Going Ahead of Us

Welcome to the Knox Talks blog. Here you can find recent and past sermons relating scripture to a wide variety of topics. I would like to thank Shelley Rose for transcribing my notes into text for the blog.

Going Ahead of Us

Scripture: Matthew 28:1-10

There are so many wonderful messages in the events of Easter after the sorrow and drama of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Discovering the empty tomb is a miraculous ending, full of joy, where we would have expected tragedy.

There is the larger message of new life given to us in the promise of an eternal spiritual existence that will bring us beyond this physical form. This offers us personal joy, not only because of the hope we have for ourselves, but also our hope for the people we love who are no longer with us,

There is a message in the way Jesus’ resurrection is first revealed to the women who were his disciples. They showed courage and went to the tomb when the men were still in hiding. In a profoundly sexist society, the impact of this message cannot be overstated.

I’ve discussed those in the past. The message I would like to pursue is what we are told twice in this reading: “He is going ahead of you”.

Each gospel writer tells this story differently. Mark, the earliest gospel, ends with the empty tomb: no one meets the risen Christ but all are told to go to Galilee because he is going ahead of them. When Matthew re-tells the story, the women get the message from the angels just like they do in Mark’s telling, but then they meet Jesus as they flee. He greets them and tells them the same message again: “I am going ahead of you to Galilee”.

What is so important that this, of all things, is said twice?

Good Friday and Easter happened in Jerusalem, the holy city. Great and dramatic events of faith often happened in Jerusalem and Jesus had led his followers there in order to make the most dramatic prophet statement ever.

Galilee was their home. It was Jesus’ own home, where he had most of his ministry, where he gathered together his disciples. Jesus is saying that he will meet them at home and that he is going ahead of them.

They would be going back as changed people. That old saying about “you can’t go home again” says more about the ways we change        than it does about the way home changes. They hadn’t been away that long but the experiences they had just gone through were transformational.

And simply going back would be life-changing, too. The men, at least, hadn’t seen Jesus. Coming out of hiding and going to Galilee would be a journey of faith. They would have to risk arrest and death to travel home. An empty tomb was startling and impressive; the testimony of the women was unprecedented; but would it be enough that you would risk your life?

They did go, and Jesus transformed them even more. They went on from there to change the world.

Home couldn’t be the same. They were seeing it through the eyes of people who had seen miracles. They were accustomed to thinking that miracles were possible. Healings in their world were always acts of spiritual power, like casting out demons, and lots of people claimed to do this very thing with followers who claimed to be healed by them.

Even the resurrection itself could fit into their existing worldview although it was a spectacular miracle no one expected. They believed that a human’s spirit stayed near the body for three days before returning to God and Jesus coming back to life fit within that time frame. That’s the significance of the raising of Lazarus:  he had been dead for four days which attested to Jesus being able to do things way outside of human expectations.

What the disciples had experienced was the overturning of the world order. Jesus had defeated the mightiest empire of the world        by being something they could all be: weak, poor, disregarded. The Roman empire had squashed Jesus and his movement like a bug the way they had squashed previous groups and messages and now Jesus was alive again.

The disciples didn’t have to be afraid anymore. Jesus had demonstrated that there was life after this life and that even when powerful people did their worst, God would bring them through it.

I’ve always been impressed with the way that these ordinary people, people who fished, and collected taxes, and had regular jobs, people who had spent the days after Jesus’ death hiding in terror suddenly were transformed into fearless speakers who travelled around into unfamiliar lands and places they knew to be dangerous, to share their excitement and their message of hope.

Most of them died in the process which is a remarkable comment on their level of courage and helps us appreciate that Biblical saying: “Perfect love casts out fear.”

Today the church is afraid of many things: there are obvious challenges like COVID; more subtle things like the way society considers religion irrelevant or even childish; and worse, the way that some self-proclaimed Christians seem determined to spread hate instead of love.

We could deal with these challenges better if we could really embrace the message of Easter. We have nothing to fear! God’s love has overcome everything, even death. It’s not as if the scary things go away, but they are no longer the final word. We are given the opportunity to live our lives based on love, not on fear.

Jesus told his followers to go home and start living their new lives. In fact, he told them he would be there ahead of them, to meet them when they arrived. What the disciples were doing was a new beginning, an unfamiliar way of being but they knew they could, because Jesus had gone first, showing them the way.

That reassuring Easter message is one that we can take to heart. Jesus was reminding us that there is nowhere we can go that God is not already there. That includes the future, however uncertain or unfamiliar that may feel. Living a life free from fear, a life based on love starts at home, where we can see what is familiar with new eyes and imagine what transformations God can inspire.

And then after that? Who knows? As individuals, our lives have changed a lot in recent years and more change is likely to come. As a congregation, we are actively trying to imagine the future and wondering what unexpected things we will encounter.

Either way, our calling is to go forward in love, not letting fear put obstacles in our path but embracing love as our guiding principle.

The message of Easter, of new life overcoming even the most shameful death, is not just about dying, and the fear that brings. It is about living; it is about living our lives without a shadow hanging over us; living lives where even powerful assumptions like the might of ancient Rome don’t constrain us because we know that God can do something unexpected and overturn even the most well-established order.

In the resurrection we are given the freedom to live lives of love,      free from fear. Let us believe that message, and embrace that freedom.


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