Easter Sunday Sermon by Pastor John 4/12/2020

Sermon for April 12, 2020


(Video Below Text)

The gospel text for Good Friday ended with Jesus’ burial. The gospel of John is different from the other three gospels about the burial. Matthew, Mark, and Luke write that Jesus was hastily buried, wrapped in a linen shroud yet the proper burial was not yet completed. The women would come after the Sabbath and finish this task of deep respect for the dead. But in John’s gospel the burial and spices for the corpse had already been applied not by women, but by two men, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Their funeral preparations consisted of a hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes, an enormous amount of perfume and spices. In spite of such an overabundance and the cost, all perfume would do was mask the odor of death for a short time. But they did what they humanly thought was best to show their respect.

In the gospel of John, on the first day of the week, Sunday, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb. She witnessed the death of Jesus on the cross up close and personal, along with Jesus’ mother and other women. It was very early because it was still dark. In John’s gospel the word ‘dark’ could be descriptive of Mary’s frame of mind. She witnessed Jesus’ death and she felt she would never see him or hear him again. Any hopes she may have had about Jesus and his ministry of love for the world continuing was permanently dashed. She came to the tomb to mourn. She wanted to be alone with her thoughts and tears. Her grief was perfectly human, healthy, and natural. It is very common for people to visit the graves of loved ones and pray.

But Mary was troubled to see the stone covering over the tomb removed. She freaked out and did what anyone would do: run! She found Simon Peter and the other disciple identified only by the “one Jesus loved” and told them what she saw. Again there was running!  The two disciples have a footrace to the tomb. They actually went into the tomb and found it empty. The text said they saw and believed, but as of yet they did not understand the scripture, that Jesus must rise from the dead. Then they returned to their homes. I must admit I find this a strange portion of the text. They saw an empty tomb and believed, but believed what? They did not understand. So they saw and believed an empty grave and went home. If that was all we would have as a witness there would be no Christian faith today. Everyone was still in the dark. The two men disciples, perhaps uncomfortable with tears, abandoned poor Mary who kept her post of grief at the grave. But if you may recall, at the last supper with Jesus’ washing Peter’s feet, he made a promise that he would understand later. Peter and the other ‘in-the-dark’ disciples had a surprise soon to appear before them.

But now back to Mary Magdalene; she noticed two angels in white in the tomb, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying and they do not tell her about Jesus but were concerned about her grief, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Usually angels frighten people prompting their usual speech of ‘do not be afraid.’ But Mary tells them why she is weeping because someone has taken Jesus’ body away. But the angels exit because they were no longer needed. They will not message ‘Christ is risen’ because Jesus was standing there. In one of the most famous examples of mistaken identity she thought the risen Lord was the gardener. Jesus asked why she is weeping and she told the one she thought to be the gardener or caretaker, “if you have carried the body of Jesus away, just let me know where you have put him so I can go and fetch him.” I find this dialog very strange and a bit ghoulish with talk of moving dead bodies. But Mary is still in the dark because of the power of death which can keep us that way.

Jesus did not say, “It’s me! Don’t you recognize me?” If Jesus had said that I think Mary would have run away figuring she had seen a ghost. Beautifully Jesus simply said “Mary”. Here we must recall what Jesus said earlier in the gospel of John. Jesus called himself the good shepherd. He was not like the hired help which would run at the first sign of a wolf because they do not care for the sheep. Jesus cared lovingly for the flock that he would lay down his life for them, and he would do that of his own accord, and he would also take up his life again. And more than that, the sheep, in other words his followers hear his voice! Mary recognized the voice of her shepherd. Jesus, who died on the cross to accomplish his mission as the Lamb of God, the Sacrifice of God to take away the sin of the world, was alive, risen from the dead. Mary wanted to cling to Jesus and not let him go, but Jesus told her not to cling because he was to ascend to the Father in heaven. Mary could not cling to Jesus as if he was confined to one place. He would ascend and be present for all time for us through the Holy Spirit. Jesus would ever remain the Good Shepherd who would confront the wolves endangering his flock: sin, death, and the devil. In John’s gospel you have the big three, yet all considered one mission of glory: on the cross Jesus lifted up to be the Lamb of God; Jesus would be raised, lifted up from death so faith has the foundation of Jesus’ promise, “no one or nothing will snatch us from his hand.” Jesus would ascend to the Father, lifted up in glory to be our presence and peace forevermore.

The Psalm appointed for Easter Sunday, various verses from Psalm 118 joyfully declares “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” The Psalm repeats itself saying ‘The right hand of the Lord has acted valiantly!” I love the symbolism of God’s hand found in the Bible, “Fear not, I am with you and be not afraid, for I am your God and I will help you, strengthen you, and uphold you by my righteous, omnipotent hand.” The cross, resurrection and ascension of Jesus reveal the glory of powerful grace, for nothing will snatch us from Jesus’ hand, for he has accomplished victory over sin, death, and evil.

Jesus promised we would understand. May we understand this: whatever our trial or temptation, whatever loss, grief, and weeping, Jesus is there, and simply calls us by name. The prophet Isaiah wanted a discouraged and broken Israel to know  God’s promise: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”

We all have our favorite Easter hymns, and most of them have a lot of “Halellujahs”. We are a “Hallelujah” people because of the victory of Jesus. A favorite hymn of mine has the stanza “Oh, fill us Lord with dauntless love; set heart and will on things above that we conquer through your triumph, grant grace sufficient for life’s day, that by our lives we truly say: Christ has triumphed! He is living! Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” A recent article in the Lutheran magazine said “Resurrection means resistance!”, Alleluias mean action, victory means vigorous love! Because Christ is risen, risen indeed, we resist the power of death in forms like greed, racism, and hatred; we act to overcome greed, racism and hatred, and we vigorously love others to overcome hopelessness and despair. I come back to the wonderful Easter note in the mail: Jesus, Savior, Lord is risen to protect us and help us overcome our present trials. In this time of social isolation it would not hurt for us to write messages of hope, hope from the love of Jesus, for others.  Although we cannot cling to Jesus physically like Mary Magdalene tried to do, we certainly can cling to his promises of faithfulness, steadfast love, and living hope.