April 23, 2000
[Colors Removed from Background for easier printing]
[ Read the
texts at the Vanderbilt Divinity On-Line Library ]
My four and a half year old daughter and I were on our way to the grocery store and she was asking me questions about one of her favorite subjects.
"Are we going to see Granny in heaven?" (Her only grandmother had died when she was just two, but with videotape and pictures, she knows what her granny looked like and says she remembers her.)
"Yes, honey, when we die we will see Granny in heaven."
"And then," she continued, "Will we come back to our own house?"
"No honey," I replied, "We will stay with Jesus and Granny forever."
She sat up straight and said in her most shocked voice, "You mean we're gona' stay dead?"
In all of our conversations about life and living and what it means when people die and about how Jesus rose from the dead -- the idea of death as a permanent thing had never occurred to her. And in my adult mind, it had not occurred to me that she was still in that child mindset where human mortality is little more than a fuzzy abstraction.
Children do experience grief, but a child's grief is accompanied by the hard question of why Granny -- or whoever the absent person is -- can't just "come back."
When we grieve as adults, our grief is accompanied by the reality that the one who is absent is never coming back.
And it's hard.
The child's burning question and the adult's stone-cold reality both disturb the peace of our living. Death is an enemy and an intruder into God's kingdom. By going to the cross, through death and beyond the grave to resurrection, Christ emptied death of its power over God's children. The letter to the Corinthians says this about the meaning of Jesus' resurrection. "The last enemy to be destroyed is death." [I Cor.15:26]
As we gather to celebrate our faith on this Easter Sunday, our hearts are riveted on the central reality of Christian faith. The words from our Gospel reading in Mark tell the story. Three women come to the tomb of Jesus early in the morning carrying spices to anoint the body of Jesus. Their hearts are enshrouded in the grief of Jesus' death. They are in the grip of the stone-cold reality that everyone who has ever lost a loved one knows.
Jesus is gone. Taken from them. All their hopes and dreams had been shattered. The disciples had given up job and house and home to invest everything in the One who had come to bring a new Kingdom to the earth. And now he was dead! Nothing could change this fact of life. Death is final and nothing can turn it around. We've all been hit by this truth at one time or another -- or we will confront it.
Then, in the midst of deep despair and crushing disappointment come these words of the angel to the three women who had come to anoint Jesus' dead body with burial spices.
Now -- Easter means a lot of things to a lot of people. The stores and shops you have visited over the past few weeks embraced Easter as a great time to boost sales. There were colored bunny rabbits, Easter eggs and all kinds of decorations to buy. Most of our family dentists will have lots of work to do now that all the candy is gone from all the shelves and the Easter egg hunts are over.
Easter is a time when clothing stores have augmented their best ever Christmas shopping season with a great Easter shopping season. Instead of hearing the bouncy strains of, "Here comes Santa Claus," dancing through your mind, it was, "Here comes Peter Cottontail." Just as it is with Christmas, there is a whole secular Easter that is a celebration of spring, renewal and new life. It is a "mother earth" kind of Easter whereby people seize Easter as a springtime promise that says, "Can sunny days at the beach be far behind?"
There is a group called Mission Media which produced a series of video clips in which they did some "man on the street" interviews asking religious questions. One of those questions was, "What is the meaning of Easter." The answers went from, "Easter is Jesus' birthday," to, "Easter is the day he died on the cross." One young woman said, The meaning of Easter is that you should live life to the fullest." (Without realizing it, she touched on one of the aspects of Easter.)
For us, however, Easter is a celebration of the central reality of the Christian faith. (It is... isn't it?) It is in our hymns. "Christ the Lord is Risen Today." "He Lives." "The Day of Resurrection." This is the festival of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead!
There is a foundation truth in our Easter celebration that underlies the profound inner joy of the angel's words, "He has risen, he is not here."
The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead not only eliminates death as the great enemy of life and makes possible the "peace that passes all understanding." [Phil. 4:7] The truth of Easter is contained in our scripture reading from the Book of Acts when Peter first brings the good news to gentiles.
Peace by Jesus Christ -- he is Lord of all. This is what brings the peace to our living. The One who has gone through suffering, humiliation and death has emerged on the victory side of life's worst defeats. He is indeed, "Lord of all!"
