Gospel: Matthew 28:1-10
1st Reading: Acts 10:34-43
2nd Reading: Colossians 3:1-4
Such a mixture this morning of fear and joy! The fear gets us asking, “Am I good enough? Do I believe the right things? Am I doing what God wants me to? Am I where I am supposed to be?” Upon hearing the good news of God’s love, or knowing the unconditional love of another person, then joy becomes the prominent emotion. The joy has us proclaiming, “I am loved. You are loved. There can be peace and new life.”
“Anyone who fears him and does what is right....” This gets us asking if we’re good enough.
“…is acceptable to him.” Now comes the joyful part—we are acceptable.
“They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.” Now we’re afraid again.
“but God raised him on the third day.” Back to joy.
“He is the judge.” Now we’re afraid.
“Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Joy and relief.
Fear and joy are all mixed together in the Gospel, too. The guards are fearful of the earthquake and the angel. They faint from fear, like dead men. The angels tell the two Marys not to be afraid. When they left with their message for the disciples they had both fear and joy. When they meet Jesus on their way, he again tells them not to be afraid.
When I was growing up church was something very serious and communion so mysterious and fearful. God gave God’s only son as a sacrifice. That is Jesus’ own body and blood. He suffered. His own disciples didn’t understand him. The whole world rejected him. We reject him every day. It was all so sad. I used to wonder when I took communion if Jesus could feel me chewing him up. It wasn’t until I got to seminary that I learned that we weren’t crucifying Jesus every time we communed. So many somber faces at the communion railing made me sad and fearful.
And yet in Sunday School, we sang, “If you’re happy and you know it,” and “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy down in my heart.” I guess it was ok for kids to be happy, but once you become an adult, it is time for fear and sadness and seriousness. And yet, even for the adults it was a mixed bag. The word “Eucharist” that we use to talk about communion means “celebration.” And communion was about remembering the story of how God saves us, which seems to me a joyful thing, and remembering the body of Christ, putting all the people back together again who were separated by sin and fear.
How many times has fear pushed people away from church and God? How many times do Jesus and the angels have to say, “Do not fear,” before we understand that we don’t have to be afraid and we don’t have to try to scare others.
It really has been children that have taught me true joy at the communion table and at church. This is Easter Joy that God is trying to give us, but we have been too afraid to believe or accept. It began with Bethany, a little girl adopted from Bulgaria, who became a part of my home congregation. She was two when she finally came into her new family, the first child to be adopted out of a particular orphanage. We prayed for her for her pending adoption for over a year. We gathered baby items to be given to the orphanage to win their good favor. And when she came she held the tops of her hands together because she was so used to having her hands slapped that she was protecting them. But when we sang “Now the Feast and Celebration” at church we would dance with her in the pews and now she teaches dance, a college student at OSU. That’s what it is to be joyful in the face of death and to experience resurrection. When I came here and gave communion some of my very first times, there were the expectant hands of Otis and Oliver, reaching up over the communion railings, their expectant faces wanting the bread. There was the time that one of the Hellums boys stuck his whole hand in the communion cup. And the times that children have assisted with communion because, although we may get the seriousness of it all, they get the joy of it. They get the joy of being included. They get the joy of tasting something delicious. They get the joy of community. They are eager to see, hear, touch, smell, taste and experience Jesus, not fearful.
Sometimes those old teachings come back to me, too—the old conversations about what is proper attire for an acolyte and how much understanding is enough to have communion. But I have to remember, those are not from God or the Bible. Those are human conversations from a particular time and place. They are about what may or may not be proper, which is a matter of opinion. They are about what is human, not divine. They cause us to draw lines of partiality and judgment.
The scriptures say it clearly, “God shows no partiality.” Peter is speaking to some Romans. He is finally getting it. Nobody is left out. These Romans are loved by God. They are included. Today, children commune at any age. Those who haven’t been baptized commune. All are truly welcome at God’s table. God shows no partiality. Jesus appears first to the women at the tomb, to those who weren’t even considered fully human. God shows no partiality. For any who have ever been left out, this is reason for joy.
