A New Creation (Easter Sermon)

“A New Creation”

Matthew 28:1-15a

Allen Huff

Jonesborough Presbyterian Church

Easter Sunday 2023

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the tomb. Look, there was a great earthquake, for an angel from the Lord came down from heaven. Coming to the stone, he rolled it away and sat on it. Now his face was like lightning and his clothes as white as snow. The guards were so terrified of him that they shook with fear and became like dead men.

But the angel said to the women, “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. 7Now 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.’ I’ve given the message to you.”

With great fear and excitement, they hurried away from the tomb and ran to tell his disciples. 9But Jesus met them and greeted them. They came and grabbed his feet and worshipped him. 10 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.”

11 Now as the women were on their way, some of the guards came into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 They met with the elders and decided to give a large sum of money to the soldiers. 13 They told them, “Say that Jesus’ disciples came at night and stole his body while you were sleeping. 14 And if the governor hears about this, we will take care of it with him so you will have nothing to worry about.”

15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were told. (Matthew 28:1-15a – CEB)

         Twice in Matthew’s telling of the Easter story we hear this instruction: Don’t be afraid. Go to Galilee. You’ll see Jesus there.

Matthew continues the story of the disciples’ encounters with the resurrected Jesus. For today, though, let’s linger in this moment of wonder.

         Both the angel and Jesus say, Don’t be afraid. What might they expect the women to fear? Maybe they realize that new experiences often involve, for human beings, a certain degree of anxiety and sometimes outright fear. Even things of which we are fully aware can frighten us—especially when we know they can harm us or people we love.

It seems to me that another thing making fear so, well, fearful, is that the things we fear usually lie beyond our control—even when they claim to represent something helpful, healing, or hopeful. And Resurrection is one of those terrifying wonders.

Resurrection is intimately and eternally tied to Incarnation. As such, it’s more than merely a do-over. Resurrection is a beginning that recapitulates the Creation—the event through which that creative, relationship-seeking energy and purpose we call God uttered the universe into being. That means that Resurrection starts with more than a momentary interruption of some progression or status quo. Resurrection follows a death, a termination. What was is no more, and will never be, again. Nonetheless, that death sparks a re-creation, something completely new and different, yet intimately and eternally tied to the thing that precedes it.

Attempts to describe Resurrection always fall flat. That’s one reason that images and metaphors are so important to Easter. And laying aside that irrelevant bunny, we’ll use the monarch butterfly as an example. In its first existence, the larva stage, a monarch is a fat, yellow, black, and white-striped caterpillar crawling about on slow, sticky feet. It inches its way along milkweed stalks and eats its way through as many leaves as it can stomach. As a caterpillar, it probably travels no more than a total of a few yards before it attaches itself to something stable, curls up, and within a few hours, sloughs off its skin and finds itself cocooned inside an emerald green chrysalis flecked with iridescent yellow spots. This is the pupa stage.

If all goes well, in a couple of weeks a radically new creation emerges—the adult butterfly with a lean body, long, soft hair along its back, and antennae that are, essentially, two slender noses. From that body spreads a pair of delicate golden wings fringed with black and accented with white spots. After some weeks of gathering nectar, the monarch flies not a matter of feet or yards, but some two thousand miles on its crepe paper wings.

The metamorphosis takes the creature from portly, cumbersome worm to magnificent, continent-crossing butterfly. And it doesn’t happen without a kind of death, without the complete surrender of one form to another.

If a caterpillar’s brain could imagine that it would trade in its surface-gripping feet for gravity-defying wings, it might lift up a prayer saying Please, take this cup from me. This is terrifying!

And maybe God’s answer would be something like, I understand. But listen, while you can’t imagine your next life right now, trust me, it’s going to be worth it. Don’t be afraid.

Now, back to the Mary Magdalene and the disciples.

After hearing that the world has changed beyond all experience and expectation, we receive the next instruction. Go to Galilee. Some 100 miles north of Jerusalem, the region of Galilee carries deep historical and symbolic significance.

Nazareth, the place of Jesus’ birth, is in Galilee. The Sea of Galilee, along whose shore Jesus called his first disciples, is the eastern boundary of Galilee. Capernaum, where Jesus preached his first sermon, is in Galilee. So, Galilee represents a place of beginnings.

         Now, on Easter morning, when the angels and then Jesus tell the women to tell the disciples to go to Galilee, the instruction isn’t to return to the way things were. The instruction is simply to go back where it all started, because a whole new way of being in the world awaits them. And while that way of being will be entirely new, it awaits them in the person of the same person that all of them had loved, followed, and watched die just 36 hours earlier. And since that time, everything has changed—forever. A New Creation has begun.

         For us, post-resurrection Galilee can be pretty much anywhere. And wherever it is, to get there, something must die, metaphorically anyway. And whatever it may be, we have to let go of it. Letting go is the path toward the New Creation of Resurrection.

         Much has been said and is being said about the “decline” of the Church. And something is definitely happening. It seems to me, though, that a healthy and hopeful way to look at our changed and changing situation is to imagine the Church, as the body of Christ, experiencing, globally, a season of moving from one stage of being toward a whole new creation. Something even more beautiful. Something with wings, perhaps.

Still, it’s scary. The Church that most of us in this room grew up with, love, treasure, and continue to embrace and to nurture, could very well be entering a kind of pupa stage. That would mean sloughing off familiar skin, familiar practices and arrangements, and preparing for ways of being and doing church that we have never experienced, nor really imagined. And yet, such a transformation might just help us to follow more faithfully a resurrected Christ.

Easter invites us to imagine ourselves—individually and communally—as part of a continual and a sacred process of creation, death, and re-creation. God did not establish a static order, but an organism, something that lives, moves, has being and purpose, and that is always in the process of becoming.

Resurrection is part of that process. Resurrection gives us wings on which we transcend our slow-footed fear and selfishness. Resurrection gives us the strength and courage we need to embrace the new vision and the new possibilities that come with being a New Creation.

Resurrection empowers us to release old hurts and the thirst for vengeance, and to forgive that old nemesis.

It empowers us to forgive old institutions, their smallness, their self-absorption, and their archaic prejudices against people whom God made different but no less beautiful and holy.

Resurrection empowers us to see the world around us as God’s presence with us, and God’s provision for us—something to steward with gratitude and generosity because none of us survive without this earth. And when we see the earth through the eyes of transformed creatures, we recognize that there is, in fact, enough for everyone because we recognize our need in our neighbor’s need, and we work to make sure that all have enough.

Resurrection sends us to Galilee to open our minds, our hearts, and our hands to the new thing God is doing in us and through us.

What new thing is God doing in you?

Where is your Galilee?

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