Tag Archives: Easter Sunday Sermon

Easter and Us

A Sermon for 1 April 2018 – Easter Sunday

A reading from the gospel of John 20:1-18.  Listen for God’s word to us.

“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.  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.”  Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb.  The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.  He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.  Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb.  He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.  Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 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.”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!

What does resurrection have to do with our lives – not just some day off in the future when our mortal flesh returns to the earth.  But today, on Easter.  And tomorrow.  And the next.  And any random day of the week, like three weeks from next Tuesday?  How does resurrection impact us every day?

We know how it impacted the life of Jesus, the Christ.  Arrested for sedition by a state that was colluding with religious folks who believed him blasphemous, Jesus was brutally executed.  Hung on a cross as were all those in his day who were condemned to die.  A handful of women – and, according to the gospel of John, the beloved male disciple – were the only ones from the throngs devoted enough to watch.  Joseph of Arimathea – who represented a dissenting voice on the Jewish high council – and Nicodemus – the Pharisee who once went to Jesus at night to learn of God’s undying love for the world – got his body off the cross.  The gospel of John records that they wrapped him with about a hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes – which is a hole lot of powerful healing oils!  They placed their dead Rabbi in the linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews.  And because the Jewish day of preparation was fast-approaching, they laid his body in a newly hewn tomb in the garden near the spot where he had been crucified.  Night fell as the corpse lay stone-cold still, the ruah – the breath of Life, the spirit of the one called Jesus no longer there to animate his body.

Resurrection meant all the difference for that one!  Early on the first day of the week, after the celebration of Passover was over, in the dark before dawn; Mary Magdalene found her way back to the tomb in the garden.  Love’s redeeming work was done!  He was not there but had risen!  That very morning, he again called her by name.  Standing before her face-to-face; the Risen One charged her to go tell his brothers.  He was ascending – returning to the Source from which he had come.  Though he would appear to them all later that night.  Then one week following.  And again, when they had returned to the boats and nets.  The power of his life was not yet done.  The resurrection of his body confirmed all he had been teaching – the LORD of heaven and earth would have the last word, not death.  But Life for all and forever for those who would follow his path.

Resurrection changed the lives of those first rushing to the tomb.  Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John.  Mary his Mother, James his brother, Thomas and all the rest too.  To the ends of the earth eventually they would go.  Not scattered like scared sheep but sent with purpose to the far-reach of lands we now know as India, Africa, and Europe.  From that one little spot in a garden outside the walls of Jerusalem, a different kind of world-wide web would form.  The message over and over:  “I have seen the Lord!  The crucified, dead, and buried; lives forevermore!”  He is present with us.  In us, as we continue to walk the path he taught throughout his living and dying and living again.  . . .  Talk about an adventure!  All around their known-world they went to teach any who would listen everything they had seen and heard.  To give witness to Christ’s healing power.  To tell of his up-side-down understanding of the welcome of God.  To live in ways that showed yet the life-transforming effects of compassionate love.  Resurrection made all the difference in a world craving any seed of hope.

Resurrection is meant to change our lives too.  It shows us the pattern imprinted by the Creator in the creation.  Life.  Death.  Life again!  We too live forevermore.  Our days have purpose because of what we have seen – not just far off in the land where Jesus first lived.  Not even alone in the stories of scripture that we cherish.  But also in our very own lives.  Where the power of forgiveness has broken-open our hearts to heal.  To begin again.  Where the up-side-down welcome of God has allowed us to be – to accept ourselves in all of our foibles, because each part is accepted by God, redeemed by God, cherished not as weakness but as an opportunity for God to work wonders we cannot accomplish on our own.  In our own lives – I hope we have experienced and continue to be for others – people of compassionate love; those who consider the need in ourselves even as we notice the deep need in another.  Resurrection is meant to change our lives – to give us hope in a world where we’re taught to focus more on that which divides instead of seeing all the ways we are connected.  For we need one another.  And when we sit together to break bread, the mysterious Spirit of God is found binding us all into one.

