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Sermon Easter Sunday 27 April 2016

FIRST READING Isaiah 65:17-25
17“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. 18But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. 19I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. 20No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed. 21They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. 23They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord, and their descendants with them. 24Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear. 25The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the Lord.


PSALM Psalm 16

1 Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge. 2 I say to the LORD, “You are my LORD; I have no good apart from you.” 3 As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight.  4 Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips. 5 The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. 6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage. 7 I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. 8 I keep the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. 9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure. 10 For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit. 11 You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.


SECOND READING 1 Corinthians 15:19-26

19If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death.


GOSPEL John 20:1–18

1 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.



What a day! What a glorious, wonderful day! It’s as if it were written in a Divine script; it’s a beautiful day, the birds are singing and this sanctuary is dressed in a myriad of different colors. It’s Easter, the day when we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord: the One who was dead is now very much alive! I’m reminded of the custodian who was cleaning the sanctuary after worship one Sunday, and noticed the pastor’s sermon manuscript lying on the pulpit. Upon closer examination, he noticed that the pastor had written in large red letters in the left-hand margin: Weak point! Raise voice and pound the pulpit! I hope that’s not what we’re doing this morning. The disappointment of Good Friday has now been replaced with unspeakable joy! So let’s joyfully proclaim this one more time: “He is risen!” He is risen, indeed! My prayer is that the truth of that single sentence will change your life … today, tomorrow, and forever.
Now the story of our Lord’s resurrection is told a bit differently in each of the four Gospels. In Matthew, two Marys went to the tomb early on Sunday morning to finish the painful task of embalming the body of the One they loved. In the Gospel of Mark, the Marys brought a woman named Salome with them. In Luke, the women are not identified at all by name, but still it was women — and not men — who first learned the Good News of Easter. It’s a fact that I find quite interesting.
But in John’s Gospel, Mary went to the grave all alone. Perhaps she went there to care lovingly for the body of Jesus, but more than likely, I think she went there to grieve. Most of the time, we need to be surrounded by family and friends when we’re faced with the death of a loved one. What we find in our time of grief is that there is both comfort and strength in numbers. However, there are also those times when we don’t want company. Sometimes, we just need to be alone; and I think this is the case with Mary on that first Easter morning. She needed some space; she just wanted time to mourn, and to wonder what might have been.
But curiously, when she arrived at the place where they had laid Jesus on Friday night, the large stone which sealed the entrance to the tomb was rolled to the side. Immediately, she jumped to a radical conclusion: grave robbers! She assumed that someone had stolen the body of Jesus, and she sprinted back to tell the others of her discovery.
But Peter and John weren’t content to simply hear about the news; when Mary told what she had discovered, they had to go and see it for themselves. So they ran quickly to the tomb. It may have been out of fear, or curiosity, or anticipation, we don’t know; but scripture tells us that they ran. John got there first, but he was hesitant. He saw the grave clothes but he wouldn’t go inside, so he just stood there and waited for Peter. Peter, the impetuous one, didn’t even break stride! He bolted into the grave, saw it was empty, and St. Luke tells us that they left marveling at what had taken place. They didn’t understand it all… maybe they never did … just like maybe we never do … but I feel certain that deep down they wanted to believe that Jesus was alive. I think they went home recalling what Jesus had told them and somehow, they knew that something wonderful had happened. It seems to suggest that we don’t need to understand Easter to believe in the resurrection.
