EASTER MESSENGERS (2)

The words ‘Christ is Risen!’ are, for the Church, a statement of Christian doctrine: and, for the individual believer, a declaration of personal faith.
 
It all began that first Easter morning, when: ‘He is Risen!’ was a message to the hundred or so close disciples of Jesus; who were not really expecting anything of the sort.
 
However, then; and a few weeks later, at Pentecost; their lives became wonderfully changed by the power of an unexpected message which; when received, began to work a promised blessing within them.
 
That those early Christians were true to their calling, and passed the message on, is proved by the fact that the ‘Holy Church of God’ came into being; took the words to its heart, and began to grow. That many later generations were true to their calling; is proved by the one billion plus Christians, who, today, avow a personal faith in the Risen Christ.
 
The words: ‘He is risen’, remain a challenge to the needy world that God loves. Is the message still being delivered?
 
Though varying in detail; the gospel accounts of the Resurrection agree that, whether it was an angel speaking to the women; or Jesus himself; what was said, was a powerful message; which demanded swift delivery. The women were so amazed and thrilled by the fact of Christ's Resurrection: that they ran to tell the others; with a message that simply could not wait.
 
Just before his Ascension; Jesus instructed and commanded his disciples: ‘You are witnesses of these things. Go, and tell others what you know to be true. Do the sensible thing, and start right where you are; but keep on working outwards, for the whole world needs to hear my message. Never be afraid, for my Spirit will be with you all the time, making it possible for you to succeed in the task I set before you’. (Matt. 28: 16-20 + Acts 1: 8).
 
Nothing has changed. The commands are the same now, as then; for we, too, are called to be messengers of new life and hope in Christ. The message is the same now, as then: ‘Christ is Risen! He lives, that you might have new life through him’.
 
An old story says that when Christ ascended into heaven, the archangel Gabriel asked him: ‘What plans do you have for the furtherance of your Kingdom?’  Jesus told him how he had instructed a small band of believers that, not long before, out of fear, had hidden in an upper room, behind locked doors. According to the story, Gabriel wondered if such people could become the witnessing Church. Rather surprised, he asked: ‘Is that all?’... to which Jesus replied: ‘Yes! That is all. I have no other plan’.
 
As a part of Christ's established plan, God has given us a message to pass on to others. What kind of messengers are we? At one time, Radio-operators, when accepting information, used to say: ‘Message received and understood’. God wants rather more than that from us. He wants our response to be: ‘Message received, understood, and passed on’.
 
An English theologian wanted to do some research in an American college, and wrote to the Principal, asking if it was possible. The prompt reply to the request said that a place would be reserved ...
 
... but that an equally prompt confirmation of it being taken up, was required; because of a big demand for places. The Principal’s secretary was going on holiday to Britain and Europe, the very next day; and said that she would surprise the English theologian, and deliver the reply, personally.
 
Forgetting about the need of swift confirmation: she changed her plans, and went to Europe first. By the time she got to England, and delivered the message, it was too late. The place at the American college had been filled.
 
Scripture says quite clearly that, in the affairs of mankind, there will come a time; quickly, and without warning; when it will all be too late to put right those things left undone.
 
A message delivered too late, is as useless as one not delivered at all.
 
When Fleet Street, London, was at the heart of the newspaper industry; there were always dozens of messengers, who worked for message-delivering agencies; rushing around on bicycles or motor scooters.
 
Having received many complaints about undelivered items; the directors of one agency were not sure who was at fault; so they watched, and waited.
 
During very heavy rain in central London: the drains managed to cope with the rush of water, except for those in a secluded alleyway, off Fleet Street.
 
When the City Corporation workmen investigated, they found those drains to be choked with dozens of envelopes; all bearing the mark of the particular message-delivering agency.
 
Enquiry showed that one messenger had, for some weeks, made a practice of not working a moment beyond his set hours. Anything still undelivered when the time ended, was shoved down those drains.
 
We may criticize such a faithless messenger: but what of us?
 
If we have not been as obedient to our call as we could have been; and not so reliable as messengers as we would have liked to have been; then we can take great hope in our lord Jesus. If we allow him to do so, he can redeem our past; reshape our present; and direct our future, in very positive ways.
 
And God, who never does things by halves, will not only help us to deliver his word to others; but also prepare their hearts and minds to receive it.
 
When I was at the theological college at Birmingham, I sometimes went home to the family, for the weekend. One Friday evening, as I boarded the train to London, it was as though I was spoken to ...
 
’Sit next to that man’; so I did. He was a sad-looking West Indian who, straight away, began to tell me about his problems. We spent most of the journey to London discussing them; and the last few miles were spent in out-loud prayer: perhaps to the amusement of the other passengers.
 
On the underground railway platform; just before we parted, and went our separate ways; we had another out-loud prayer, amid the hurrying people.
 
On the Sunday night, in London, I got onto a train to go back to Birmingham; and sat at one end of a long carriage. To my surprise, that man got on at the other end of it, and began to walk towards me. He was the same man, but very different, in that his huge smile almost shone.
 
From that distance, he recognized me and, as he strode along the aisle, he called out: ‘Man O man! God certainly answers prayers! When I got home, I continued to pray, just as we discussed… ’I already have the answer; and I feel tremendous! Praise the Lord!’
 
God enabled me to give a witness to one man, on a Friday evening. Just forty-eight hours later ...
 
… that same man was able to witness, loud and clear, to a carriage full of people, who couldn't fail to hear his loud proclamation about the love of God, and answered prayer…and it may well have been that some Christians in that carriage became very thoughtful; and were encouraged to become more alert to opportunities to witness to God’s love.
 
When March is ended, and we have turned over the pages of our calendars, will the message of Easter gradually fade from our minds, until next year?
 
Or will the on-going joy of it all, make us better messengers: taking God's word of love and hope to those around us, who need it?   Amen.