To be left out is a kind of death. Not to be recognized for your gifts is to be rejected, not a full member of the community, not to be fully human, not to be allowed to share your God-given gifts with the community. But to know that God shows no partiality, that God is love, and that we are Christ’s body in this world sent to love all, is a joyful thing. When we include those who haven’t been included, we open ourselves to learning from them. This now is what the children are teaching us if we are willing to set aside our fears and allow the joy of Christ to bring us to new life and hope.
Here is a list of things that children do during communion, written by a United Methodist Pastor Jason Valendy in Saginaw, Texas. These are all things he wished adults did more often:
Run down the aisle. It is okay to run down the aisle for communion. In fact shouldn't we all be running to feast with Christ?
The women at the tomb ran to tell the Disciples the good news and they ran smack into Jesus. They weren’t very dignified—they were excited, they were joyful. They didn’t care how ridiculous they looked. There was an urgency, anticipation, joyful expectation.
Take communion with a stuffed animal. This should be acceptable, as long as the stuff animal is served communion as well. Kids understand that everyone is welcomed to the table. Human and teddy bear alike.
If you are 4 or 5 years old—what does “everyone is welcome” look like to you?
Drink every drop. It is critical that every drop of grape juice and morsel of bread is consumed at communion. Who cares is people are waiting behind you to move back to their pews, you do not leave that table until you have been able to take ever last moment you can with Christ.
Do you see these kids tasting it, experiencing it, enjoying it? We have a lot to learn from them.
Ask for a "big piece". Why settle for just a little bit of Christ? Don't we all want a "big piece" of Christ?
Or two pieces like we’ve got here regularly on Sundays, now! If one is good, then two is twice as good. Who wouldn’t want more!
Dunk the whole piece into the cup. If you get to dip the bread into the juice, soak that bread and be sure to no worry about drips or stains. Don’t hold back. Let your whole hand be immersed in God’s blessing.
Seek out the leftovers. The bread of Life is too good to discard in the trash or fed to the birds. Eat all the bread after worship.
Some congregations pass around the communion bread in the social hall after church. We usually do that at our pastor’s gatherings. Here at King of Kings, come ask for some at the kitchen, if you’d like some more.
Laugh. Partaking in the banquet of God is a joyful event! Smile, laugh and if you need to, put a rubber crocodile on your head and make the pastor laugh with you.
There is nothing that bonds us together like laughter around the dinner table. The same is true of God’s table.
Express thanks. One thumbs up at the meal is something, but two thumbs up is great.
We can all benefit from being more thankful, more aware of our blessings and where they come from.
Save some for later. Putting bread into your pocket seems like a reasonable way to take Christ into the world.
Whether you are planning to eat it yourself or share it with a friend, it is good to remember that God goes with us into our everyday lives. He is always with us and there is always enough of him to share.
We have so much fear in our lives, so much seriousness. God walks with us in our darkest valleys and holds us close. And when we least expect it, Jesus appears before us or sends an angel with a message we don’t always accept or understand, that he is risen and new life is happening.
What we do at church and at communion ought to have something to do with our regular life. How we are at the communion table has much to do with how we love and how we live. Whatever your fears and limitations, run toward life. Run toward love as the two Mary’s did that first Easter and as countless children have toward the bread of life. Share love, share life without partiality. Enjoy life and love. Seek more life and love. Be immersed in life and love. Return to it again and again. Don’t waste any of it—get every last drop that’s coming to you. Smile and laugh as you share it with others. Give thanks for it and take it with you wherever you go.
God meets us at the various tombs of our lives where we stand in disappointment and loneliness, broken, hurting, and somber. God wrestles there in the tomb for three days. And God sees the bigger picture, that the story doesn’t end there. God meets us with a message of hope that God is there with us and that there is more to the story. New life is possible. When all hope seems to be lost, new life is already occurring, not just for Jesus, but for all of us. It isn’t the kind of hope in which we are more put together, but in which we admit we are all unraveled and stand there as helpless as children, trusting, open to miracles, ready to learn and grow and see in new ways and experience wonder and Easter joy.