The Shocking News – An Easter Sermon

Late last year, I received a message from someone I didn’t know on Facebook informing that I had lost something that carries a lot of meaning in my life. I didn’t think the item the person claimed was missing and believed I was being baited, so I chose to ignore the message. Later, I received a second attempt through another means of communication from the same person who was attempting to reach me because she believed her husband found something of value that belonged to me. Again, I chose to ignore the message and brushed it aside.

Finally, on the night of New Year’s Eve, I revisited the message from a woman who lived in Wisconsin. She informed me that her husband works in a recycling center and that a class ring was found in the recycling with my name on it. She asked me if I could identify the ring. I was baffled. I take good care of my items and couldn’t imagine how this person could contact me about a personal class ring from my college I received in 1998. So, I went to the place where I kept my jewelry and discovered that the class ring I wear from time-to-time was indeed missing. My heart tightened, and different scenarios began running through my mind. The brain thinks strange thoughts when it is surprised, and reactions are not rational. So, I stepped back and thought, “How can this be?” What on Earth? I had no idea my ring was even missing.

I contacted the person and described the ring. She then sent me a picture of what was indeed my class ring. I just couldn’t believe what was happening. And quite honestly, I am still baffled by this. Somehow my class ring wound up in the recycling either at my home or here at church in the office. I can’t say for sure because I hadn’t any clue it was even missing. From the recycling, it made its way to a recycling center in Beloit, Wisconsin, and Billie Jo’s husband found it while he was cleaning out the box where all the foreign objects went when he discovered it.

What I learned is that trash from seven different states are shipped to this location, and the probability of having something of personal value found is improbable. Billie Jo went on to say that her husband lost his class ring over 20 years ago and they were devastated when they realized it was gone. She found my name on the inside of the ring, did a quick google search and discovered I was a pastor and found my website and reached out to me. Less than a week later, I received a package with my ring inside. I couldn’t repay Billie Jo and her husband despite trying to mail a check or a finder’s reward. Her only request of me was to share the story in one of my sermon’s. How there are still good people out there, who are watching and caring for each other. She and I agreed that somehow God was at work through this encounter and the lesson for her (and for me) is that we need to do right by others.

Sisters and brothers – life is full of surprises. We never know when we will be surprised by the sudden news. That’s the reality of life – we are shocked by some story that makes us anxious or afraid. Some of us live in fear of what could happen. This fear can sometimes paralyze us because we are so scared of what might happen.

IMG_768F503400E9-1

Perhaps that was the feeling of Mary Magdalene when she went to the tomb expecting to anoint the body of Jesus, but all she found was an empty shell. Her surprising message left her confused and afraid. After all, the tomb was empty. Nothing in all of the scriptures points to the fact that Mary Magdalene ever expected the body of Jesus to be missing. She showed up early to visit her Lord and Teacher. Little did she know what she would find.

IMG_0B029D20ECF8-1

You and I get the privilege of getting excited about the empty tomb. It gives us a great hope that Christ has Risen…. But Mary Magdalene was devastated and shocked. She had lost a mentor who had great value for her.  The one to whom Mary had given much glory and devotion had been brutally put to death just three days prior, and now his remains were missing. She had no clue early that Easter morning that Jesus was missing and had risen from the dead. Could it be that someone stole the body? After the betrayal and everything that Jesus had been put through, it would have been heart-breaking for her to discover that someone had desecrated his dead body.

That is not what the Bible says. The Bible says Mary ran to get Simon Peter and another disciple, presumably John, the gospel writer, who ran to the tomb together to see what was going on. Inside the tomb, all that was left was the linen cloth that the body which wrapped the body. 

IMG_92E46BC2F388-1

The bible isn’t clear why the disciples still did not comprehend what was happening; it merely says the two disciples returned home leaving Mary Magdalene alone at the tomb. When two angels of the Lord appear where Jesus lay and question why Mary is weeping, she turns around and encounters the risen Jesus, whom she mistakes as the gardener. Jesus instructs Mary to go and tell the disciples that Jesus is alive and has not yet ascended to the Father. So, Mary goes as Jesus directs and shares the Good News.

And what does this all mean?   No one had, no has ever been, raised from the dead, and then set loose back in the world. What does that mean: “He is raised?” 

Just for this morning, let me say to you that it just means this; although we are all frail, mortal, finite human beings and are wholly inadequate in our words and our deeds in the face of death-  God – the one who creates and gives us life is determined to be the creator and the giver of life even in death.

