.

And on those days when I cannot remember this (and we all have days like this don’t we?), you are here to remind me. And on the days when you cannot remember this, I am here to remind you.

There is a phrase used twice in our Gospel story this morning. And in storytelling, when a phrase gets used over and over, you know it is important. The angel says it. Then Jesus says it.

Do. Not. Be. Afraid.

Oh, the church has trouble with this one. And as individuals, we have some trouble with this one don’t we?

Do we have enough money? Do we have enough people?

We have old buildings, and there is always something that needs to be done. We have older congregants, and there are always health problems to deal with.

Do. Not. Be. Afraid.

But our nation dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb on Afghanistan, on Maundy Thursday, on the day when we remember Jesus telling us to love one another as he loves us. We are upping the tensions with North Korea. We are upping the stakes in Syria.

Do. Not. Be. Afraid.

But our parents are aging, and our children face such a broken world, and we ourselves have doubts and fears.

Do. Not. Be. Afraid.

The church, if it is the church, is the place where we can be honest about our worries, our doubts, our fears, the threats we face, the pain we know, the grief that sits outside our door, scratching to be let in.

Do. Not. Be. Afraid.

And the church, if it is to be the church, is also the place where we take all of these things and we give them to God. We remember that the women did not need to roll away the stone. We remember that the guards did not have to be bribed, or coerced, or tricked, or fought.

God does the heavy lifting. We need to show up, to be sure. But God does the rolling away of the stone. We need to prepare and do our part, but God scares the guards to sleep.

And when we look for Jesus among the dead, among how things used to be, among our expectations, we hear again, “Do. Not. Be. Afraid. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.”

And on our way to tell people the good news, who shows up, but Jesus. And like the women, we grab him, we hold on to him, we do not ever want to let him go again.

And he tells us, “Do. Not. Be. Afraid.”

And we are not supposed to hang on to him. We are to go and tell others.

Because whenever we try to hang on to old ways, old patterns, old hurts, we cannot receive the ways in which God is making all things new.

If we hold on to Jesus, even the resurrected Jesus, how can he ascend to the Father and send upon us the Holy Spirit. And without the Holy Spirit, how can we be the church? Without the Holy Spirit, how can we participate in making all things new?

So yes, I have problems, and you have problems, and we have some problems in common. Family. Health. Job security. A world all too ready for war. Opiod addiction. Poor communities without clean water. The list goes on and on.

But being the church is not about ignoring or denying or overlooking the problems.

Being the church is about inviting God into the problems. Being the church is about trusting God to do the heavy lifting. We still need to show up. We still need to be prepared. But Jesus is the Word of the God who shakes the world, who sets all things right, who makes all things new.

And we are the church of Jesus Christ. Where the hungry are fed and the naked are clothed. We are the church of Jesus Christ, who will protect the environment and care for the poor. We will forgive often. We will reject racism, and sexism, and heterosexism, and we will embrace diversity. We are the church of Jesus Christ, who ate with the sinner and the prostitute and even the tax collector, so we will fight for the powerless. We will share our earthly and spiritual resources.

We love God. And so even with the pain and hurt and worries and anxiety, we will enjoy this life, because it is a gift of God.

I get scared. You get scared. But together we can remember the words of the angel. We can remember the words of the Word of God.

Do. Not. Be. Afraid.

Because God will do the heavy lifting.

Thanks be to God.