And if he is Lord of all, then he is most certainly able to bring the gift of great peace to my living as I invite his presence as Lord of my life. It is in John's gospel that Jesus made this remarkable statement to his disciples:
The peace Christ gives is not subject to the "terms and conditions" imposed upon us by the world. This peace is not something that can be taken away from us by loss of a job, onset of serious illness, or even death itself. Nowhere in the world as we know it can an offer of essential, enduring, unending peace be honestly offered. This peace -- the Easter peace -- can not be given, nor can it be taken away by the world.
It is no accident that thirteen New Testament letters conclude with some form of the words, "Peace be unto you..." Peace from God... the peace of God... is the bottom line of these letters and of our faith. Because Jesus Christ has broken through the one thing that has the power to irrevocably disturb the peace of our lives, namely death -- he is able to give his followers a peace that the world can not give.
Look once again at the focus text from Acts:
Because Jesus conquered death, he is Lord over death and can give peace where there was once hopelessness. Wherever Jesus reigns, there is peace -- that is, the Lordship of Christ brings peace. When he is Lord of my life, there is peace in my life.
That is the central message of Easter. Easter is not simply a story about a Galilean man who died and rose from the dead almost 2000 years ago -- although that is a wonderful story. Easter is about a man who rose from the dead almost 2000 years ago and still lives today to reign in the lives of all who will embrace him as Lord.
Easter brought about the very first confession of faith in the Christian Church. "Jesus Christ is Lord!"
Peter spoke the words long ago, "He is Lord of all."
Do you see how Easter poses a question to all of us?
Is Jesus Christ Lord of all -- in your life?
Remember that question the little girl (my daughter) asked -- "You mean we're gona' stay dead?" My answer was, "No honey, we're not going to stay dead -- we're going to stay alive!"
An Essay on the Easter Texts
Our full text sermon is based on the gospel reading from Mark and the reading from Acts where there is a choice in the Common Lectionary.
No matter the choice of readings, however, all the suggested lessons have to do with the victory of God over death and the divine intent for all people. The biblical view is that life can not be fulfilled or what God intended without a relationship with God and that death is an anomaly in the creative design of God. Restoration of one's relationship with God necessarily includes victory over death. Death is an intruder in the creative order and not a part of the divine intent for humankind.
The Apostle Paul expresses what has been clear throughout scripture -- namely that death is a result of sin, "...sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned..." [Rom. 5:12] Thus the message of the resurrection is that the One who has gained victory over death is the one who can minister forgiveness of sin to those who believe. With the forgiveness of sin, death's power is destroyed and God's intent for fullness of life is restored.
Several key points are made in the NRCL texts:
The key to understanding the life of the earliest church is that the resurrection is the cornerstone of the faith. To be an apostle one had to have experienced the resurrection. To preach the faith was to preach the resurrection. C. S. Lewis captures the urgency of the resurrection faith in writing of Jesus' resurrection:
Call To Worship
Leader: O give thanks to the Lord, for
the love of God is forever.
Confession of Sin
O Lord God, Almighty Creator of heaven and earth, we gather before you on this glorious day of resurrection to ask for your mercy and grace. We confess that we come so short of the resurrection life Jesus gained for us. We live out of the meager resources of our self centered world and miss the abundance of the riches of Christ. We pray that the renewing power of your Holy Spirit would refresh us today and give us strength to live the new life -- the resurrection life in Jesus Christ. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon
Scripture declares, when deeds of iniquity overwhelm us, you forgive our sins. [Ps. 65:3] Be assured brothers and sisters in Christ, as we turn humbly to the Lord for forgiveness, God is faithful to forgive us and renew our strength to follow Christ. Amen.
Prayer of Thanksgiving
We are filled with joy on this day of resurrection Lord. In a world that is so broken, so filled with suffering and death, you have given us a message of life! Our hearts are so desperately in need of the life giving, death defeating message of the angels. "He is not here -- he is risen!"
We pray that you would be pleased O Lord, to give us strength to live in light of our faith and not in light of the good news of our faith and not the bad news of our world. Give us the joy of living from faith and for Christ and the courage to bring good news to the world around us.
We praise you O God Most High for the love which surrounds us, the community which sustains us, the family of faith that guides us and the vision that fulfills us. We are forever in your debt and destined to praise you name for time and eternity.
Prayer of Dedication
You have given us a gift, O Lord, which no human being could ever give. In the face of death, you give us joyful hope of life. The gifts we bring to you seem so paltry compared to the riches you bestow upon us. Yet nothing is small when given into your hands. Receive our gifts and bless us to the work of Christ in this world. Amen.