Risen Lord, as we hear again the miraculous story, may we find joy and grace and peace and promise for our own lives.
SCRIPTURE LESSON Luke 24:1-12, CEB
Very early in the morning on the first day of the week, the women went to the tomb, bringing the fragrant spices they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 They didn’t know what to make of this. Suddenly, two men were standing beside them in gleaming bright clothing. 5 The women were frightened and bowed their faces toward the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He isn’t here, but has been raised. Remember what he told you while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Human One must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words. 9 When they returned from the tomb, they reported all these things to the eleven and all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles. 11 Their words struck the apostles as nonsense, and they didn’t believe the women. 12 But Peter ran to the tomb. When he bent over to look inside, he saw only the linen cloth. Then he returned home, wondering what had happened.
SERMON Jesus’ Resurrection Story
We know that story, but we don’t often listen to Luke’s version. Here we have the witness of the empty tomb. The women are afraid until the angel tells them Jesus is raised. Then they hurry back to tell the men who don’t believe them. Peter sees the empty tomb for himself, but he hasn’t yet come to faith. He wonders what happened.
Easter faith didn’t come all at once to Jesus’ closest earthly friends then. It sometimes takes awhile for us to come to that faith as well. But God invites us to believe in life beyond death, hope beyond despair, joy beyond suffering. God invites us not only to celebrate but to live Easter!
I confessed earlier this week that Easter is the hardest sermon for me to write each year. But this year God gave me a beginning thought as I drove down the alley to church a couple weeks ago.
We celebrate Easter with eggs and bunnies and butterflies and flowers,
all signs of new life. But they only hint at the meaning.
They are the fluff, the pretty, the icing on the cake
But they are not the depth of meaning Easter wants to offer us.
It’s like eating dessert without the meal.
I thought about other signs of new life around us:
Folks of all ages playing in the park or walking by,
The birds, the squirrels,
the sprouts I can’t identify, the plants my neighbor offered to share,
the grass turning green, the church yard being mowed,
the buds on the trees.
I think it’s no coincidence that God raised his Son to life in the Spring,
So that nature itself would always remind us of the miracle
And celebrate it with us.
But I wanted to look deeper.
New life is the neighbors moving in next door, because they needed a fresh start.
It’s the friend who celebrated her wedding last night
As God blessed her with new love after a loss.
New life is watching a friend learn to stand on her own two feet and move forward.
It’s hearing how someone has grown in faith
Or how moving closer to family helped someone move closer to God.
But as I started looking for those signs of new life all around me,
My Easter message came to a stand still and I had to wait.
Just as sometimes you must wait for the new life you need to come in God’s timing.
Through Holy Week, study and worship pointed toward the darker side of God’s story.
We prayed through the agony of Jesus at Gethsemane
And watched his arrest while the disciples ran away.
We reflected on Jesus as the Suffering Servant who did not appear to be
the conquering hero his people longed for in a Messiah.
Many of us worked hard to prepare the Stations of the Cross.
Members of the community found meaning in carrying the cross and singing hymns
Or walking those stations reading what Jesus might speak to us
And finding our response through the words in our books,
The visual displays or the thoughts God’s Spirit placed in our hearts.
One gentleman said what he found most meaningful was the emphasis on suffering.
I think we have to walk through that pain to appreciate the joy of Easter.
One of my favorite Easter hymns, especially for a Sunrise Service shares that contrast
Low in the grave He lay,
Jesus, my Savior,
Waiting the coming day,
Jesus, my Lord!
Up from the grave He arose,
With a mighty triumph o'er His foes,
He arose a Victor from the dark domain,
And He lives forever, with His saints to reign.
He arose! He arose!
Hallelujah! Christ arose!
When I sought inspiration for Easter Season after fumbling through several unsatisfactory options, God suggested I read and share Easter stories.
Some may be real life. Some may be fiction.
I read several looking for one to share today.
I thought it would be one about Easter eggs or lilies but no…
The one that gripped me takes place underground in a mine.
It reminds me of the tomb in which Jesus laid awaiting Easter.
Listen to these excerpts from “The Deserted Mine” by Ruth Sawyer.
[I cannot reprint the story for you, but the gist of it is an old man named Ivan who was born in the mine shaft 80 years before, lowered in a bucket, because the overseer no longer thought he could manage the ladder. As a boy growing up in the mine, an older man had told him about Jesus and that if you were still you might hear Jesus rustling through the galleries or even see him. As a boy, Ivan did see and hear Jesus, but as he grew older and focused on the work he no longer did. That old section of the mine was eventually deserted as a new section was opened. On this fateful day, there was a gasp as Mother Earth shook, and water began to fill the mine. The men followed their overseer. Ivan alone stood still. Someone remembered there might be a passage way to the old section, since all routes to the surface from the new section were blocked. Ivan began to hear and see glimpses of Jesus, and called out, "I come, Lord, I come." The other men thought he was crazy, but they followed him nonetheless. At last they came to an opening above them in that older section of the mine. They thought the ladders were probably rotten, but after waiting for a signal none of them could see, Ivan began to climb. The overseer realized Ivan climbed on faith, and said perhaps the ladder would hold as long as Ivan's faith did. They all followed him to the surface. After everyone was safe, Ivan, uncomfortable in the light, disappeared again saying, "I come, Lord, I come."]
Easter is about the light at the end of the tunnel, or in this case the mine shaft.
It’s finding fresh air after wondering if there was enough left to breathe.
It’s about trusting the unlikely person to lead you,
God’s chosen who is nothing like what you expected.
Easter is about praying through the scary times
and growing a faith that looks for the way through them with confidence in Christ.
Easter is knowing Jesus, recognizing him beside you, and saying, “Lord, I come.”
Easter is believing the words of the angels,
that the tomb was empty, because Jesus is risen from the dead!
We can face the crisis moments of financial insecurity, health concerns, political unrest, natural disasters, injustice, tragedy, violence, loss and more, even our own flaws and failures, NOT because we are so great, but because our God is so great!
When it seems like we are lost in the darkness,
When it feels like the world is about to collapse around us,
That is the time to listen for the rustling of our Lord,
Not just passing by us, but there to guide us.
Jesus endured through injustice, misunderstandings,
physical pain and emotional turmoil
to lead us through our most difficult days into a Promised Land, into an Easter faith!
Jesus walks with us to the other side of darkness
To the other side of sin.
To the other side of oppression.
To the other side of despair.
To the other side of death.
That we might see God’s power to bring
Light, mercy, freedom, hope and life
despite all we suffer!
Remember that as you mow the grass or sneeze with spring allergies,
As you plant a garden or listen to the birds,
As you watch a bunny hop across the lawn
Or a butterfly flit across the sky,
God is alive!
God is with us!
God still offers us hope and new life!
That is Easter, inviting us to faith and obedience and confidence
that beyond whatever suffering God asks us to endure,
God will lead us to the other side, to live in Easter faith!