And I don’t think it was just a coincidence that the first clue to the resurrection of Jesus Christ was that the stone had been removed. The theological implications of this fact are enormous! When Jesus was buried on Friday, a giant stone was placed between Jesus and the people who loved Him. Though Mary went to visit Jesus’ grave, she wouldn’t be able to see Him, because the stone was in the way. She wouldn’t be able to touch Him, because the stone would prevent her. It was like a barrier that she was incapable of moving herself. Somebody had to do that for her. And Somebody did.
Throughout the season of Lent, this congregation has been on what we called a “Journey of Stones.” Each Sunday afternoon, we would carry a small stone into worship with us, and that stone would become symbolic of our sins that are a barrier between us and God. And after each Lenten service, we would lay our stones of sin at the foot of the cross. One stone stood for someone’s pride, while another stone stood for someone’s dishonesty. One stone symbolized a couple’s fractured marriage, while other stones stood for the sins of gossip, or prejudice, or adultery, or hatred. By the end of Lent, the basket at the base of the cross was filled with stones. Our stones. Our sins. There’s no way for us to remove those sins on our own; someone has to do that for us. And Someone has. Maybe you didn’t notice as you came in but no one handed you a stone, nor is there a basket sitting at the foot of a cross. And there’s good reason for this; all the stones are gone. All the sins are removed. And that’s the ultimate message of Easter: that what we could not do by ourselves, God did for us, no questions asked.
Every pastor knows that on Easter Sunday, it’s possible that he or she may be preaching to people who may or may not be regular attenders. Perhaps there are some here today that are in worship for the first time in years … perhaps some for the first time ever. Is it because of some sin? You might indulge too much, or swear too much, or are angry too often, or you’ve been unfaithful in too many relationships. And maybe that’s the reason you’ve stayed away from church: the shame of your sin has been too much for you to overcome. In truth, you’re no different than the rest of us. Today it’s my privilege to tell you that the stone has been rolled away for you, as well. You may think that your sins are too great to be forgiven, but you’re wrong. You may think that God can’t accept you just the way you are, but nothing is further from the truth. The stone is rolled away! The sins of the penitent have been forgiven. The Savior has chosen to love you.
There’s a story about W. C. Fields, the famous vaudeville comedian, who was also a notorious atheist. One evening, before his performance, an assistant came into Fields’ dressing room and caught Fields reading a Bible. Embarrassed, Fields slammed the Bible shut and said, “Just looking for loopholes!” What Fields was looking for is grace. What he was looking for is forgiveness … a second chance … a time to start over. Well, Easter is the ultimate loophole! When God made good on His promise to raise Jesus from the grave, all of His promises became reality. His promise to forgive sins. His promise to be with us wherever we would go. His promise to give us eternal life. That’s no loophole; that’s a fact!
Today we’re surrounded by the evidence of Easter. The flowers, the hymns, the confident voices of our friends who boldly claim, “He is risen … risen indeed!” It’s easy to believe in the resurrection today … but what about tomorrow? What about Tuesday, or next Saturday, or later on in May? What about when people let us down … or when loved ones die … or when the sins of our lives overwhelm us once again? Will Easter then be just a distant memory? How will we believe then?
In 1988, when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, a young woman named Anna in East Germany was already asleep when her friend pounded on the door. “Anna, the Wall is down, and we have freedom!” she said. “You must come and see!” They ran down to the gate that had divided east and west for thirty years, and it was true. The Berlin Wall had been toppled. For three hours they partied on the border. They ran back and forth between east and west, they drank beer and danced with soldiers. Then they went back to their homes.
The next morning, Anna awoke and thought she had dreamed that experience; it all seemed too good to be true. Quickly, she got dressed and ran back down to the border and remembered that it was all true. But this time, before she went back home, she picked up a shattered piece of the Berlin Wall and took it home with her, now a tangible reminder that she was free.
As you leave today, take notice of what’s sitting in the Narthex where the cross was; it’s a reminder that you are free. If you missed it coming in, it’s a large round stone that says, “He is Risen”. The reason it’s there is to remind us that in Jesus we are free. It’s there to remind us that we have been released from the shame of our sins. That we are free from the punishment of God. We’re free to be alive! St. John, in his gospel, records Jesus’ promise to all who believe. Jesus said, “if the Son makes you free, you shall be free, indeed.” (John 8:36) So happy Resurrection Day, my friends and thanks be to God because He is Risen. He is risen indeed!

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