Because Jesus is raised, we are bold to believe that we also shall be raised. The end of life is one problem that we can never solve. We can prolong life, but not bring life eternal on our own. We may have been successful in overcoming many of our daily problems. But death is one problem we cannot solve on our own.

And the good news of this day is that we don’t have to solve this deadly problem. Our culture tries it’s best to avoid death and aging, but it’s merely a false reality and message. Here is good news. Here is the best good news you will ever hear: “He has risen!” Do not fear death doesn’t get the last word. God does.

Easter carries with its fear. The Bible says that it is a “fearful thing to fall into the hand of a living God.”  And today, we and all our fears have fallen into the everlasting arms of a living God. God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves:  God triumphs for us in what St. Paul calls our “final enemy” – death. God does do something about our death problem.

So, whether it be fear, doubt, joy, whatever you feel, you can drop whatever it is you are doing and run, tell this Easter message: “He has risen!”  Because this day we can be like Mary Magdalene and my friend, Billie Jo who announced the good news of something that was lost and of value to me is not gone but has been found! Despite our fear and concerns of rejection to tell anyone who will listen in our culture of disbelieving: “He has Risen!  He is risen, indeed.”  Alleluia. To God be the Glory. Amen.

 IMG_A3B74F4C501D-1

 

Easter- Evidence or Experience? A Sermon for Easter

 

The Bible makes a definite point that Jesus died.  He hung on the cross until he was dead.   It wasn’t a spiritual death, but a physical one.  His body was dead.  The heart of man stopped beating.  Furthermore, when he was taken down from the cross by the soldiers, they made sure there was no mistake about it – they speared him in the side to drain the blood.  Eventually, the body of Jesus found its way to the tomb of a wealthy man, Joseph, because Jesus had no tomb of his own.  The body was laid to rest in the grave, and the tomb was sealed off from the world, placing a stone in front of the grave, the guards were ordered to watch the tomb to protect the order of the empire from the people’s uprising.

cross-eye

Everyone thought the story was over.

The death of Jesus on the cross was like a baseball announcer thanking everyone for coming out  to watch the game following a disappointing home team loss,  but it’s now time to return to your cars and depart for your homes.

The game was over. Even those who followed Jesus had already returned home try to make sense of all the events that took place.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Then early on that third day, the gospel accounts record that the women – Mary Magdalene and the other Mary go to the tomb to out of respect for their spiritual leader to anoint the dead body with oil and spices so to remove the stench of death. We are not sure what the disciples thought about their teacher, but no could have suspected that he rose from the grave.  That’s just not humanly possible, nor does it follow any logic of the natural order!  As Jesus hung on the cross, folks though he was just one more honorable person who had said and done some amazing things, but who died like everyone else.

 

images

The Bible says that early on that first Easter when the women arrived at the tomb, they met an angel of the Lord, who came and rolled the stone away.  The women boldly make their way to the tomb when the angel appeared the men, the guards were the ones who stood in fear and were rendered useless.   “Don’t be afraid,” the angel told the women.

You remember those words, “Don’t be frightened!” Don’t you?  They happen all the way back when at the beginning of the gospel at Jesus’ birth when the angel speaks to the shepherds on the hillside.   This time the words are articulated to the women as he announces the good news of Jesus resurrection.  “Jesus isn’t here.  Come and look for yourselves. And then, go and tell…”

And then Jesus appeared to them, calms them, and tells the women to continue to Galilee and to tell the men to go to Galilee where his brothers will see him.

You have before you and have heard for yourselves the story of Jesus resurrection.  None of us were there that day, the gospel writers left us this evidence of the resurrection.    This morning I want you to know that there is a vast difference between the evidence of Easter in God’s Word and the experience of Easter.

This Easter morning, I can stand before you and offer you every possible view of the empty tomb.  I can try to explain to you in human ways in which the empty tomb might be possible, and I can point you to all the evidence of Easter, with all the emotional fanfare of the celebration of the Easter season. But what I cannot do for you that you should decide for yourself is to experience the empty tomb.

What I’m getting at here is the experience of an empty tomb to deepen our faith and trust in the resurrection of Jesus.  Evidence only can do so much, but the important step is going to the empty tomb of Jesus for yourself.

