Monday, April 21, 2014

Easter Sermon: "The Facts of Life"

+ The Resurrection of Our Lord – April 20th, 2014 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series A: Series A: Jeremiah 31:1-6; Colossians 3:1-4; Matthew 28:1-10

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

What is Easter all about? Seems like an obvious question today. But it’s a question worth asking, and answering. Because there are a lot of answers out there, yet only one is right.

Just try asking someone - like one of those “man on the street” segments – what’s Easter all about?
Chances are you’ll hear all kinds of answers about fluffy bunnies, colored eggs, and marshmallow critters that could survive a zombie apocalypse. For most people, Easter equals spring.

Problem is, none of that has anything to do with Jesus’ physical death and resurrection. If that’s what Easter is about, we’re all wasting our time here this morning. As St. Paul reminds us, if Jesus is not raised from the dead, then our preaching and your faith are worthless. You might as well enjoy our Easter breakfast, grab your baskets, and get the Easter egg hunt started early.

Of course, someone might answer the question by saying: “It’s the day Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead.” That’s a bit closer to the truth, but it’s still wrong.

Easter isn’t the day we believe Jesus rose from the dead. We believe because Jesus rose from the dead.  We celebrate because Jesus’ resurrection from the dead as an historic fact. It’s the pivot point of all human history. Christianity isn’t a fairy tale, but reliable history: facts attested to by eyewitnesses: first the women who went to the tomb, then Peter and John, then the other disciples, then 500 men at one time, then James, and finally Paul. It’s a matter of fact, just like George Washington crossing the Delaware River or Hannibal crossing the Alps.

So what’s Easter all about? Well, let’s listen to the story again; after all, we can never hear it enough.

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were on their way to the grave.

That’s the consequence of sin: Death. Adam’s sin. The world’s sin. Your sin. My sin. It all leads to our grave. Our sin really is that bad. It’s not a cosmetic defect that needs removal, like a wart or mole; it’s more than skin deep; it’s as deep as the grave. No wonder it causes us anxiety, fear, terror, despair, guilt, and suffering. Death is the great instrument in the hands of sin; or rather, it was sin’s great instrument until Christ defeated death by dying for you. That’s what Jesus was doing for each and every one of you on Good Friday.

So, that first Easter dawn, the women weren’t only going to see Jesus’ tomb. They were also going to see their tomb, and yours, and mine too. Jesus’ death is your death. Jesus was laid in our tomb. Jesus’ grave is your grave. That’s a fact.

And here’s one more. Don’t skip over the importance of the fact that the women are the first eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. It’s important. In the 1st century, a woman’s testimony was inadmissible in a court of law. So, if the Gospel writers were trying to fabricate the story of Jesus’ resurrection, the last thing they would’ve done is to include the women finding Jesus first. But the fact that it is included means that it lends greater strength and credibility to the facts.

But there’s more to this story.

And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 

I love Matthew’s attention to detail here: the angel sat on the stone. He’s not tired. He’s not lazy. He sits on the stone and mocks death. Puny stone. Puny grave. You couldn’t hold Jesus. Jesus is victorious over sin, Death, and the grave. The tomb is empty and so is Death’s power over Jesus and you.

This angel is a messenger, not a cute, cuddly Hallmark card angel. Angels are holy. They evoke fear. The guards trembled. The women were afraid. We’re afraid. That’s what sin and death do: they cause fear and doubt. But there’s no need to fear. Not today. This is no angel of death, but a messenger of life. He is your messenger, a herald of the greatest news that has ever has been and will be reported.

“Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.

As he said.     

Three little words. They’re so ordinary you might pass them by; but not today. As he said. Jesus’ Word is unlike our words. You know what I mean. When we yell at the stoplight to turn green it doesn’t happen. When we tell our children to pick up their toys it rarely happens the first time. When we shake our fists at players or politicians on TV they don’t listen. But not so with Jesus’ word. His word is action. When he speaks things happen: blind men see. The lame walk. Dead men rise. Sins are forgiven. When Jesus makes a promise he keeps it. Jesus is truly a man of his word.

Jesus’ Word is reliable just as his death and resurrection are historical and trustworthy events.

You can trust him when he says things like -“the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”

And you can trust him when he says to you: “I AM the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live. And whoever lives and believes in me will never die forever.”

And how do the women react? Probably the same way we would.

They departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” 

They witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion. They saw his bleeding, mocking, and agonizing death. They watched Jesus die; saw him buried.

But into the void and silence of their grief a voice spoke a single word they didn’t hear coming.


What a delightful, joyful, unexpected word. Jesus says the equivalent of “hello, good morning.” It’s the greatest good morning in the history of the world.

And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. The same feet they saw pierced on Friday now walk and receive the women’s hands in worship. Jesus’ resurrection is no metaphor. He was real, warm-to-the-touch real. Jesus’ death and resurrection is remarkably physical, right down to his feet. Someone once observed that ancient and modern ghost stories never include feet. Ghosts don’t have feet. Jesus has feet. Jesus lives.

Jesus’ resurrection is an historic fact. His tomb is empty. Jesus lives. Jesus rose from the dead in human history. And that’s certainly a good reason to celebrate Easter. But there’s more.

We celebrate Jesus’ rising from the dead as an historic event, but also because what he has done in history is for you. Jesus died for you. Jesus rose for you. Easter is good news for you.

And our world needs good news. We see the suffering and death on our TVs, in our neighborhoods, schools, and families. Sadly, the television doesn’t keep suffering and death at bay. In addition to all our weekly worries, bigger and more personal problems gnaw at our existence. I know I’ve wronged others. I know I’m going to die. And I know I’m powerless to solve my problems of guilt, suffering, and death. I need rescue.

Think about it, if you’re drowning in the middle of a storm-tossed ocean, do you need Michael Phelps coaching you on your butterfly stroke, or a Coast Guard helicopter to rescue you? Rescue.
So when it comes to humanity’s greatest problems, do you need a religious guide, coach, or guru telling you what to do and how to behave, or a Savior who’ll rescue you from your suffering, guilt, and death? You need a Savior.

Jesus – and no one else – claims to take your wrongdoings, shame, and failures and nail them to His cross. In all of the world’s religions you have to ascend, merit, and earn your way to heaven; but not in Christianity. In Christianity God descends. God is born, lives, suffers. God is killable. God dies. God rises from the dead. And he does all of this for you. And more, the same body,  broken in death is now given for your life; the same blood, shed for you on the cross is now poured out for your forgiveness.

Easter is Jesus’ declaration: “I’m your Savior. I rescued you. The devil hurled every last one of your sins upon me. And I’ve answered for them all. The grave is empty. Death is dead. And the devil is sapped of his strength. He is done. Finished. Over.”

Jesus is the first human over whom death has no mastery. Death is undone. Death is reversed, Death works backwards. Death no longer has dominion over Jesus, or you.

So join the women in rejoicing with great joy: The fast is ended. Let the Easter feast begin. The table is set. Jesus is not in the tomb but he is here, in the Supper, right where he promises to be.

Jesus died and rose for you! And in Jesus’ rising from the dead, you are given the promise: you too will rise. That’s a fact.

And that’s what Easter is all about.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment