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Sermon for Easter Sunrise Service 16 April 2017

FIRST READING Exodus 14:10-15:1

10When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord. 11They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? 12Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” 13And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. 14The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” 15The Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. 16Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground. 17And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen. 18And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.” 19Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, 20coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night. 21Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. 22And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. 23The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. 24And in the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, 25clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians.” 26Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.” 27So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the Lord threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea. 28The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. 29But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. 30Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses. 15 1Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord, saying, “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.”


PSALM Psalm 118:15–29

15There is a sound of exultation and victory in the tents of the righteous: 16“The right hand of the Lord has triumphed! the right hand of the Lord is exalted! the right hand of the Lord has triumphed!”  17I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord. 18The Lord has punished me sorely, but he did not hand me over to death. 19Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter them; I will offer thanks to the Lord. 20“This is the gate of the Lord; he who is righteous may enter.” 21I will give thanks to you, for you answered me and have become my salvation. 22The same stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. 23This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes. 24On this day the Lord has acted; we will rejoice and be glad in it. 25Hosannah, Lord, hosannah! Lord, send us now success. 26Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; we bless you from the house of the Lord. 27God is the Lord; he has shined upon us; form a procession with branches up to the horns of the altar. 28“You are my God, and I will thank you; you are my God, and I will exalt you.” 29Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his mercy endures forever.


SECOND READING 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

1Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you — unless you believed in vain. 3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.


GOSPEL John 20:1–18

1Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2So 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.” 3So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. 4Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples went back to their homes. 11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13They 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.” 14Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” 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.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for 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.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord” — and that he had said these things to her.