Resurrection has everything to do with us – with our living, with our dying daily, with our living again now and forevermore!  . . .  Happy Easter, Resurrection people!  When we depart from here, let us go to make all the difference!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (All rights reserved.)

Opposing Energies

A Sermon for 16 April 2017 – Easter Sunday

A reading from the gospel of Matthew 28:1-15.  Listen for God’s word to us.

“After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.  And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.  For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.  But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.  Come, see the place where he lay.  Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’  This is my message for you.”  So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.  Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!”  And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.  10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”  11 While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened.  12 After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 telling them, “You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’  14 If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.”  15 So they took the money and did as they were directed.  And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!

If you are here today, you likely have heard this story.  What happens when Sabbath rest is over and the followers of a brutally crucified man go to be with his body.  Few of us have experienced a week quite like theirs.  Those who loved this great teacher, those who followed and took hope from all the words he spoke, those who had seen miraculous things taking place in others and in their very own bodies.  Those who gathered at a festive meal just a few nights early though they did not understand it would be his last.  Those who had the courage to watch what would be done to him and those who scattered in fear as soon as the guard came to Gethsemane to take him away.  All of those whose hearts were crushed when the nails ripped through his flesh and at last the sword pierced his side showing all the world he was, in fact, dead.  A handful of those lovers of that One cannot bear it any longer.  The morning after Sabbath rest is over, they go to see the tomb.

Certainly you’ve heard the story before, though perhaps you’re not familiar with the details unique to the perspectives of the four different authors of the gospels who record the happenings as they had come to know it.  It’s the gospel of John, the latest of our recorded gospels that tells of Mary Magdalene heading off to the tomb alone.  Only to return with news something was amiss, which set off the apostles Peter and John in a foot race to see for themselves just what was going on.  It’s the gospels of Mark and Luke that have a group of women early the morning after Sabbath, taking spices to the tomb to properly tend the broken body of their beloved Lord.  Mark names the women from the start:  Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome; though Luke leaves out that specific detail until the end of the story when the group is named as Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women too.  It’s Mark in which the women wonder together who will roll away the stone for them – as if they hadn’t laid out their anointing plan all that very well.  All the gospels tell of some sort of angelic being – either one or two come to deliver an important message to the woman or women, depending on the version of the story.  In Mark the women flee from the tomb and find themselves too amazed to tell anyone.  In Luke, the apostles believe the women’s words to be an idle tale.  John and Matthew include an appearance of the Risen Christ come to meet Mary Magdalene as it’s told in the gospel of John, and Mary Magdalene and the other Mary too as it’s told in the gospel of Matthew.  And it’s Matthew alone that makes mention of an opposition party at the tomb.  The guards.  Stationed there at the pleading of the religious leaders; for they were worried the disciples might try something tricky like stealing away the body after three days in order to deceive everyone that he had been raised from the dead.  According to Matthew chapter 27, Pilate grants the wish.  Guards are stationed in the graveyard and the stone of the tomb is sealed extra tight so the living cannot get in and the dead cannot get out.

The gospel of Matthew alone is also the one that tries to explain what happens.  How the earth itself shook and a mighty angel of the LORD descended to roll back the stone with ease before hopping up on it in victory to sit in all God’s glory.  Supposedly it all took place right after Mary Magdalene and the other Mary arrived at the tomb – before their very eyes and those of the guard’s as well.  Which leaves us wondering if it ever would have happened had not at least these two followers believed God yet could make the impossible possible.  Matthew doesn’t include a mention of women and spices and the duty of an early morning anointing of a beloved one’s dead body.  He simply states:  “After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb” (Mt. 28:1).  Could it be they believed and had to see for themselves what their Lord had been telling them all along?  . . .  It’s the contrast lifted up by the gospel of Matthew.  As if in these characters of Mary Magdalene, Mary, and the guards of the religious leaders; we see the energies that war within us all.  The parts of us that hope and the parts of us that fear.  The parts of us that dry up like dead men, as the guards do in terror; and the parts of us that hold on to experience the absolutely amazing, as the women do when they nearly knock over the Risen Christ on their excited dash to deliver the incredible news.  It leaves us wondering what role we have to play in God’s resurrecting work.  Are we, as the gospel of Matthew seems to portray, necessary participants in the process?  So that the stirrings in us that something incredible yet can take place are exactly what is needed for new life to have a shot.

