Easter Vigil :: Matt 28:7-9 :: From Second-Hand Message to First Hand Encounter

Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 
Matt 28:7-9  +INPFSS+

At last! We celebrate.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Sin has been atoned for. Death has been conquered. The door to everlasting life has been thrown open, and for the first time in human history, we have hope. Hope that suffering will be redeemed. Hope that death is not the end. Hope for eternal glory and joy! 

And because Jesus Christ was raised from the dead in his body, THEREFORE the Cross has been transformed. 

The cross that last night was nothing more than a sign of sorrow and  desolation,
has now, in light of the resurrection, become for us a symbol of joy and vindication.

Alleluia indeed!

Tonight we have heard how this great victory over sin and death was the culmination of God's long plan of salvation. It is the culmination of all that had transpired before. 

Christ is the true Ark.
Christ is Abraham's Promised lamb
Christ has parted the waters of death and leads us through them
Christ has gathered us gentiles to himself, and made a new nation for God
Christ has taken away our hearts of stone.
Christ has gone into the belly of death, and was spat back up on the third day.

Christ will always be the Lamb that was slain. But he is also now the Lamb that has conquered. The Lamb that sits upon the throne. The Lamb to whom all honor and glory shall go, forever and ever.

This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the great message of Easter. 

And tonight I wish to offer just a short reflection on HOW we receive this message, based on the Gospel lesson that we just heard. 

The account of the resurrection begins with a messenger – an Angel – which, you'll recall, is just the Greek word for “messenger' – An Angel gives a message to the women who had come to Jesus' tomb. And he tells them to pass on this message: That 'Jesus has been raised from the dead'. To go and tell it to the disciples back home. The Angel even announces after this, “This is my message for you”. And the two Mary's forsake their original intent in coming to the tomb, and turn around and head back to town where the disciples are in hiding, to go and give them the message. 

They evidently believe the message right away, for as the Scripture records, they headed off to the disciples with “fear and great joy”. Fear, because wouldn't you be quaking a little if you had just seen an angel who told you that your Lord was back from the dead, and Joy, because it means everything the Lord had said is true, that he really was the Son of God, who was now raised in power. 

Now, if we press pause on the narrative right here. Pause just before the moment when the two women bump into the risen Lord themselves, as they are running to pass on the message, that they had been given from the heavenly messenger: I think we have a picture of much of our own discipleship.

[Most] All of you here I know believe the message of the Gospel, and have believed it for a long time. Most of you have heard a messenger – probably a human messenger, and not an Angel, but still, a messenger has told you that Jesus is risen from the dead, offering forgiveness of sins, and you believed him or her, and have probably, hopefully passed on that message to others. To kids, and co-workers, and what have you. And this is excellent. And commendable. And honoring to God. And as pleasing as the lives of those dear saints, the Mary's at the tomb. 

But it's not all there is.

It's not all there was for the Mary's. As we see in the last verses of our reading tonight. Un-pausing the narrative, and continuing with Matthew 28 verse 9: 
Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.

The thing they had heard about from the messenger. The thing they had believed in good faith, and were off to proclaim. All of  a sudden they saw for themselves.

The risen Jesus appeared to them and said, “Hello!”

And in that instant, what had moments before been only second-hand knowledge, became first-hand experience. And as they saw their Lord, their friend, Jesus, risen from the dead, they fell at his feet, his nail-scarred feet, and they worshiped him.

And here we see the fullness of what it means to know Christ. To know him personally. Not just by way of second-hand reports, and news passed on from one to another, but to encounter him vividly, first-hand.

And this is what I want to hold out to you on this Easter Night. 

That because our Lord IS risen from the dead, we can actually encounter him. 

Every now and again, for reasons unknown to us, the Lord makes himself visible to a few people here and there.  But since the Ascension, for the most part, the encounters that Christians have had with the risen Lord Jesus are not visible. Jesus is not seen with the eyes. But that doesn't mean that he isn't encountered in just as real a way as the two Mary's encountered him on their way back from the tomb.

In the invisible places. In the silent home within our heart. With our souls, by the grace of the Holy Spirit given to us in our baptisms, we can still meet our Lord. When we come to him in prayer. Corporate prayer. Liturgical Prayer. Private prayer at home. Silent Prayer. WHENEVER we direct our inmost being toward the unseen heavens, we bring ourselves into the very presence of God, where we can actually MEET Jesus. 

The World and the Devil would tell us that this is just our imagination. That this is just Christians being fanciful. But anyone who has met him knows that this is a lie. That it is actually another PERSON that we meet, when we retreat into prayer. A person who loves us. Who can speak to us. Who is our friend and brother, as well as our Lord. A person so real that as many as 70 million Christians have died as martyrs over the last 2000 years in their loyalty to the friendship they found in their Savior.

He is risen. He is real. And you can actually know him first-hand.

This is a truth that I didn't really get for many many years as a Christian. I thought that Christianity was simply about knowing the right things, and then passing on the message. Like the Mary's BEFORE they saw Jesus for themselves.

But over the last several years, the Lord has shown me what he has shown countless billions of Christians in the past: He wants us to actually get to know him, in prayer. 

And what I offer to you tonight is a question: Do you know about Jesus, second-hand? Or do your KNOW Jesus, first-hand.

If you already know him first-hand, thanks be to God! I invite you to join with the two Mary's in the rest of our time tonight by falling at his feet, and worshipping him with all your heart, in this celebration of Communion.

If, on the other hand, when you're honest, the Gospel you know is really just what someone else has told you about. Don't lose heart! The Lord is actually very pleased with your faithfulness in holding on to the great message. But He is inviting you tonight to something more. To begin to get to know him for yourself. To experience his presence in your soul, and especially in this most special Easter Eucharist. 

Since Jesus is not a Genie, and doesn't live in a lamp that we can rub in order to meet him, we cannot “make” an experience of encountering him happen. All we can do is come before him, as a soul to its maker, and ask. And ask. And keep asking until he answers. Ask that he would show himself to us, in the invisible places. That we could know him as our own friend, and not just as somebody else's.

My own personal experience with seeking to encounter the real and risen Jesus, is that sometimes there is a fair bit of waiting involved. Of patiently coming to him in faith, and saying, “Lord, I want to know you, personally, and not just second-hand.” And sometimes, the Lord doesn't answer my request and I just sit there. But as the Psalmist is always reminding us, wait for the Lord. And in waiting, he has always come. He as always eventually “shown up”, as he did to the Mary's on the road.

Maybe you've tried this, and been discouraged in the past. 
I encourage you to try again.
To seek him even right now. This moment. And tonight through the course of our Liturgy.
That you might know him as he is. And more and more and more, until we DO see him face to face, on the day that we each will die. 

And that in knowing him, you would bow to him as Lord, and hold his feet, with his healed wounds that testify to his love for you, and worship. And worship. And worship.