Had you entered the sanctuary this morning and seen red poinsettias instead of Lilies and heard me greet you with, “Merry Christmas,” you might have thought I’d either gone crazy or that someone has taken my Easter, and I don’t know where they’ve put it. However, if I’d greeted you this way after the gospel reading, perhaps you’d have been transported back in time to the experience of those who went to the tomb that first Easter morning. Simply put, what they found that morning wasn’t what they expected.
Sadly, Easter has become way too predictable; like Spring Training, March Madness, and NASCAR. It’s all scheduled on the calendar. We take it for granted. We know what to expect. So, the challenge for me each Easter Sunday is to try and restore Easter’s power to shock, startle, surprise, terrify and amaze. Sometimes I feel like I need to pull a rabbit out of a hat in order to add some surprise to the day. Maybe that’s how rabbits became associated with Easter. Thankfully, Jesus didn’t need any magician’s props because what God did that Easter morning rivaled all the illusions in the world.
One the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb and finds it empty and stands crying outside. “Why are you weeping, Mary?” “Because they have taken my Jesus and I don’t know where they’ve put him.” The One who’d given her a new lease on life had been crucified. He’d loved the image of God in her into reality. But He was dead. And if life had taught her anything it was that dead people stay dead. On hearing her name, she turns around and sees through the only assumptions she has to see through. This man must be the gardener. It’s morning. This is a garden. “Where have you put my Jesus?’ The Risen Christ calls her by name, “Mary.” She recognizes the Voice. “Rabbouni, My Teacher.”
Her name was Melva Costen. She was a slave. She was illiterate. Slave masters kept their slaves illiterate because they feared reading would lead to a desire for freedom. They feared they’d lose control over their slaves if they received even a basic education. Melva Costen put it this way: “I can’t read a word. But I read Jesus in my heart….I know He’s there ‘cause I read Him in my heart, just like you know Him from reading the book!” Melva Costen heard the Risen One call her name.
The Risen Christ cannot be confined to the cave tomb of slavery. He can’t be confined to black ink marks on paper. God declared through the prophet Jeremiah, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jer. 31:33b) He’s calling God’s children to abundant and eternal life. He calls each of us by name. The Resurrected Life isn’t abstract. It’s personal. Mary hears her name and recognizes the Teacher’s Voice. She grabs him. She lost him once. She’s not going to let Him go again. No one is going to take Him away from her ever again.
“Do not cling to me,” Jesus says. Until I’ve ascended to my Father, I can’t be present to the world through my Spirit. The divine work I did in the flesh was confined to a particular time and place. My Spirit will inspire that divine work, so it can continue anytime anywhere. Do not hold on to me, Jesus says. There’s more to come. God’s not finished. Mary calls Jesus, “my Teacher.” The Risen Christ has more to teach her.
I heard a speaker observe that most adults have the same understanding of Jesus that they had at age 13. His point is that the church’s Christian formation of children and youth is crucial. What I hear is that the Jesus most of us know is frozen in the tomb of time. And, if our Jesus hasn’t changed, I suspect, neither have we. It makes you wonder that for many people Jesus has become nothing more than an idol on a shelf somewhere.
Remember the commercials for fabric softeners and dryer sheets? They promised to prevent static cling – one of humanity’s most feared afflictions. You think you’ve lost a sock only to discover it one night in your pillow case. “Static,” of course, refers to static electricity and how it causes the clothes to stick together. This morning I want to use “static” to refer to another of its meanings: unchanging, immovable, fixed.
Jesus tells Mary, “Do not cling to me as you now know me. What you’ve seen in me is just the beginning. There’s more for you to learn. God’s plan hasn’t fully been fulfilled. There’s more to do. And all who believe in Him will be enlisted to do it. Think of it as joining the Resurrection Conspiracy, also known as the Church.”
The Risen Christ is moving the stones that keep people in the cave tombs, sealed from life. We all have in our lives something that we believe to be fixed, unchangeable. It feels like we’re in a cave tomb with a stone at the door. The stone feels immovable. We can’t get out and nothing can get in. It’s slowly killing us. And what afflicted people in Jesus’ day still afflicts people today.
Think about those who experienced Jesus’ ministry. Think about the stones He rolled away so new life could be received. Over the past several weeks we’ve seen and heard about those whom Jesus offered new life. There was Nicodemus, whose religion was getting in the way of his enjoying a blessed life. There was the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus entered Her truth, which entailed the pain and shame of multiple marriages. There was the man born blind. Jesus enables him to see not only as humans see but also as God sees.
Two Sundays ago, we listen as we heard about Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from literal death. Jesus had the stone rolled away from Lazarus’ cave tomb. Then He called him by name, “Lazarus, come out!” Jesus instructed those who were present to unbind him of the burial cloths. What better way to see what we’re called to do when we follow Jesus’ lead and are inspired by His Spirit. We, who have been raised from our own cave tombs, now join Jesus in rolling away the stones of others, biding them to come out into life that is abundant and eternal, unbinding them and setting them free.
The good news of Easter is that there is no stone too big for God to move. Not even death. Even death isn’t “fixed” ultimately. I bet every last one of us can say that we’ve seen the Spirit of the Risen Christ at work. Here’s just one example. Suzanne is an assistant principal at Glencliff High School, a school that’s too often in the news for the wrong reasons. However, not long ago, an article appeared in the local paper about a student named Jamie McMillan. The student body had voted Jamie “Mr. Glencliff.” Normally such a vote doesn’t warrant any attention. It usually goes to the most popular boy or girl. They’re popular because they’re attractive, athletic or smart. They’ll add one more accomplishment and honor to their college application.
Jamie has a condition called global developmental delay. In other words, Jamie isn’t your typical candidate for an honor like “Mr. Anything.” However, Jamie is viewed by students and faculty as an ambassador for other challenged, “life-skills” students. They say that he doesn’t care whether you’re a cheerleader or super jock. He doesn’t care what clothes or shoes you wear. He just looks at what’s in your heart. And a school that contends with poverty, broken homes, diverse cultures, and gang activity has glimpsed new life because of what’s in Jamie’s heart. Because of Who is in Jamie’s heart, a school is now experiencing God’s Resurrection Conspiracy.
No, Easter isn’t about pulling a rabbit out of a hat. It isn’t about illusions, shake-ups, adding new games or more teams to the March madness, nor is it about adding new tires or stages to a NASCAR race. All these are predictable. What Easter is, it’s shocking, startling, surprising, terrifying and amazing. Easter is about the Risen Christ overcoming death and bursting forth from the tomb and calling every one of God’s children by name. It’s about moving the stones that keep the living dead in their cave tombs. It’s about raising the dead to life that’s abundant and eternal.
The world wants proof of the Resurrection. The world desperately wants and needs to see the Risen Lord. Isn’t that what you and I are, proof? Because He lives, I can face tomorrow, without fear. So, let’s go out, into the world and show them the proof they need. Let’s go out into the world and proclaim the words of hope that this world so desperately needs to hear: He is risen, He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

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