A prayer simply titled Common Prayer, could be the summary of the gospel of Matthew’s telling of resurrection possibility.  It goes like this:  “There are only two feelings.  Love and fear.  There are only two languages.  Love and fear.  There are only two activities.  Love and fear.  There are only two motives, two procedures, two frameworks, two results.  Love and fear.  Love and fear.  Love and fear” (Common Prayer, by Leunig.  Quoted in books and speeches by Alan Jones).

According to the gospel of Matthew, there are two energies at the tomb that morning after Sabbath after fear had worked its mighty magic.  The earthquake, the flash of some mystical messenger, the site of an empty tomb.  Does it leave us shaking in fear?  For if this thing which defies human logic actually could be – this Life after death thing really something within the Divine’s reach – then what does it mean for us?  For our dying, even before our physical death; in order to truly Live.  . . .  And if this dying, even before our physical death; in order to truly Live is the Way as shown here in full in Christ; then . . . wow!  We indeed have absolutely nothing to fear.  . . .  With the women, we’re left to fall down in worship before this One.  To open wide our hearts in overflowing love; for the Way of the Living God.  For there are only two feelings.  Two motives.  Two activities.  Two results.  . . .  Because of Easter morning, which one will you choose?

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2017  (All rights reserved.)

And Then and Then . . .

A Sermon for 5 April 2015 – Easter Sunday

Click here to read scripture first:

http://www.biblestudytools.com/nrsa/mark/passage/?q=mark+16:1-8

Mark 16:1-8

Thursday morning, I woke up to an email from my old mortgage company in Chicago. The subject line read: Easter. It was just the wee hours of Maundy Thursday with all the intense action of Holy Week yet to come. And maybe because my mind was a bit pre-occupied with all the details of that night’s service, along with Good Friday’s, and then the one we had this morning in the old sanctuary on The Hermitage; I opened the Easter message – even though it was a long way to Easter from that early Maundy Thursday morning. Pastels immediately popped on the page in colorful eggs that were underneath a photo of a bat, ball, and catcher’s mit. “HAPPY EASTER,” the message proclaimed in big, beautiful light purple, green, orange, blue, and pink letters. “Dear Jule,” the email continued. “Best wishes for a wonderful Easter filled with sweet treats and the joy of spring.” Then in a special box highlighted with a pretty spring-green background, the message went on: “This weekend we celebrate many of the things that make our country the great place to live that it is. (Terrible English, I know; but it’s a direct quote from the email.) “Easter (bolded out in bright orange) is celebrated on Sunday and brings with it, early signs of spring. The Final Four go at it Saturday evening,” the Easter proclamation continued with a detailed line-up of last night’s games. Then to complete this lesson to me on the true meaning of Easter weekend, the email concluded with the following: “Last but not least, the boys of summer are back on Sunday with the Cubs opening at home on Monday (remember this was from a mortgage company in Chicago) and the White Sox on the road.” So get all excited Jule because so be the gifts of this wonderful Easter day???!!!

Almost immediately I wondered if the last verse of the gospel of Mark that we heard just a bit ago was the final word about it all ever echoed through human history. You might remember how this earliest written gospel is believed originally to have ended. The three women, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices the morning after Sabbath’s end they go to anoint the dead body of Jesus. They see the huge stone already rolled away before they get there and some sort of young man dressed all in white is sitting in the tomb where they expected to find Jesus’ life-less body. They’re told not to be alarmed. Though let’s face it, who among us wouldn’t have been incredibly alarmed to find a tomb that held the body of one just brutally murdered by the authorities of the land empty when it was supposed to be full. And whoever this young boy is who is giving them a guided tour around the tomb certainly isn’t helping. “Look, there is the place they laid him,” he is saying. “And see: he’s not here. He’s been raised. Now go tell the others, and even Peter who flat out denied him three times, to head back to Galilee where he will meet you.” (paraphrase of Mark 16:6-7). . . . And so, according to the original ending of the gospel of Mark, the trio of women do what most any of us would have done. They high-tailed it out of there faster than anyone could cheer: “On Wisconsin!” . . . They were seized, the gospel writer records – feelings rising up in them that they could not control. Sheer terror mingled all at once with absolute awe. And because they were so afraid, they didn’t speak a word of it to anyone – not even to one another ever again. They dashed off from the empty tomb, each back to their own hometowns or far away from that land altogether so that you and I are left today to celebrate with sweet treats the return of Spring, the Final Four, and baseball – though if you’re like me, Spring might be the only three of these you’re all excited about.

