Here are three passages from the Bible that tell us about meeting strangers who brought good news.
The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, ‘My lord, if I find favour with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.’ So they said, ‘Do as you have said.’
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’All: Christ is risen!
Leader: Jesus is risen!
All: Christ is risen indeed!
Call to Worship (Colossians 3:1-4)
(We) have been raised with Christ. (We) seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. (We) set (our) minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for (we) have died, and (our) life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is (our) life is revealed, then (we) also will be revealed with him in glory.
Jesus Christ is risen today
Leader: Jesus died.
All: Jesus was raised from the dead.
Leader: How did this happen?
All: (John 20:1-10) Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
Leader: O God, how wonderful it is to praise you on this resurrection day!
All: How good it is to sing praises to you, our God! You are gracious and songs of praises are fitting.
Leader: O God, you are our creator.
All: Through the death and resurrection of your Son our Lord, you recreate us and make us new. We come and worship this day the risen Christ. We bring our thanksgiving. May you be praised this day and many days yet to come!
Blessing, honour and glory are yours, O God, our redeemer and sustainer. Amen.
The day of resurrection
Leader: In Matthew there, too, is a description of what Easter morning was like:
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, All: ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 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.’
Leader: So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
All: Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him.
Alleluia, alleluia, give thanks to the risen Lord
Sermon: Christ as the Stranger
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Thine be the glory
Sermon: Christ as the Stranger
Mary stood weeping. It was as if all the grief she stored up from Jesus’ passion, suffering and death on the cross broke open like water bursting a dam. The last straw was the disappearance of Jesus’ body. What a cruel world it was that someone even took away the dead body? Who were these people? Why would they desecrate the dead person even more? Wasn’t the killing Jesus sufficient for them? Mary could no longer hold her tears. The sadness overtook her. Tears poured out as the angels asked ever so gently, “why are you weeping?”
When she turned around, she saw Jesus standing there. It was as if her tears brought him back to stand beside her. This dearest Jesus came to her in her grief. Yet, she did not see him. She could not see him. In her tears, she saw a stranger standing there. The risen Jesus was not one she readily recognized and knew. Why was this? Why could she not realize immediately that Jesus was standing in front of her? She could only see a stranger.
Mary did not know the stranger. Mary could not imagine that Jesus could have risen. Mary wanted his dead body to do her duty of looking after the dead body. She, like everyone else, believed probably in the bodily resurrection in the future, but not right away. She could not imagine the resurrection could happen in her lifetime. Since the resurrection was a far away event, she needed to do her duty in the meantime.
Most of us are like Mary. Doing our duties diligently. We do as much as we can based on what we think we have to do. Those extra things that happen outside of our expectations are often ignored or seen as not something we need to know about or to do something about. We do a fine job of what we know we have to. But we are not good at being able to figure things out beyond what we have to do. We usually put our hands up when we encounter something we know nothing about.
All those passages we heard this morning have one thing in common. God (also Jesus or God’s messengers) appears as a stranger. Abraham, Mary and the disciples of Jesus meet someone they do not know. These ancient stories tell us to receive strangers and welcome them. In the early Chrisitian traditions, Christians welcomed strangers who came in Christ’s name. Remember how Paul travelled and was welcomed by the churches everywhere.
In Christian churches today, we are often very less than welcoming. We have gone through many hurts. Strangers who came and were received warmly turned out to be those who scammed our good will or used our welcome and left us hurting. Many strangers who received our hospitality gave us nothing but headaches. These are all true. We need to be extremely careful. We need to remember that we ought to be wise in all matters.
At the same time, we cannot simply ignore the fact that many of us use welcoming hospitality to meet our needs and use strangers’ kind responses for our own goals. In other words many churches have used the strangers’ gratefulness to tie them down to build our own programs and ministries that help us to establish beneficial relationships that bring about the building up of a successful church ignoring the needs of strangers. These subtle pulls have been revealed as nothing more than hooks to lure unsuspecting vulnerable people into churches.
On this Easter, it is important for us to re-think about what life is in the resurrection world. Mary’s old thinking gets shattered by Jesus’ voice. Yes, it was not until Jesus called her name her eyes were opened to recognize the Stranger before her as Jesus in the resurrection life. It was in hearing the name being called she came to know the identity of the Stranger.
