Jeremiah 31:1-6; Psalm 118:1-2,14-24; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 28:1-10
The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here.
What comes to mind when you think of angels? They show up a lot in the Bible. They show up a lot in our culture, too. Maybe that’s what you think of: someone dressed in white, with wings and golden hair, sometimes holding a trumpet, or a harp. It’s the stuff of Hollywood and greeting cards.
We often use the word angel to describe someone who has been kind to us, who has done us a big favor, or who has come to the rescue in time of need. “Oh, you’re an angel!” we say. Or, “She’s my guardian angel.” But the word “angel” in the Bible doesn’t mean someone who protects or takes care of us; it simply means messenger.
When angels show up in the Bible–look out! They don’t generally show up to make people feel good. They show up to deliver a message. The message they deliver almost always has something to do with turning worlds upside down. We shouldn’t be surprised that they often say, “Don’t be afraid.”
When God’s messenger shows up at the tomb two days after Jesus’ death, his message is: He is not here. To people who have heard this story over and over that sounds like good news. But put yourself in the place of those who heard it. Imagine that your best friend has been unjustly arrested, tortured, executed—and the final indignity—their body has been stolen by grave robbers. This is what the women were thinking when the angel said, He is not here. When angels show up, fear is a normal first response. When angels speak, our world might be about to turn upside down.
The women show up at the tomb, thinking they know where to find God. How about you? Where do you expect to find God?
Some of you here this morning may not believe in God, or at least have serious doubts. Or, you might be like many Northwesterners who call themselves spiritual but not religious. Maybe you gave up on organized religion long ago. Maybe you’ve given up on the church because Christians seem self-righteous or irrelevant or hypocritical—or worse. Maybe you’ve been burned and embittered by the church for who you are. Maybe you’re as convinced of where God is not as those women who arrived at the tomb were convinced where God was. But is there a messenger trying to get your attention, ready to turn your world upside down with the simple message: God’s not where you think. He’s not here.
Maybe you’re here this morning with rock-solid Christian convictions. You know what you believe. Maybe you have a strong sense of right and wrong. Your world is black and white–or, at least that’s what you need to believe in order to keep your world from falling apart. Is there a messenger somewhere in your life trying to get your attention, ready to turn your world upside down with the simple message: God’s not where you think. He’s not here.
Many Christians think of the Bible as a book of answers, a book of facts and history. For people who live with a lot of fear there can be some comfort in that. Comfort–but not much room for growth. Comfort—but not much room for mystery. Comfort—but not much room for miracles. Someone once said that the Bible is not a book of answers, but a library of questions. What if that’s true? What if it’s true that, whether believers or unbelievers, when we show up at the place where we expect God to be God’s moved on? God’s not there.
What if the Bible is a library of questions? When we say the Apostles’ Creed, for example, and three times say “I believe” is what we believe the final word? In a few minutes baby Fiona will be welcomed into the family of God. Last week I met with her parents Amy and Scott and as we were going through the service we came to the part where the pastor asks, Do you renounce the devil and all his empty promises? And I said, “I’m not really too concerned about whether you believe in a devil or not. Some people do, some don’t. But surely you believe there is evil in the world and forces that have the power to make us less than human.
Do we really understand what we’re saying, even when we say, “I believe”? One time Jesus asked Peter if he—Peter—believed in Jesus. Peter’s reply: Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief. Which was a way of saying, belief is not a matter of conviction or certainty as much as the realization that God always has more to say than our tiny brains and fearful hearts can comprehend. Something in our beliefs always needs to die.
So where does that leave us? Do we have nothing to hang on to? Is everything just up in the air? No! When God’s messenger says, “He’s not here” he doesn’t leave it there. He points to where God is. He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.
Galilee is where Jesus and his followers were from, so this sounds like great news! Except–if it’s true that Jesus was alive he should be going to Jerusalem, where kings go to claim power and exercise their authority.
God wasn’t in the tomb where they expected. God wasn’t in Jerusalem as they hoped. He is going ahead of you to Galilee. Well, the women don’t stay at the tomb; they go toward Galilee. But on the way, unexpectedly, Jesus shows up! 9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.
God isn’t where we think—at least, not for very long. But here’s some good news: God is always out ahead of us, calling us into a new future, and sometimes we don’t have much to go on except some message—some messenger—that’s turning our world upside down. But on the way to where we expect to find God, sometimes God unexpectedly shows up—and finds us!
Where are there angels in your life? To what extent are you convinced…of your beliefs…or unbeliefs? Are there messages that you don’t want to hear, that you’re afraid to hear, like the women at the tomb— that might just turn your world upside down? God doesn’t send angels for the sake of turning our worlds upside down. God turns worlds upside down for the sake of love. Resurrection is the word we use to describe the life that’s been turned upside down, where death has given way to new life, where certainty has died, and a new world is born. It’s that place we discover when we’ve given up waiting by the empty tomb and have set out for Galilee.
Believer. Doubter. In those places of your life where you are certain of what you believe or don’t believe: Where in your life is God’s messenger speaking to you: He’s not here; he’s gone ahead of you? Will you continue to sit at the empty tomb of beliefs and habits maybe of a lifetime that need to die–that may have served a purpose at one time but are no longer accurate or useful? Will you be content to live with fear, or grief, or certainty? Or, will you go to Galilee? Will you risk the possibility that God, for the sake of love, might be ready to turn your world upside down?
(Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures…)