At this point, something in us is supposed to be shouting out: “No!” It’s not enough. Sports and Spring because the first to see, at least according to the gospel of Mark’s telling of that initial Easter morning, were too afraid to tell anyone else about it? Absolutely not! Who among us would be willing to be baptized into that? Spend so much of our blood, sweat, and tears – and laughter, love, and fun times too – being community together if that’s all it is – live a good life, try to tell others of God’s love, get absolutely creamed because of it with no further word from those who were entrusted with the rest of the story but were too afraid ever to tell? Uh-ah. That is nowhere near enough!

Through the years a lot of effort has gone into adding other endings to the gospel of Mark. Claiming a few other verses eventually were found. Or writing up a dozen or so more just to make the story of Mark a bit more palatable for readers far from the original event. But there’s a reason we stop the story where we did today. At the end of verse 8 of chapter 16 when the women at the empty tomb leave tight-lipped and too afraid to deliver the message they were given to tell. It’s entirely possible that the writer of the original ending of Mark wants us to get all upset about the story ending there that we might ensure the proper ending takes place. Easter is not supposed to be an event we keep to ourselves. Sure one living again who was tortured and tossed in a nearby tomb because the religious laws of Sabbath said you had to get home to start the meal. Him being alive again is frightening. It turns around the way we thought it always was. That they can mock us and beat us and snuff us out altogether, so in fear we better fall in line. Waste our days on things like baseball and the Final Four – sorry sports fans. But not even pulling for your favorite team is enough. . . . It’s not enough to fill up the precious few moments we have in this life. It’s not enough to keep silent that you sense it all goes another way – even if it doesn’t make one bit of logical sense to minds that too often get stuck on the need for objective proof.

What more proof do we need than their fear didn’t actually end up being the end of the story? We literally would not be here if it did! Their awe eventually overtook. . . . The news of a Risen Christ was too good never to speak of again. Maybe they went back home wondering how it all could be so – too afraid at first to speak it in case they’d be the next hung up on crosses by the authorities who didn’t want to hear any talk of hope or everlasting peace or unable-to-be-snuffed-out Love. Death does not have the final word in our world or in any of our lives. So that eventually, if we pay attention enough. If we open our hearts and minds to it enough, we eventually have to tell. The truth of resurrection we’ve experienced in our own lives. Once we too thought we were at our end. And then . . . somehow. We’re still here. Battle-worn perhaps, but still standing. . . . Do you remember the day your heart no longer felt so smashed to smithereens by the storms of life? Do you remember the moment you knew you could go on – even if you no longer wanted to under the conditions life left for you? Can you recall that time you were down in the dirt of it all – rock bottom they call it in the AA movement. And somehow you got up. You, thanks to the same Life Force that again returned to Christ, you again stood up. That’s resurrection in our lives each day. That’s new life here and now and one day forevermore. That’s what Easter is all about. Not sports and Spring, though Spring is a great gift that shows us this ancient truth of our amazing God. That like Christ, thanks be to God, you and I rise again after every little death of this life and one day in full at our end – just like the Risen Christ. . . . It’s the truth of the Christ, the truth of our lives — the truth of Easter – that this world desperately needs to hear.

What more do I need to say than: go! Finish the story. Tell the good news we celebrate on Easter which we see in our lives each day!

Dome over the Empty Tomb at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem.  Photo by JMN, March 2014.

Dome over the Empty Tomb at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem. Photo by JMN, March 2014.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen!

© Copyright JMN – 2015  (All rights reserved.)