Sermon: April 9 – Easter

“Have Seen The Lord”

Three blondes died and found themselves standing before St. Peter. He told them that before they could enter the Kingdom, they had to tell him what Easter was.

The first blonde said, “Easter is a holiday where they have a big feast, and we give thanks and eat turkey.” St. Peter said, “Noooo,” and banished her to hell.

The second blonde said, “Easter is when we celebrate Jesus’ birth and exchange gifts.” St. Peter said, “Noooo,” and banished her to hell.

The third blonde said she knew what Easter is and St. Peter said, “So, tell me.” She said Easter is a Christian holiday that coincides with the Jewish festival of Passover. Jesus was having the Passover Feast with His disciples when He was betrayed by Judas, and the Romans arrested Him. They hung Him on the cross and eventually He died. Then they buried Him in a tomb behind a very large border.
St. Peter said, “verrry good.” The blonde continued, “Now, every year the Jews roll away the boulder and Jesus comes out. If He sees His shadow, we have six more weeks of basketball. And St. Peter fainted.

John 20:1-18

You and I have come here for a variety of different reasons this Easter morning. For some, you come because of a deep abiding expectation that yearns to be reminded that our Lord died, but then out of death, God granted life. And in turn you know, therefore, that nothing is impossible with our Lord.
For some, you come because it’s the thing you do…this Easter morning thing. Perhaps, it’s the response to an echo of remembrance embedded deep within your youth that says, if nothing more, you should be here for the high holy days…whether you do so to honor your mother and father or honor a tradition of affirming your connectedness to something you can’t really give full ascent to but yet are not fully prepared to give up. Or perhaps, you come because something within, much like the salmon drawn to their birthplace nags at you, encourages you to try this worship thing again. Perhaps you come, because, at its most common basics, this Sunday is a Sunday when you can be reasonably certain that you will encounter what you are familiar with. A story told to you since your childhood and hymns that raise you up with the certainty that God loves you no matter where you are on your journey.

Mary Magdalene and some others set out on a journey early on that first Easter morning. Our text says it was the “First day of the week” and for the Jews back then this would have been their custom (They worshipped on Friday evening and did nothing on Saturday). Their Sabbath was sun-down on Friday to sun-down on Saturday.

We now worship on Sunday because of Easter and the first day of our week is Monday. Which raises the question in my mind (Remember, my mind can be a little out-of-whack sometimes): “Does anything good ever happen on Monday?” I was told a long time ago to never purchase a new car that came off the assembly line on Friday or Monday. On Friday the workers couldn’t wait to get the weekend started and on Monday they were still hungover from the said weekend. Maybe you’ve heard it before but there are two kinds of people in the world. There are those who say, “Thank you God, it’s Monday.” And those who say, “Good God it’s Monday.” Which category fits you best?

So, it’s the first day of the week and Mary is headed for the tomb they had placed Jesus in on Friday and our text says, “It was still dark.” Don’t know if this means it was dark when they left for the tomb or if it was dark when they arrived or if it really matters. I say “we” because if you look a little further, Mary says to Peter and John, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him.”

The word dark is one of the author’s favorite metaphors. Look how John introduces us to Jesus at the beginning of chapter 1 in his beautiful cosmic poem about Jesus: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Okay, it’s the first day of their week—Mary and her companions have left very early in the morning, while it was still dark—and they discover the stone had been removed from the entrance to Jesus’ tomb. What we need to see here is that the stone wasn’t removed so Jesus could get out. No, the stone was removed so that Mary, and now us, can get inside.

Fast forward, Mary has gone to inform Peter and John. They came—they saw—and they have gone back home. But Mary is still there, and she is in search of Jesus. John writes that Mary mistakes Jesus for the gardener. Could he be taking us all the way back to the beginning, to Genesis 2, to a beautiful garden, where life was birthed and created, where hope springs eternal? Sin has no place and death has no power in the garden because the Gardener is on duty. Maybe John added this detail reflecting back to the words of Jesus to His disciples in the Upper Room: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.”

Mary failed in finding Jesus. Why is that do you think? My theory, she failed because she sought a dead Jesus while Jesus was and is alive! All the time she was seeking Jesus while it was Jesus who found her. Isn’t that how it usually works?

I was looking for Jesus three weeks ago. When I finally figured out that I was in trouble and got R.C.’s attention he asked what I wanted him to do for me. Did I want him to take me to the emergency room or call 911. Probably my first thought was not to call Phillip Hardy (Funeral Director) but without a doubt the Holy Spirit said to me, CALL 911. I say without a doubt because it was an immediate response, I didn’t even have time to consider the question.

I have this little daily routine that I go through every morning. Across the room from my prayer chair is a cross that sits in front of a lamp filled with seashells (Connie’s project from one of our vacations). Focusing on that cross I say a little prayer of consecration that goes like this: Jesus—I belong to you—I lift my heart up to you—I set my mind on you—I fix my eyes on you—I offer my body as a holy and living sacrifice to you—Jesus I belong to you.

Upon learning that I had suffered a heart attack and still not out of the woods—on a wild ride to the hospital in the ambulance—I found myself seeking Jesus, quoting these words. And through my experience I discovered that all the time He was looking for me—He was saying to me, “I’ve got you.”
I saw or felt the presence of Jesus (Prevenient Grace) in the Dodge County Paramedics (who were at the Parsonage in less than ten minutes). In the staff at Fairview Park Hospital who were waiting on me at the door. The Heart Cath. Lab staff, Dr. Kalli, and all who worked on me with passion and expediency. Dr. Kalli told me that because of the speed of the paramedics and his team my heart suffered minimal damage. And then the floor nurses I had during my hospital stay. The right people were in the right place at the right time. They were loving—reassuring—and passionate about their work. And the way so many people have responded to me has been overwhelming, and I know that I have a ways to go before I am completely healed.

If you had been living in the Roman Empire in the first century, you would have noticed a strange custom practiced by the Christians. They would go out to their graveyards with laurel wreaths, the wreaths that had been used in Greek and Roman culture to crown the victors of athletic contests. They would take those laurel wreaths and place them on the graves. If you had asked them why, they would say, “Because we believe that in Jesus Christ we have received victory over the power of death.”
Mary Magdalene went to the tomb while it was still dark. But the darkness was soon overcome with light. Maybe that’s the message you need to hear this day. Perhaps for whatever reason you are in your own darkness right now. Family concerns. Problems at work. Anxiety about your health and your future. The loss of someone you love. Easter promises us more than the stars in our darkness. Easter promises us that in the midst of our deepest darkness the Son rises to overwhelm the darkness forever.

He is Risen—He is Risen indeed!

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