Sunday’s sermon: Willing to WITNESS

Text used – Matthew 28:1-10

It began with a whisper –
     the whisper of the dawn
          as the sky barely began to lighten
          with the first rays of morning;
     the whisper of sandals on gravel
          and cloth brushing softly against cloth 
          as the women made their way to his tomb;
     the whisper of a Holy Spirit
          that is always on the move …
          even then …
               even now.

It grew into a murmur –
     the murmur of the earth
          as the garden around them began to awaken:
          birds, insects, and flowers yawning their faces
               to the rising sun;
     the murmur of the guards
          set to guard the tomb,
          guards who grumbled about their ridiculous mission …
          I mean, he was already dead, after all;
     the murmur of a Holy Spirit
          that is always moving with purpose …
          even then …
               even now.

It swiftly became a cry –
     the cry of the earth
          as it quaked and shook
          when heaven and earth collided in the presence of an angel;
     the cry of the women
          come to care for the body of their teacher, mentor, friend,
          women who found only an empty tomb …
               an empty tomb and a staggering message:
     the cry of a Holy Spirit,
          that ever-present, ever-dynamic Divine Disturber …
          even then …
               even now.

It crescendoed into a shockwave –
     a tremor of fear that shook the guards,
          guards terrified by their encounter
          with the miraculous … with the impossible … with the holy;
     a tremor of action that spurred the women on,
          on to share their good news – THE good news –
          with their friends …
               and their friends’ friends …
               and the whole wide earth;
     a tremor like the movement and work of the Holy Spirit
          that cannot help but leave us completely changed …
          even then …
               even now.

With great fear and excitement,  
     they hurried away from the tomb
          and ran to tell his disciples.[1]


  • Friends, throughout Lent this year, we’ve been exploring a variety of ways that our faith calls us to willingness.
    • Lots of those calls to willingness were call to difficult actions
      • Willing to forgive
      • Willing to accept, especially when our idea of fairness doesn’t match God’s
      • Willing to respond to God’s invitation to us
      • Willing to prepare for the word to which God calls us
      • Willing to welcome, especially those who are unlike us in any way … in every way
      • Willing to give God the honor and faithfulness that God requires
    • All of those calls to willingness are calls to actions – to things that we can do to live into the faith that we claim. But today’s Easter call to willingness is different. Today’s Easter call to willingness is all about going and telling. → about putting a voice to our faith while we also put feet and hands and hearts to our faith
      • Important because while we’re doing all of those things that we spent all of Lent talking about – forgiving and accepting and welcoming and responding and so on … If we’re doing all those things but we’re not sharing with people around us that we’re doing them because of our faith, we are neglecting a critical and essential element of that faith: the element of witness.
        • Directive given to the women – to Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” (could be Lazarus’ sister Mary or another Mary traveling with them) … directive given to the women by the angel – text: Don’t be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He isn’t here, because he’s been raised from the dead, just as he said. Come, see the place where they laid him. Now hurry, go and tell his disciples, ‘He’s been raised from the dead. He’s going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.’[2] → The directive is clear: “Now hurry, go and tell.” There are no nuances in the Greek here – no potential other translation, no connotations to these words, no cultural context that adds extra insight for us. Go. And. Tell. Plain and simple.
        • Directive echoed by the Risen Christ himself just a few moments later – text: With great fear and excitement, they hurried away from the tomb and ran to tell his disciples. But Jesus met them and greeted them. They came and grabbed his feet and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Go and tell my brothers that I am going into Galilee. They will see me there.”[3] → Same directive. Same words. Same clarity. Go. And. Tell. But this time from the One – the One who had taught them and led them and eaten with them and loved them … the One who was supposed to be dead, the One whose lifeless body they had been going to anoint as per the Jewish burial customs … the One who was miraculously, inexplicably, gloriously before them now .. the One, the Savior … Jesus, the Christ.
        • Directive that eventually ends Mt’s gospel with what we’ve come to call the Great Commission: Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted.  Jesus came near and spoke to them, “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth.  Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”[4] → Go and do. Go and tell. They go hand-in-hand.
  • But why? I mean, isn’t it enough that we just be good people? It is really our jobs to broadcast our faith? In a word … yes. Because Jesus said so! But beyond that, let’s think back to something we started talking about last week when we read our Palm Sunday passage.
    • Last week’s text: And when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up. “Who is this?” they asked.[5] → You might remember that I pointed out last week that Matthew’s account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday was the only one that included the entire city in this reaction – “the whole city was stirred up.” And you might also remember what I said about the Greek here.
      • Gr. here is a little more severe than this particular translation lets on – Gr. = shake, agitate, tremble → Jesus has caused more than just a subtle buzz of whispered conversations with his entry into Jerusalem. He’s sent a tremor through the entire city.
      • Last week: pointed out that that Gr. “stirred up” – that word that described what happened to the whole city when Jesus entered it at the beginning of Holy Week – is the same word used to describe how the guards at the tomb “shook with fear” when the angel from the Lord came down to roll the stone away and reveal the empty tomb → So Matthew’s entire Holy Week narrative – from the very moment Jesus sets foot in Jerusalem until the moment the stone is rolled away – is bookended by the trembling of profound revelation.
    • But it isn’t just this particular narrative that’s affected by that trembling of profound revelation. That bookending isn’t just a pretty literary device meant to draw our attention for a moment before we focus anew on something else. That shockwave that Jesus’ appearance sent through the crowd when he came into Jerusalem … that shockwave that overtook the guards at the moment the stone was rolled back and the emptiness of the tomb was revealed … that same shockwave stretched down through the millennia into our very hearts, our very lives.
      • Shockwave of the movement and work of the Holy Spirit – the Divine Disturber, as my treasured Fun Nuns call Her
      • Shockwave of faith that cannot help but leave us changed
        • Change our actions in all the ways we’ve talked about throughout Lent → inspiring our willingness to live the life that Christ calls us to live
          • Life of compassion and mercy
          • Life of abundant grace and radical welcome
          • Life in which we consider the words and actions of Christ before we speak and act → story of my lanyard/WWJD
        • Scholar: The resurrection of Jesus is a total reordering of our world but is also an intimate promise of presence with us. The risen Christ comes alongside us and walks with us … as this encounter with Matthew conveys. The resurrection of Jesus not only signals the radical transformation of the world that the inbreaking reign of God brings, but also promises that the risen Christ can be with us in the everydayness of our ordinary lives.[6]
          • Reminds me of the blessing/prayer attributed to St. Patrick: Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who things of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.
    • Friends, the story of our faith is a story unlike any other. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about the Grand Story – the story of God working in and through God’s people throughout history, a story that finds its climax in a empty tomb and the simple, joy-filled greeting of a Risen Christ who brings overflowing grace to a world in need. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about our own stories of faith – the many and varied ways that God has indeed come alongside us in all the moments of our days, our mountaintop moments and our valley moments and also the everyday ordinary moments. The story of our faith is unlike any other, and it is a story that we are called to tell. If you have felt that shockwave – whether as a world-reordering tremor or even just a distant rumbling or a subtle hum – go and tell! If you have noticed the movings of the Holy Spirit in your life and in your world, go and tell! If you have felt the presence of Christ at all … if you have found Christ in any of the ways described by St. Patrick or any other ways he might have missed, go and tell! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Go and tell! Alleluia! Amen.

[1] Mt 28:8.

[2] Mt 28:5-7.

[3] Mt 28:8-10.

[4] Mt 28:16-20.

[5] Mt 21:10.

[6] Ruthanna B. Hooke. “Commentary on Matthew 28:1-10” from Working Preacher,

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