Easter Sunday is the Superbowl for preachers. It is the biggest day on the calendar for most churches. It’s a time to speak of everlasting life, reconcilation, and forgiveness. In my experience, it is unheardof for a seminary student to preach on Easter. At best you might be asked to read scripture, serve communion, or work in the nursery, which is why I jumped at the opportunity to preach at a sunrise service last weekend.
Every year the Mount Vernon Rotary organizes a sunrise Easter service and my Jedi-Lutheran mentor suggested to the organizers I would be a good fit for the service. Aside from a sound system that dated back to 1980, and a microphone that I had to swallow to get any sound out of, I thought the sermon was went really well. Let me know what you think!
Below is the text from my sermon along with audio.
Christ is Risen. He is Risen Indeed.
Seven days ago, Jesus triumphantly entered into Jerusalem riding a white colt. As he rides through the city gates of Jerusalem, crowds are shouting “Hosanna! Hosanna Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!” His entry into Jerusalem is the staged political theater, threatening not only the Roman occupiers with what they think would be a Jewish uprising, but the Jewish religious establishment is threatened also.
Three days later, Jesus gathers with his closest friends for meal. He tells them that his body will be broken and blood poured out for them and for the forgiveness of sin. He knows that one among them will betray him. That night while praying in a garden, a kiss on the cheek is all it takes for the betrayal to occur and for Jesus to be arrested and put to trial.
On Friday morning he was beaten, mocked, humiliated, and nailed to a cross. By the afternoon he was dead. A man who entered into Jerusalem on a colt (which is a symbol of peace), a man who preached the peace and love of God, was killed in the most brutal way possible. Crucifixion was a display of power. It was a way that the Roman Empire could publicly display the solidarity and power that their rule would maintain. But the resurrection of Jesus takes this brutal display of power and says that no more will earthly power and law control humanity! No longer will the the rule of those who reign out of oppression and brutality stand. No longer will sin and violence reign.
The resurrection is the catapult that took a group of 12 disciples in 1 country and multiplied that number to reach over 2 billion disciples in more than 200 countries. That’s 1 out of every 3 people around the world. The resurrection is the event that took 12 men who did not know one another or their Rabbi, and sent the 12 men and their Rabbi’s teachings across the Holy Land and eventually around the world. The resurrection is the catapult that sends Jesus’ earthly teachings of grace and hope around the world.
In the aftermath resurrection of Jesus Christ we see joy and fear, terror and amazement, and even doubt displayed by Jesus’ closest friends. All four of the gospels provide us with examples of joy and fear, terror and amazement, and even doubt.
In our reading this morning from Matthew’s Gospel, we find Mary and Mary going to place where just days before Jesus had been laid. The women would have known about the corrupt trial that sentenced Jesus to death. The two women would have known exactly how Jesus was killed. The women are now going to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body with spices. When they arrive the stone is rolled away and angel appears. The women learn that Jesus has left the tomb and that that they are to share this news with the disciples. The women leave to tomb filled with fear and joy, and the risen Christ meets them. Jesus could only get one word in before they dropped to the ground and began to worship him. One word was all it took for these two women to know exactly who was greeting them. One word was all it took for these two women to recognize Son of God and fall to his feet in worship.
If we turn to Mark and Luke’s Gospels we find those confronted by the risen Christ were filled with terror and amazement. Running to and from the empty tomb. Running to the tomb terrified that their lord had been taken and amazed at what had been told to them.
In John’s Gospel find the same joy and amazement, but we also see that not all of the disciples were convinced at what they heard. John’s Gospel tells us that a week after the resurrection, one of Jesus’ disciples would not believe Jesus was risen unless he literally put his finger in the mark of the nails and his hand in Jesus’ side. Thomas needed to see and feel for himself that Jesus was truly risen. He needed to place his fingers in the holes in Jesus’ hand and place his hand in the hole in Jesus’ side. The resurrection of Jesus not only lead the disciples (and 1/3 people today) to faith but it has also lead to doubt.
These post-resurrection encounters with the risen Christ cause the disciples to rise up, put their fear behind them, and return to the very city they had fled from in the hours after Jesus’ death. The experiences the disciples had with the risen Christ changed their world-view, which changed their entire existence. No longer were they to simply listen and follow, now they were filled with the same Spirit that had raised Jesus from the dead and empowered them to spread the message of hope – faith in action – that they had literally worshiped at his feet and touched with their hands.
