Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Sermon: "Welcome Home"

+ The Resurrection of our Lord – April 8th, 2012 +

Isaiah 25:6-9; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Mark 16:1-8

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed. Alleluia!
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

            When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint Jesus’ body. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.

            Not exactly what you’d call a Travel channel’s top-ten Spring Break getaways. “Welcome to Disneyland, want to visit a graveyard today? Probably not. A tomb is a place of finality. No matter how many people are huddled around you in a cemetery, part of you still can’t help but feel alone. A tombstone is an ugly trophy reminding you that Death is the last enemy and he doesn’t like to lose.

            As the sun came up that morning that’s all the women knew. They saw the cruel beatings and the cold nails pierce his flesh. They saw the death march up to Calvary. They heard his final words. Saw him breathe his last. They saw God die that Friday afternoon. And they watched as He was laid in a tomb. That first Holy Week was anything but a vacation for Jesus’ followers, more like the week from hell.
            And though it’s hard to imagine how the women felt, we’ve probably all taken similar walks. We’ve all mourned the death of loved ones. Attended funerals. Been at gravesides. They won’t be sitting at the table with you at home. So you show whatever love you can with flowers on the graveside or silent, tearful words.
            The women weren’t on their way to a joyful reunion. But to finish the burial. Bring the spices. Anoint the dead. But what else was there to do? Where else would you go? Just go home. No welcome home party for Jesus.
            And as they walked they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?”

            Good question. Who will roll the stone away? Not the Romans. They don’t want Jesus causing another riot. Not the Jewish leaders; they wanted him dead. Not the disciples. What would they have to gain? Nothing. No, Jesus was dead. The Romans can attest to that.      
            Everyone who had a reason to parade the body of Jesus up and down the streets of Jerusalem had the opportunity to do so. But none did. Why? Jesus didn’t fake his death. His body wasn’t stolen and his resurrection wasn’t a hoax. It’s history. Your faith is founded on fact. It’s true; dead men don’t rise…ordinarily. But this was no ordinary man and his was no ordinary death.

            Yes, a tomb is a place of finality. But it’s also a place for faith and hope.

And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back – it was very large.  And entering the tomb, they saw a young man – an angel – sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe and they were alarmed. Amazed. Astonished.

            Who could blame them? White knuckled with fear. Trembling in bewilderment. They were expecting to find a dead body and a stone in their way not an angel and an empty tomb. Let alone the flabbergasting headline. Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus the crucified. He has risen. He is not here.

            The women had heard this message before: The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be killed….and after three days he will rise. But they still brought burial spices. They still trembled with astonishment. Jesus was lost. Dead. Buried. They still didn’t believe he would rise from the dead. How could he? It was too good to be true.

            The problem wasn’t that they thought too highly of Jesus but that they expected too little of him. He wants to give eternal life and all they want to do is cling to death. They were the ones who were lost and dead. Not Jesus.

            We’re no different, confused and lost as they were. The problem isn’t that we have false expectations – although we certainly do. The problem is that we – like the women and the disciples - don’t really expect God to keep his promises. We see how promises work out among our friends and family and co-workers - ourselves. The problem is that we expect too little from God. As if he won’t fulfill his promises to give us daily bread, to provide for body and soul. As if hasn’t already given us everything we need in the cross; as if he didn’t promise to rise again. O foolish ones, slow of heart to believe all that Christ has promised.

            For we who expect too little of God, Jesus delivers the unexpected. Jesus did not leave the women frozen in their fears and he won’t leave you either. He would not let the women wallow in their doubt, sin and death; He will not abandon you to the grave. He will not let you pay for your sins. He loves you too much for that. He insists on taking your fear, your doubt, your unbelief – your sin and death – all of it upon Himself.

            In the midst of your fear and trembling, Jesus comes to you just as he did the women and his disciples. He comes to roll away your hardened heart of stone and replace it with a heart of faith and trust. When Christ burst the bars of death’s prison he opened heaven to you; he opens your tomb. Do not be afraid. Jesus the Crucified is risen. Where he goes, you go. Where he dies, you die. Where he rises, you rise.

            Easter Sunday is the great “I told you so” of the Gospel. “See, just like I promised,” Jesus says. Jesus’ journey to the cross was not in vain. Your faith is not futile. For Christ the Crucified is risen. And that means you can take him at his word when he says:

            “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.”

            “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

            “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me lives even though He dies, and whoever lives and believes in me never dies forever.”

            These are not the words of a liar or lunatic but of the One who died on a cross and rose from the dead. A fact attested by eye witnesses who would not change their testimony no matter what you threatened them with. Every detail fits. It defies our expectations and experience but it’s true all the same. The stone is rolled away. The sealed, guarded tomb is empty. The burial cloths are folded neatly like a freshly made bed. Eye witnesses saw Him, heard Him, touched Him, ate with Him, and they testified against hostile cross-examination. Their testimony speaks to us even today.

            You may be astonished or have doubt like the women. But your belief, or the lack thereof, changes nothing. You can believe the earth is flat, or that politicians will soon stop lying, but your belief doesn’t change reality. Reality is that Jesus the Crucified is risen. The grave could not hold him down. That’s what gives this Sunday, and every Sunday, a unique joy.

            For the angels no longer guard the door to paradise with flaming swords; they welcome you to the tomb of Jesus: “He is not here. He is risen.” The prodigal Son went out to the cross to gather you, his lost brothers and sisters. So let the welcome home party for all of Adam’s prodigal sons begin. Cover the sinner in righteous garments. Slaughter the fattened calf; it’s time for a feast. You who were lost have been found; dead but now you live.

            Your captivity to sin is over. Death has lost its grip. The hostages of hell have been released. Tie a yellow ribbon around the old oak. And throw a party – or better yet a feast – the Sacrament.

The finest of foods, the best of wines. Here where the Lord is having His mountain. Here, where the bread is the Body of Christ, where the wine is His Blood. Here you will see him just as he told you.

We’ve finally arrived. The Good Friday journey is finished. Death is swallowed up in victory. Jesus’ resurrection is one gigantic, boisterous party. A blessed, unexpected party. A joyous catastrophe from death to life. Welcome home at last.

                        In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

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