April 5, 2015

Easter Sunday


“But God said…”

(Mark 16:1-8)


Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.


TEXT:  Mark 16:6 ~ “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here.”  (Luke 21:6 ~ “He is not here, but has risen.”)


May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my Rock and my Redeemer.  Amen.


He is risen!  (He is risen, indeed!)  Alleluia!


The long night has ended; a new day has dawned!


Forty long days of Lent have properly prepared us to more fully appreciate Easter.  Now that we can finally sing “Alleluia!” again (without offending anyone…), please turn in your hymnals to p. 171 and remain standing as we celebrate together, for this truly is the feast of Christ’s victory over death – for you!


“He is not here, but has risen.”


How many times have we been lost and confused but God stepped in and fixed it?


How many times have you been convinced all hope was lost, but God said otherwise?


I googled it and at least 656 times in the Bible it is recorded, “But God…


More specifically, the Bible says, “But God said…”  at least 124 times.  We have a few examples in today’s lectionary.


In today’s epistle lesson, God’s Word records that Paul said:


“I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.  But by the grace of God I am what I am…”  (At one time, Paul actually murdered Christians, but God made him the writer of almost half the books of the New Testament.)


“Your sins are like scarlet, but they shall be as white as snow; they are red like crimson, but they shall become like wool. (Isaiah 1:18)


“But God…”


And of course today’s Gospel lesson tells us plainly, “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here.”  It is clearly implied, “But God raised Jesus from the dead.  Luke states it more plainly:  “He is not here, but has risen.”


Not only did God raise Jesus from the dead, but God has promised to raise you, too:  “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Romans 6:23)


“You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is not here, but has risen.”


And you will rise, too.


Illustration:  When I was in junior, a friend invited me to spend the afternoon of Easter with her family.  They picked me up and took me to her cousins’ house, where they were having a really big day together, like my family always observed Christmas and Thanksgiving.  I thought it odd at the time that they celebrated Easter that much…


Isn’t that sad?  I thought they were a little strange to be making such a big deal over Easter – like it was Christmas or something…


Well, live and learn.  Easter really is as big as Christmas.  You could even argue that the Resurrection is more important than the Incarnation – but it’s not that simple.  You cannot divorce the two major feasts of the Church.  Without being born of a woman, Christ could not have died or risen.  But without rising, his death would have been in vain – our faith would be in vain.  As God’s Word says in I Corinthians 15, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”


Just as you cannot completely separate Christmas from Easter, neither can you divorce Lent from Easter – or Easter from Lent.  In the verses immediately following today’s epistle lesson, God tells us:  “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.  But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”


We still recognize the supreme importance of the Resurrection each and every Sunday.  Our main worship service each week is on a Sunday, because Christ rose on a Sunday, “very early on the first day of the week…”


So, if all the seasons of the church year are really just one unit and inseparable, why so much Lent and so little Easter?  That’s a good question.  Originally, the Liturgical Year was simply 52 Sundays – 52 celebrations of the Resurrection. In the second century one Sunday a year was singled out for a big annual celebration.  So you see, we have it backwards when we say every Sunday is a little Easter.  It’s the other way around – Easter is just a big Sunday.  Every Sunday is a celebration of the Resurrection, just by the fact that we gather every week on a Sunday, the day of the week when Jesus rose from the dead.  Those original 52 Sundays of the liturgical calendar were all celebrations of Easter.  It wasn’t until the fourth century that Christmas was added to the Church Calendar. Then there slowly developed a period of preparation (Advent and Lent) and a period of celebration (Christmastide and Eastertide) for each of these feasts.


You could argue that these late-comers to the calendar took over.  We spend a lot of time in Advent, and then, when we can finally sing a Christmas song in church, the season is over in a flash!  And as if 40 days of Lent wasn’t enough, they’re now resurrecting this thing called “pre-Lent” when you can spend a couple weeks preparing for Lent.


Wait a minute!  If Lent is a time to prepare for Easter, then what is pre-lent for?  A time to prepare to prepare for Easter?


Why do we spend so much time beating ourselves up over our sinfulness?  The price has been paid!  And He is risen!  (He is risen indeed!)  Alleluia!


Sometimes I have to wonder if it’s not because we’ve turned repentance on its head by turning it into a work that we do to earn God’s forgiveness.  It’s almost as if we say to God, “OK, I think I’ve beaten myself up enough now – at least I hope I have…  I think you can forgive me now – I guess…”


NO!  You do not earn God’s forgiveness by repenting.  Christ earned God’s forgiveness for you when He took your place and died on the cross.  And you do not “hope that you maybe” will be forgiven – like I hope I get a Jaguar next Christmas.


NO!  We have a certain hope based on what God has done for us.  And he raised Jesus from the dead, the firstfruits:  “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”


While it is true that we do lead lives of repentance, don’t ever forget that repentance includes Faith in the resurrection.  Not just his death on the cross, but also Christ’s victory over death – for you!  We can’t have the resurrection without the death (no Easter without Christmas), neither can we have the resurrection without the death (no Easter without Good Friday).  And without the resurrection, Good Friday leaves us more to be pitied than any other people in history…


But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”


The firstfruits…  You see, this isn’t just for you and me, but for all those we love and miss, too, all those who have fallen asleep in Christ.  They will certainly not be left behind, BUT will actually go ahead of us!  Listen to what God has to say about that:


“For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.  Therefore encourage one another with these words.  (I Thessalonians 4)


We miss them horribly, but we’re only apart for a while; we’ll be reunited forever!  Compared to eternity, this separation is just for a little while…  “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)


He is not here, but he’s risen!


*** And so my message to you this Sunday of the Resurrection of Our Lord is this:


Let’s renew our commitment to leading lives of repentance – which most definitely includes celebrating the fact that we shall rise from the dead, because God says…  He is risen!


(He is risen, indeed!)




The peace of God, which is beyond understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.