This past Sunday, as is the case each Easter, we had lots of visitors. Usually it is children coming home to see parents, but this time we also had random visitors from town. Members of their family came from out of town and they wanted to attend a church together, and picked ours. It was wonderful and many of our members reached out to them in a warm welcome, and that was nice to see. Of course my extroverted husband was one of them, bless his heart! Here is what the members and visitors heard that morning. I must admit having such a large audience did make me a bit more animated, and sort of took away the nagging pain in my back. On Monday I went to the chiropractor and she is a magician. Here is the message.
The scriptures we had were: Psalms 118:1, 4-6, 22-24, Colossians 3:1-4 and Matthew 28:1-10. The title was simply, “Easter Morning.”
I read the gospel lesson here at the start then gave the following message: There were two choices for the gospel reading this morning. Both were the story of the resurrection, but each is a bit different. The other choice was from John chapter 20 and we have read it in the past. It is the version that fits more with the song we sang on Thursday about Mary in the garden alone not recognizing Jesus.
Today we have the version from Matthew. It is similar, but not exactly the same. The women see the angel, the empty tomb and Jesus. Later some of the disciples see him and recognize him, and he tells them to go tell the others. And in Matthew’s accounting, both the angel and Jesus tell the women and the disciples to go to Galilee to meet with him.
Ah, Galilee. Galilee is where Jesus grew up. Galilee is where Nazareth is located If you remember back to the story that we often read during Christmas…and he shall be called a Nazarene, words spoken by the prophet Jeremiah…is in the gospel of Matthew in the story of Jesus’ birth.
But again today we are not going to focus on the story of the history of this text because we basically know that. Today, we will look more at the historical geography of this scripture and what it means for us. And our message for today will be the story of why it is important for us to know that version now.
So let us begin with the geography. The area of Galilee is fairly small in comparison to Samaria and Judea and the surrounding places. Nazareth, itself, was basically a small, isolated village. But, in the same area of Galilee where Nazareth was located, there was another city, a much larger city. A place that was Roman ruled with roads and other “modern” infrastructure put up by the Romans. It was a metropolis compared to the little farming village where Jesus grew up.
This other city Sepphoris or Tzippori (Hebrew) as it is named on some of the maps was much larger and far more important in its day than Nazareth. This other city was between 3-4 miles from Nazareth and apparently sitting up on a hill. It was also known as Diocaesaraea by the Greeks with another name being La Sephorie, which is what the French called it during the Crusades. Whatever the name you use for it, during the time Jesus lived on earth it was a growing thriving city with people from all parts of the world, and they were from all religions and all cultures.
And I am not sure which was the chicken and which was the egg (as in which came first), but this city was along a major trade route between countries of the west and countries of the east, it was one of those silk/spice trade routes that moved goods, and animals, and people and cultures from one end of the world to the other. And because of his knowledge and way of acting, this is where many of the Biblical scholars believe Jesus geographically spent part of those unknown years, you know, his teenage and younger adult (his 20’s) years.
The scholars believe that Jesus as a male son and heir likely worked with Joseph in the carpentry trade, and so at that time he was in the middle of a world where there were diverse populations and languages and ideas and actions and beliefs. Not much different from some of the big cities in our country today, and not so different from some of the larger towns in our own area as of late.
But we all know that Jesus did not stay in that world. We all know the stories we have in the Bible. In his early 30’s Jesus left all of that carpentry and family behind and was baptized by John and began the work of his heavenly father. He gathered his disciples and taught them all the things that we learn in the scriptures and charged them as he does us now to go out and share all of that with the world, and mostly to share the love that God has for us, and I think that is the important part of what we have to learn for today.
The truth is that not all of us have been given the gift of voice or witness or the opportunity of missionary work. Not all of us have that ability to stand on the street corner calling out to others to listen to the word. Maybe I am wrong, but I don’t see evangelism as the strong suit of our denomination. We really aren’t that sort of Christians.
