John 20:1-18, Acts 10:34-43
It is great to be a pastor on Easter Sunday! It is the one profession that is placed at the top of the pile on Easter Sunday! Picture yourself on Opening Day at Memorial Stadium in 1954 when the city of Baltimore welcomed the return of Orioles baseball as the St. Louis Browns became the Baltimore Orioles. Or better yet, for those who were at this game on September 6, 1995, as the scene unfolds when the warehouse across from Camden Yards flipped the sign from 2130 to 2131. [View video] That’s what it’s like to be a pastor on Easter Sunday! Picture yourself as a reported on assignment as the Berlin Wall came down. That’s what it’s like to be a pastor on Easter Sunday! Imagine you are on stage as my uncle was in the 60’s, with a small bluegrass band playing at a bluegrass festival known as the ‘Woodstock of Bluegrass’, expecting 2-3,000 people only to look out and see over 20,000 people in attendance. That’s what it’s like to be a pastor on Easter Sunday! Remember the excitement of a new millennium as people from all over the world welcomed the dawn of a new day. How about this excitement from just a short time ago – that’s what it’s like to be a pastor on Easter Sunday!
It is hard for us looking back to imagine the horror of the events of Holy Week as they were unfolding. Jesus the Messiah, who performed countless miracles, who spent a great deal of time teaching about love for God and caring for others was brutally and publically executed. The beginnings of a glimmer of hope were dashed as the disciples fled the scene, and Peter, one of the disciples, the Rock upon which the church was to be built, denied Jesus 3 times. Absolute chaos and desolation resulted in the seemingly defeat of it all with the crucifixion of Jesus, the son of God.
As hard as it is for us to fathom the despair and grief of Jesus followers, it may be equally hard to recapture the joy of this morning in our Christian history. Let’s face it – we’ve heard the story so many times there isn’t anything new to it, is there? I believe there is a song that says, “Like a worn out recording of a favorite song.” (If you know what song that is from, you are as old as I am!) I hope we never get to the point when we can no longer find joy in reliving the day when in spite of the gloom, despair, and sadness surrounding Jesus’ death, Jesus was a part of the ultimate miracle as he rose from the dead. The stone covering the opening of the tomb was rolled away. The tomb was empty. The grave clothes layed flat. Angels presented the news that Jesus had risen just as he said he would. Folks – that’s exciting stuff! Can the church say Amen?!
My family and I started taking vacations when my youngest was about 6. If you have children you know how tough it is to travel with them when they are young – it seems you need to pack a car for the stuff and a car for the passengers! I noticed that when we get together it is fun to reminisce about those vacations. The discussions always seem to start with, “Remember when….” I’m sure some of you have relived those special times with your families because it seems to keep the details fresh in our minds – we want to recapture the joy.
It seems we should take that model to remember and imagine and study the events around Jesus’ resurrection. We even reenact parts of the scene with communion as we recite words and conduct a service as Jesus instructed us to do. We pause to reflect on the elements set to represent the body and blood of Christ, broken and shed for us. Thanks be to God that the story did not end at the cross. The story did not end at the desolation of the church. The story did not end with the despair and utter loss and grief of Holy Week. When we turn the page, everything changes. We come from darkness into the full light of day. The tomb is empty! The Messiah has risen from the dead! Can you feel the excitement of that? That’s what it’s like to be a pastor on Easter Sunday!
The gospel message read for us from John shows just how quickly the dawning of a new day occurred. The women who went to the tomb returned to tell the disciples that someone had stolen Jesus’ body. Two disciples came to see for themselves and went away without much hope or understanding at all as to what had taken place. Mary stayed at the tomb weeping. It was just too much for her to take in. Not only was she dealing with the horrible loss of a loved one, but she now had to face the possibility that even his body was gone without being properly prepared for burial. It wasn’t until she encountered Jesus and he spoke her name that she truly began to hope again. She could not get back to the disciples fast enough to share the overwhelming news – Jesus had rise from the dead!! We know that the news spread like wildfire as the community came alive with the buzz of excitement – Jesus was not a corpse in a cold tomb but was alive and well and in their midst.
Do you believe that? I mean, really – it’s a bit far fetched, is it not? Isn’t it easier to see Easter as a cute spring holiday with a bunny laying eggs? Isn’t it more fun to just hide and hunt eggs and forget about the spiritual meaning here? I’m not so sure. I think it’s both. I think we truly celebrate the full meaning of Christ’s resurrection – we do not need to fear death. We do not need to live a life of despair. We do not need to look around at the pinnacle of our ‘successful’ lives according to the world’s standards and say, “Is this really all there is to life?” There is power in the hope of eternal life. There is peace in the knowledge that God would do anything to be in relationship with each of us, even travel the road to the cross and beyond to the empty tomb.
But let’s not forget the importance of the fun!! Easter is a fun day! At what other time do we get to make an incredible mess in the kitchen by dying eggs of various colors and shades, eat chocolate all day long, and run around searching for those wonderful eggs that usually contain special prizes – yup, more candy!! The egg is a symbol of new life. It represents the life that is given to us anew as we realize God’s amazing love for us, caring for each of us as a beloved child. If we can’t celebrate on Easter, we are truly lost people! If we can’t find the fun today, I don’t know when we can! Remember, I’m a pastor on Easter Sunday!
There is a special message for us today as we look back, pause, and reflect on those awesome events of the first Easter morning. Jesus is alive and well in our midst! We are in communion with God and with each other as we worship and love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and we love and care for each other as we love and care for ourselves. We are the body of Christ. We are called to spread the gospel of hope to a hurting world. We no longer need to live with the despair of sin and rejection. We are a part of the family of God as we accept God’s grace for ourselves through the incredible love and sacrifice of Jesus.
We are a part of this community and we have an awesome gift of love to share with those looking for meaning and purpose in their lives. I believe that God is calling us to continue the celebration as we extend a hand of mercy and grace to our community. This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it! Let us take this excitement and put it into action. We are part of a thriving community, and we have an incredible opportunity to share true hospitality to our neighbors. People are looking for a kind word, a warm welcome, and a message of love and grace in Jesus Christ. We are the hands and feet of God in our community.
Easter Sunday is the perfect time to capture our renewed excitement and wonder of that first Easter morning. The bunnies and chocolate and eggs are wonderful reminders as we experience the true celebration that comes from knowing that Jesus Christ conquered death, and the grave and lives and reigns in each of us. What is God calling each of us to do at this phase of our Christian walk? How can we connect with our community in real ways to comfort those suffering loss, those that are suffering from hunger right in our back yards, those suffering from addictions, wondering if anyone cares about them at all. Let us come together as a congregation truly on fire for Christ. Share the good news!! Crack open some Easter eggs! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Hallelujah! Amen.