MM-at-Tomb-Alone

The Easter story was never really meant to be argued about if it’s true, or real, or relevant, a waste of time, or otherwise.   Look at those Easter Lilies; they don’t argue; they just bloom.  The changing of the seasons doesn’t argue or listen to our popular opinion on the matter, the seasons just come.  Same as the setting of the sun and the rising of the moon.  It just is part of a natural process.  Around these parts, we could say the same when a farmer buys a bag of seeds and plants it in the earth.  It just does with it does without argument.  The same thing is true for music and beauty.  Sure, we have our favorite styles of music, and each of us has a differing appreciation for the beautiful things in life, but music and beauty are meant to inspire us and beckon us into a deeper appreciation of life.

The Easter story was made to invite us to experience the resurrection of Jesus as being true.  It’s intended to invite us into a deeper understanding of God’s love and grace.  The Easter story is only genuine when we experience the resurrection of Jesus and the impact that resurrection has on our collective life together.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve had the occasion to proclaim God’s Word to many who have lost a dearly departed loved ones. And one simple verse that we preachers proclaim at the time of death is from the Gospel of John 14 in which Jesus assures us: “In my father’s house there are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go and prepare a place for you?”  It’s Jesus way of saying to his disciples, believe me!  Trust me!  I’m not pulling your leg.  “And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may also be,” Jesus tells us there will be a reunion and a resurrection.

Like the fear experience by the guard at the tomb on that first Easter morning, death can and does create much anxiety in our life.   The Apostle Paul says that death is our last enemy that Christ has defeated for us.  But also like the words “Do not be afraid” that appear at the beginning of the gospel and Jesus’ resurrection, on the other side of all our lives at our birth, the prospect of coming and begin born into this world must be scary.  Think about it.  There is no way we can be born into this world understanding all the differences and ways of being.  We live without air in the womb.  How then can we live with it and breath on our own?  We live without light in the womb, yet how can we imagine the world without light?   In a certain way, birth seems like it is a death, wrenched away from all that sustains us in the womb.

But in the miracle of creation, God has prepared a place in this world for us.

6a222410d1c38325d8f7e3e990a7b99e

They say that a newborn’s first experience of the world, our first awareness in this life is of the strong arms that surround us and keep us warm; eyes that consider ours with love and tenderness.  Someone had anticipated our coming.  Created is a place for us to dwell.  Unknown to us we began to develop an awareness of our eyes and start to see the light, unknown to us was that we had a pair of lungs that we would need to breathe, ears to hear.  If God so carefully planned our entry into this world, what would make us think that he would have anything otherwise prepared for when we depart? Remember Jesus saying: “I go to prepare a place for you.

Sisters and brothers – Easter isn’t something that we can prove happened.  At the end of the day, Easter isn’t about the evidence of Jesus resurrection.  Faith, after all, is not provable.

Think about the last time you cried.   For some of us it may have been as recently as this week, others we may have gone for an extended period without the need to shed tears.   What is a tear?  It depends, doesn’t it? I can give you a dictionary definition of crying, but I’m not speaking to your personal experience, am I? Here’s the evidence:

A tear is a drop of the watery saline fluid continually secreted by the gland between the surface of the eye and the eyelids, which serves to moisten and lubricate these parts and keeps them clear of foreign particles.” 

That’s a tear?  Really?

tears-are-prayers-too

 

I give you no more evidence of Easter – I want to invite you to be aware of Easter and experience God working through the power of our final enemy –death- to create life.  Ask a child, “What does Easter mean to you?” and she might say (as my 4-year-old told me at Aldi) this week, “Easter is about the Easter Bunny and the chocolate rabbit.”  Ask a teenager, “What does Easter mean?” and he might answer that Easter means, “Christ rose from the dead.”  And if you ask a mature person of faith the same question, “What does Easter mean?”  That person might reply:

“Easter means that I have only begun to live.” 

The good news of Easter isn’t only that it is a celebration of a future gift in another life, but that it is ours to experience right now!   Today!

Easter is getting in touch with that same power that brought Jesus out of the tomb and into life.

Come to the tomb and see for yourselves!  You don’t have to fear like the guard at the tomb, but stand strong with the women – the Mary’s.  Don’t bend down in shame, hold your heads up high and proud.  And for Pete’s sake, don’t look for evidence of the resurrection.  It’s not there, at least in any form we can prove to the world! Just trust that experience of transformation will happen without anything we think, say, or do.  It’s all God!  So, embrace the resurrection moments.  Embrace the experience of the Lord who is risen and alive!  And who comes to offer to walk with us.

No matter what else comes our way.  Christ goes with us!  Amen.