Easter Sunday – 3/31/2024

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John 20:1-18  Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes. 11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Act 10:34-43  34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ– he is Lord of all. 37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Christ Is Risen, Christ IS Risen Indeed

Our Easter narrative is from John’s gospel where Mary says, “I have seen the Lord!”  She tells the resurrection account in just five words, yet these few words say it all.  Each year we tell the story of Christ’s resurrection anew.  The Bible is a living, breathing document and each time we encounter it, God willing, we will hear it with new ears.  So I invite you today to listen to what new thing God is saying to you this morning.

Mary Magdalene is not of any particular importance.  She is not one of the twelve disciples.  Under Jewish law, as a woman, her testimony is not valid in a law court.  Yet she is the one to whom Jesus first appeared.  Our gospel lesson today is Mary’s story.  It begins and ends with Mary and it tells of her encounter with the risen Jesus.  Each of us must encounter the risen Lord ourselves, we need to have our own story of relationship with Jesus.  What we have in the Easter story is not a dry, dead doctrine but a living Lord who would know each of us, who loves us and who desires relationship with us.  I am sure it pleases God when we repeat the Apostle’s Creed each week and say, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and in Jesus Christ his only begotten son.”  But God wants more than just words from us, more than just a confession of our lips.  God wants our hearts, Romans 10:9 says, “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  Believing in our hearts is not an option, it is a requirement.

Now there are those who say Jesus never rose from the dead.  We expect this from atheists and skeptics.  The scientist will tell you that it is medically impossible for those who are dead for three days to return to life.  We are not able to raise the dead to life again therefore it is impossible to do so and it is illogical to believe it happened in the case of Jesus.  Unfortunately, we also hear this from some who call themselves Christians.  As one Presbyterian pastor put it, “The issue for me is not whether or not I have faith in these supernatural events occurring, I don’t.”  I am sorry for this pastor.  In our modern world many do not believe in miracles.  They worship the god (small g) of science and there is no room for anything that does not conform to the rules of science.  What we see this first Easter morning is the power of God at work.  Our God is sovereign, he is the creator of the universe, he is the one who made the rules of science and if God wants to do something outside of the box in which we try to put him, he can.  I believe Jesus was raised from the dead, I believe Mary Magdalene saw him at the tomb, I believe others saw him before he ascended into heaven.  I believe Jesus is alive today, he sits at the right hand of God the Father, he prays for us and intercedes for us.  I believe in miracles.  I believe Jesus Christ rose from the dead on Easter morning. 

In his book, Mere Christianity,  C. S. Lewis said, “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say.  A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.  But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to.” – , pages 40-41. Way to go, Mr. Lewis!

Jesus is NOT just a good example, if Jesus was not raised from the dead then all that we do in his name is in vain and we are foolish.  Jesus is not just a good man; Jesus is the one who rose from the dead, who ascended on high and reigns as Lord.

Listen to Paul in  1 Corinthians 15,  “12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.”

Doesn’t pull any punches, does he?  Without the resurrection, our faith would be in vain.  A few verses down Paul says, “17 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. 19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.”

He is risen!  He is risen indeed!  This is the cornerstone of our faith; this is what we as Christians stake our lives upon.  We can argue over mode of baptism, do we sprinkle or pour the water, do we immerse the person in water.  We can argue over exactly what happens in the Lord’s Supper, we can argue over many details but what we cannot argue about and remain Christians is the truth of the resurrection.  If Christ has not been raised from the dead then we are to be pitied as delusional people.  I believe Christ rose from the dead.  How many of you believe this as well?  I live differently because I believe this.  I see others differently because I believe this.  Let’s look at Mary again and see how she changed.

John’s gospel tells us Mary went out very early in the morning while it was still dark and when she got to the tomb she found the stone removed.  Confronted with an empty tomb the only logical conclusion is that the body has been taken.  In the world of logic and cause and effect this is the only answer possible.  She ran to the disciples, told them the tomb is empty and they all returned.  Peter and John entered the tomb and saw the empty linen wrappings and then returned home.  Mary remained, weeping.  Scripture records that Mary saw Jesus but didn’t recognize him.  It wasn’t until he called her by name, Mary, that she recognized him.  When Jesus calls Mary by name her closed world is broken open.  Something illogical, impossible and unnatural takes place.  The established rules as to what can happen and how it can happen are overthrown.  It is a new day.  He is risen!

Jesus tells Mary not to hold on to him.  What Mary seeks is good, to care for his dead body is a loving act but her pursuit of his dead body does not leave room for the miracle that has taken place.  The resurrection shatters our ordinary world of expected outcomes and gives way to the world of faith and trust, a world in which the confession, Jesus is Lord begins to make sense.  A world in which we can shout, “He is risen!  He is risen Indeed!”  

Love brought Mary to the tomb, love brought Peter and John also.  It is John who first believes because he sees with the eyes of love and thus is able to understand what physical eyes alone cannot.  Love has brought John to faith.  Mary recognized Jesus when he called her by name.  Jesus said that when the Good Shepherd calls His sheep they know His voice.  Mary knew the voice of her Lord.  She changed from a weeping, sorrowful woman into a woman with a mission.  Jesus said go and tell my brothers and that is what Mary did!  I imagine she was filled with joy now that she knew her Lord was alive, risen from the dead.  We could call her the first evangelist, the first to proclaim, “I have seen the Lord!”  The disciples went from frightened men huddled in a room with locked doors to bold evangelists who spread the gospel throughout the Roman Empire and changed the world for all time.  This is the power of the resurrection; this is the power of Christ that comes into our lives as believers.  We have been given the incredible blessing of intimate relationship with our risen Lord, we have faith and that makes all the difference in the world.  Is not Easter a good time to recommit ourselves to following our Savior, Jesus Christ?

Following this sermon we are going to sing the gospel hymn, “He Lives!”  Let me tell you the story behind that hymn.  Alfred Henry Ackley is from Pennsylvania, he was born in Spring Hill, near Altoona in 1887.  He was ordained a Presbyterian minister in 1914, and pastored in a number of Pennsylvania churches.  For a few years he worked with the evangelist Billy Sunday.

While serving a church in California in 1932 Alfred met a Jewish man to whom he began witnessing.  The man asked him, “Why should I worship a dead Jew?”  That question played on Alfred’s mind as he prepared his Easter Sunday message.  When he got up on Easter morning he flipped on the radio and heard a famous liberal preacher say, “Good morning—it’s Easter!  You know, folks, it really doesn’t make any difference to me if Christ be risen or not.  As far as I am concerned, His body could be dust in some Palestinian tomb.  The main thing is, His truth is marching on!”  Alfred was furious and considered throwing the radio across the room.  “It’s a lie!” he shouted.  That morning Alfred preached on the reality of Christ’s resurrection but later that night, Alfred was still upset by the Jewish man’s question and the morning’s radio sermon.  

He went to his study, opened the Bible, and re-read the Resurrection account from Mark’s gospel.  A thrill went through him,  and he began writing the words to “He Lives.”  A few minutes later, he was at the piano putting it to music, not dreaming it would become one of the church’s most triumphant Easter hymns. 

Let the good news of the resurrection fill you anew.  Jesus loves you, he died for you and he rose again for you.  See with the eyes of faith; hear the Good Shepherd calling you.  And let us go forth today and tell the world the body is not in the tomb, Jesus is risen from the dead.  He is with the Father in resurrected glory.  Hallelujah!  He Lives!