John 20:1-18, Acts 10:34-43
Good morning and welcome to this celebration of life! We gather with an air of joy and excitement. Jesus, the son of God, condemned and crucified, has conquered death and is risen this day! Hallelujah! He is risen! He is risen indeed!
I have noted that every sermon should be able to allow you to answer two important questions: What’s the point? And so what? Those of you who perhaps started your day a bit earlier than usual, hiding eggs, prepping Easter baskets, gathering everyone together in one accord to journey here, maybe are needing another hit of coffee – I’m thinking you are most definitely asking these questions. We live in a world that appears to be spinning faster and faster each year with information on every topic available as the speed of a click. Getting to the point is essential so we can bullet it out nicely, evaluate, and move on. Perhaps we try to fit the Easter story into another neat pile – another folder that we create.
But there is a difference THIS day makes. There is a change to our outlook as we see an empty cross, an empty tomb, and the promise of life everlasting. We finally have a renewed hope that we are never abandoned, never deserted, never forgotten, never unloved. Consider the tumultuous week the disciples experienced. One week earlier they were celebrating and shouting ‘Hosanna’ as Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem. Many thought he would pick up the sword, slaughter their oppressors and finally free the Israelites from their slavery. But Jesus would not fit into their nice, neat box. Jesus came to do so much more and in the most unconventional way imaginable. When it became clear Jesus had no intention of starting a war but showering all people with the ultimate gift of love, he was simply seen as a problem that needed to be eliminated. What we now see and experience as Good Friday was the time when all hope seemed to be lost.
I remember a scene from the movie “Gravity” where the lead astronaut was suddenly cut off from all communication with earth. You hear her desperate cries for connection – “Houston, do you copy? Anyone, do you copy?” That emptiness, that shattered hope, is how I envision the disciples after experiencing the whirlwind week leading up to what everyone believed was the end of the Messiah, the Chosen One.
Maybe we have been there. Maybe we have felt that sense of uselessness. Perhaps we have experienced that type of perceived failure that we simply do not matter. Life goes on and we are irrelevant. In many ways we are steeped in the darkness of Friday. But Sunday’s coming – the day of transition is upon us and we can experience meaning and purpose and unbelievable love because we matter to the Creator of the universe. We matter to the one who gave all to be in relationship with each one of us. We matter to the point of Jesus giving his all for us – no conditions, no exceptions, no holding back. THIS day is the culmination of hope in a world that seems hopeless, peace in a time of war, joy in a sea of sorrow, love in a realm of hatred.
Let’s face it folks, our world is a bit messed up. Everywhere we turn there is hatred, sickness, fear, ultimate darkness. Yet this day brings light out of the darkness. When the sun dawned over the horizon that first Easter morning it became clear the grave had lost an occupant. I’m sure Mary ran as fast as possible to share the news – “I have seen the Lord!” From darkness Jesus brings light. From despair Jesus brings hope eternal. From death he brings life. He was bruised so that we could experience healing. He was persecuted so that we could experience real freedom from our own personal void. Jesus displays all power because death has been defeated my friends! That is the difference THIS day makes!
We have spent the last six weeks exploring scripture and gaining a better understanding of the Bible as we wrestled with some tough questions. One challenge often raised is the validity of the gospels – those first 4 books of the New Testament. They do differ in their telling of the events of Jesus. Yet one thing is very clear – all four writers speak of not only the death of Jesus the Christ but of his resurrection three days later. Jesus experienced a terrible death, witnessed by many. Yet when the sun rose on that first Easter morning, death had been defeated. Is that the ‘so what?’ It’s definitely a huge part of the ‘so what.’ Here’s the rest. How we live our lives today is a reflection of whom we serve. Are we interested in serving only ourselves? That seems easiest. If we are only looking out for ourselves and our families we can work through those issues that can seem to hit us on all sides because we’re stronger than our issues, or are we?
But consider this. The Creator of the Universe, the Great I Am, the beginning and the end, the first and the last, the keeper of all time has an interest and an amazing love for each of us. Christ’s followers are often criticized for being too weak to stand up for ourselves. That is a valid point. I cannot do everything on my own. At times I feel the pressures of family and job and community too great for me to bear alone. Then I am reminded of the Great I Am. Then I am reminded of the Alpha and the Omega. Then I am reminded that I matter to the most Holy One. Then I am reminded that I do not have to bear life’s burdens alone ever again. That, my friends, is the difference THIS day makes.
We live in a culture that seems to care less and less for others. But as followers of Jesus Christ we feel a special compassion for our neighbors in need. Perhaps we are finding the beauty of opposites – when we give, then we truly receive. When we open our hearts to those who need help, we find a renewed joy and satisfaction and purpose. When we take time to volunteer at the local schools we find an ease to our over-packed schedules. When we give hope, we receive hope.
I pray you leave here with a renewed sense of purpose. I pray you have encountered the Almighty in a way that reassures you that in service we find freedom, in death we find life, and in despair we find hope. The ring of power has been destroyed. The starship Voyager has finally come home. Voldemort has been defeated. And the Cubs won the World Series! Some call that a miracle! Do you believe in the miracle of Easter? Do you believe in the transforming power of Jesus Christ? Do you believe in the hope of light conquering darkness? Do we dare to believe that the One who is greater than anything we could ever comprehend, loves us so much in order to lay down his life for us? Do we accept this gift of love for ourselves? Emptiness does not have the final say. Despair does not have the final say. Addiction does not have the final say. Fear does not have the final say. Jesus is life. Jesus is love. Jesus is longevity. Jesus is light. That is the difference THIS day makes. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah! Amen.