And I would guess if we did a poll here today, I wouldn’t be the only one a little skeptical about people who are that sort of Christian. It is sad, but true, I am suspicious of those who are that open about their witnessing; it might have a little to do with my stoic German-Russian genetics, or it might be related to the staunch Puritan ancestry of our church. While on our trip in Tennessee we went to one of the center squares on our last night there, and as we were leaving we noticed that in the middle of the musical entertainers set up every few feet there were a couple of people witnessing and preaching for the crowd. I will just say, it made me a little nervous, and I have to ask myself, why?
When I think of how Jesus shared his love, the love that he was sent by God to show the world, I see the story of the diverse culture in which he must have been raised. I see that in more than just the historical geography of the area where he lived. The proof is in all of the stories about him in the gospels. The proof is in the way that Jesus treated others. He did not take on the closed attitude of the leaders of the religion to which he was born. First off, he didn’t exclude women when he reached out to help those in need, and he didn’t forbid them from being part of his group of followers as the synagogue excluded them from the inner places of worship. We have lots of those stories all the way from the healing of the woman with the years long hemorrhage to the way he treated Mary as she poured the expensive ointment on his feet and washed them with her tears and dried them with her hair.
Jesus also did not withhold his compassion or healing or love from those of different cultures or social status. We have lots of those stories. When he healed the 10 lepers we learn that one was a Samaritan (someone who should have been considered an outcast by a spiritual leader in Jesus area). We learn that when the Samaritan is the only one who returns to say thank you. And, Jesus speaks favorably of Samaritans in his parable about the Good Samaritan as he is teaching about being a good neighbor. He also heals the servant of a Centurion/a Roman military leader and even instructs his disciples to pay their taxes with his, “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” statement.
Jesus does not show prejudice for or against those who were outside of the family in which he grew up. There is even a story of his mother and siblings coming to see him when he stops and says that everyone who believes is his mother and sister and brother. That is who Jesus was and that is the example he expects us to follow. We here in our community and in the area we live in have had a bit of a sheltered upbringing. We haven’t had to deal with many outside of our German-Russian ancestry, well with a few exceptions of some Norwegians or British or Dutch, or some eastern Europeans, but not much else until recently. And it seems the more you watch the news, the more you learn about the battle in our country between those who would open the doors to everyone and those who want things to go back to the days of the long past. And as much as I want to think myself above this sort of prejudice, while I was putting this message together, I came to realize, my issue is not with skin color or race or language; it is with ideas and ideology and values, and I need to come to grips with that fact and make some changes.
What we learn from the acts and the parables of Jesus is that he doesn’t give his concern and love to people based on the color of their skin or the language that they spoke. He didn’t come to earth to be the Messiah only for the people who looked and talked and worshiped as he and his earthly parents did. Jesus died on the cross for everyone. And mostly Jesus expects us to accept that his love and our love should also be for everyone and that even means it should be for those who live a bit differently than we do.
On a side note, another item that intrigued me this week was how on earth did this day come to be known as Easter Sunday? I don’t see that word in any of the scripture lessons. Some believe that the word Easter is likely from a more pagan tradition and was taken from the name of a Saxon goddess that is related to the word east and had something to do with spring and the new life of new growth. Others who are religious scholars prefer the idea that it comes from the German word of Ostern which originates in an older time from the old Teutonic form of auferstehn. I can’t tell you exactly which is true, but I can tell you, I sort of like that second idea better. Well, how many of us have heard of the Oster Haas (Easter rabbit)? [Thank you to the internet and the websites that supplied this information]
The bottom line is that no matter where the English word originated that we use to identify today, and no matter how much we learn about the historical or geographical parts of the human life that Jesus lived, what matters for us today, on this beautiful and wonderful Easter Sunday, is the fact that we are celebrating the resurrection of Christ. We are celebrating the unbelievable love that God had for us in giving his Son to wipe out our sins, our flaws, our shortcomings. And when we accept that love for us, we are then called to share it with those around us, and that means all of those around us, not just our family, though that is a good start. God expects us to share the love of Christ with others and as I said before, maybe we are not great as shouting it from the roof tops or the street corners, but at the least, we need to share that love in our actions towards others. Remember, God expects us to show our Christian love to everyone without judgment or prejudice. Let’s keep that in mind this week as we interact with those around us. And in case you were wondering, next week we will be celebrating Earth Sunday, so we will expand the story to include the rest of creation. Amen!