Sermon Easter Sunday, NL3, 16 April 2017
The Gospel reading for Easter Sunday is from the Gospel of Luke the 24th chapter. Glory to you O Lord.
NRS Luke 24:1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.
2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb,
3 but when they went in, they did not find the body.
4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them.
5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.
6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee,
7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again."
8 Then they remembered his words,
9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.
10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles.
11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.
12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
The Gospel of our Lord. Praise to you O Christ.
Pray: Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
"On the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb."
Doesn't this sound like the beginning of a scary novel that we should be reading while it is still dark? Immediately we have questions about the significance of the first day of the week? Is it somehow related to the first day of creation? Who were the "they"? Why did "they" go to a tomb? Does it have something to do with carrying spices?
Then the unknown "they" find the stone rolled away from the tomb. It could mean one of two things; either the tomb has never been sealed, never used before, awaiting its first occupant OR if it has been used before, someone has either gone in or come out, maybe both. Will the body still be there or not?
"They" go in. And "they" do not find "the body". It seems they expected to find "the body" but it is no longer here. And that's the mystery. What happened to the body?
What happens when you meet the unexpected that challenges your knowledge of truth? You question yourself. Did we get the correct tomb? Yes we did, we saw the body being laid here two nights ago. There's no mistake. Was it really dead? Of course it was, we saw it die and the Romans made sure of it. We saw it come off the cross. It was very dead. What else? Could someone have come and taken it? What would anyone want with a bloody, crucified, dead body?
What you would never imagine is that the body that was dead is now very much alive. That just can't happen. Nor would you expect the sudden and brilliant arrival of two men that you can barely look at because they are so brightly lit. Your only response is to drop to your knees and cover your face in terror, fearful of what may happen to you next.
Yes, this is the making of a good novel with the potential for a follow-on movie that probably wouldn't be as good as the book.
But we know the back story. "They" are the women who witnessed Jesus' crucifixion. They followed Joseph of Arimathea with the body of Jesus to the tomb and saw where he laid it. They are the women who have followed Jesus for quite some time. They provided for his ministry. They heard his predictions of the Son of Man being handed over to the authorities and being killed and on the third day rise again. They are disciples and they know the apostles. They want to do right by their friend Jesus and give his body due respect by providing the customary burial spices in the tomb. But, the body is gone. They are perplexed by the emptiness of the tomb and terrified by the angel's arrival.
They hear the question, "Why do you seek the living among the dead?" The question is a contradiction of what they know. They are asked to believe something different than their experience would have them believe. Either he is dead because we saw him die and dead people remain dead. OR they must believe the new evidence that the angels give them, "He is not here, but has risen." He was dead but now he is alive just like he told you he would be...remember?
This is our question today. Our entire faith hangs on what we believe about the evidence presented to us. We know about people who die. On the third day, they are still dead. Or we are presented with the witness of someone who says, "This One did die, but He is now alive. He is not in the tomb. After he died, I saw him alive. I ate with him. I spoke with him. I walked with him. I did all of that after he died; and he did die, no question about that." Now, what do you believe? Is he alive or is he dead?
It is a question about the finality of death. Does death have the final word for you? OR does life? Do we believe this to be an idle tale, a bunch of rubbish? Or do we believe the testimony of witnesses?
What Easter and our faith proclaims is that death does not have the final word. Because Jesus lives after dying, so will you. We proclaim that God is all about life. He is about life that will not be constrained or overruled by the power of death.
Jesus permitted the power of death to have its way with him. He died in the worst way ever imagined. The most awful, shameful, painful, public, drawn out, gasping death ever designed by human beings. It was a death reserved for the worst criminals and enemies of the Roman Empire. It exemplified the utter power of the state over any potential enemy. It was what would happen to you if you defied the state. It was the worst.
Jesus died this way. Death did its best. But on the third day he was alive because God is all about life not death.. Think of Jesus last words from the cross reported by Luke. Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. Today, you will be with me in paradise. Father into your hands I commend my spirit. Forgiveness, promise of paradise and complete faith in what the Father will do. These are words of life and we are to remember them.
Jesus is the life and the resurrection. It means we no longer need to fear death. What does that mean? We no longer need to fear...anything! If God is for us, who can be against us? No one. Death no longer is a threat to us. It no longer has a hold on us. We are free from its domination! We are absolutely free!
We should note that this Easter story of the resurrection from Luke has no joy in it. It has only perplexion and terror and amazement and disbelief. At this point all the disciples know, both men and women, is that the tomb is empty and they remember Jesus' words that he would rise again on the third day. It will not be until later in the day that some disciples will meet Jesus and walk and talk with him and finally be recognized. He is found among the living not among the dead, just like the angels said. It is only later that they will know joy. We have the advantage of knowing the rest of the story. We know that Jesus is alive. He is the victory over death. Because we know he is risen and he lives, we sing songs of joy and raise shouts of alleluia! Amen.
P: Alleluia! Christ is risen.
C: He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
P: The Grace of our risen Savior, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.