The disciples’ experiences with the risen Christ provided them, and provides us with what Jurgen Moltmann describes as vision of hope, justice, and calling. Hope and justice in that even after death through the resurrection, Jesus has defeated death and sin. The calling that Jesus placed on his disciples in the days and weeks after the resurrection carries on today, calling us to be a part of the resurrection.
If the hope, justice, and calling of the resurrection are ours today just as they belong to the first disciples of Jesus, what exactly does that mean? Where do we find hope and seek justice? How are we to respond to the calling placed on all of us?
We are able to find hope. That even in the midst of brutality, humiliation, and hatred, Jesus offered forgiveness not only to the thief next to him, but also to those who were responsible for his death. We see hope in the promise to thief, who was being killed for his sins, that he would join Jesus in paradise. We see hope in the resurrection, as the disciples turn from despair and grief, to renewal and being filled with the Holy Spirit, being sent out to proclaim the risen Christ.
We are able to find justice in that even though we are stained by sin, that in the resurrected Christ we are not only forgiven and washed clean, but the brokenness and despair caused by our turning away from God has been repaired. God reached out to us, and offered us healing and renewal.
Post-resurrection calling of the disciples is the same call that echos today, an invitation to each of us to join Jesus. To join the ministry he began, to be a healing force throughout the world, and to be an example of how hope and justice are manifested.
Karl Barth, arguably the greatest Christian theologian of the twentieth century, said that Easter is Jesus as he is, Jesus as a victor. This victory, in addition to conquering the forces of sin and evil, also provide us a glimpse of the hope that has now been assured to all of us: even in the midst of our sinfulness, God has not and will not abandon us. Out of the cruelest of deaths, the most hopeful life emerges. Barth said, “going into death with God means that life goes into death and life comes out of death.” We are offered a glimpse of the life that comes out of death in the risen Christ and we are called to join Christ in the life everlasting.
When we accept the call of our risen Lord and enter into the life everlasting, we are joining the ranks of Mary, Peter, Thomas, and Paul. We are submitting ourselves to allow the same power of the Holy Spirit that raised Jesus Christ to turn our worlds upside down and shake the very foundation of the lives we have created. The resurrection is a world-shaking event that changes everything, and when we accept the invitation of Jesus we are allowing this deeply disruptive event that changed everything 2000 years ago, to disrupt everything now.
The big question then is, how will we live? If in Christ death has been defeated, if new hope is found, and sin is no more, how are our lives now shaped?
NT Wright, the Arch Bishop of Durham said, “Easter has burst into our world, the world of space, time and matter, the world of real history and real people and real life”. Easter is the catapult that thrusted hope and grace into our lives, into the lives of those who did not want it, and into the lives of those who wish to ignore it. If that is the case, if today is the catapult, what are we to make of it? How are we to respond?
We can respond faithfully, just like Mary and Mary from our scripture reading, dropping to our knees and worshiping at the feet of Christ. Or we can respond like Thomas, doubting that death can be raised from the dead to the point that we feel we need to place our fingers in the holes in Christ’s hands.
But if we are to respond with doubt, we must be prepared for what we will find. We must be prepared to have the hope and love of Christ transform us from the inside out. We must be prepared to have the holes in his hand turn our world upside down, and experience the outpouring of grace and mercy which is offered to us. We must be prepared to have the same power, the same Spirit that raised Jesus Christ, fill us to the point that we too rise up and take the message of love, justice, and hope with us in everything we do.
When Mary and Mary confronted the empty tomb they were instructed that Jesus was waiting for his disciples in Galilee. They were instructed to go there and meet the risen Lord. We must be prepared to meet Jesus in Galilee. We must be ready to rise up, just as the disciples did and meet the risen Christ in Galilee. If we do so, our response is one of hope, justice, and calling. When we do so we are not only responding to the outstretched hand of the risen Christ, we are also taking up the ministry which Christ has laid before us. Our risen savior calls upon us today to rise up, just as his disciples did, and just as he did.
Christ is Risen. He is Risen Indeed.