One reason Christians welcome strangers in hospitality is to enjoy the possibility of God coming to us. The resurrection life is shared when through the voices of strangers we hear the voice of our Lord calling us. This is the distinction we make wisely. We are to receive all strangers in the same way we want to be welcomed by Christ. We love all, especially strangers we meet because God sends them to us. At the same time we do have our ears open to the voice of our Lord which comes through strangers in ways that we do not expect.
Often scammers, fraudsters, grifters and swindlers take advantage of our good will. We know this because we have been taken to the cleaners many times. Remember a story that I shared with you long ago? This happened not to us and to this church, but a church in suburban Montreal. A woman showed up one day at the church office asking for help. The pastor listened.
She told a story of how her family was put out of their home because they could not afford the rent. She and her husband were looking for jobs. Indeed her husband couldn’t come because he was being interviewed. They had three young children. They had nowhere to live. The pastor heard the story and was moved. He telephoned an elder and they discussed how to help. The whole church rallied together to help. They found her and her family a nice apartment, furnished with new furniture, and bought them new clothes. The family was grateful. They began coming to the church every Sunday.
Suddenly after three months, they stopped coming to the church. No one knew what happened. Initially the people at the church were concerned but left them alone thinking that the family would come and tell them if anything happened. A month stretched into two. Finally they received a note from the landlord that the rent has not been paid. Members of the church could not reach the family.
After three months of nonpayment for rent, as well as church people not being able to contact the family, they went to the apartment. No one answered. They left notes. Finally, the landlord sent an eviction notice to the church. The landlord and a church member went to the apartment. They knocked. No answer. The landlord opened the door. The apartment was empty. A curious neighbour came and told them that the family moved away about three weeks ago. They called the police because they were worried. Hearing their names, the police informed them that these were well known swindlers. Their church was about the third one these people took advantage of.
These scam activities ruin everyone’s desire to help and welcome strangers. However, these activities are no excuse for us to shut our ears from the risen Christ who comes to us as a stranger. Through the stranger’s voices we hear Jesus calling our names as was the case with Mary. The risen Jesus is forever a stranger in this world. Each time we turn away from strangers, we close our ears to Christ calling us through them. Each time we withhold love from strangers, we do the same to the risen Lord.
It is no coincidence that in Matthew 25, Jesus tells us about the judgement scene where we are told, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” And as it happened to Mary, the risen Lord calls us with the voice of strangers. When we hear our name called, if it is the risen Lord, we will see the risen Christ standing in front of us.
He is Lord
Prayer(source: The PCC Prayer)
God of power and possibility,
you broke open the tomb that held our Lord.
Now break into your church where your people are distracted
by old quarrels, discouraging results, or unhelpful divisions about mission and service.
Resurrect, renew and revive your church!
God of resurrection and new life,
you broke into the hearts of Jesus’ fearful friends.
Now break into our relationships with one another.
Where they are vibrant and life-giving, nurture them.
Where they are strained by old hurts and misunderstandings,
or carelessly taken for granted,
Resurrect, renew and revive our life together!
God of might and mercy,
you broke the schemes of those who stood in the way of your love.
Now break into the governing systems of your world.
Stir the minds and hearts of leaders to work for justice and equitable sharing.
Where laws are corrupt, or people suffer under harsh rule,
call them to account.
Resurrect, renew and revive the leaders of the world!
God of healing and hope,
you broke the bonds of death which tried to shackle new life.
Now break into situations of illness, pain, grief, and loss.
Wherever people are sick in body, mind, or spirit,
wherever someone mourns the loss of any relationship or dream,
bring your healing grace.
Resurrect, renew and revive our lives!
God of Easter Renewal and Resurrection,
you have broken into our lives again this day.
We give you thanks for the power of your love to remake every situation
that brings us challenge or choice.
Break into all our moments of celebration and joy, too.
Give us gratitude, the impulse to share, and a spirit of grace and understanding.
Resurrect, renew and revive your people!
Now we pray in one voice the words that Jesus gave us:
The Lord’s Prayer
On Friday, April 21 at 5:30 pm, we will have our Spring Potluck Dinner. Please, mark the date and time. Come and join us. Bring whatever food you would like to share with others.
After this morning’s service, we have a special Easter celebration in the hall. We will be judging the hats and giving awards.
The strife is o'er the battle done