Sermon for Easter Day

Text: Luke 24:5b-6a
The angel said,
"Why are you looking among the dead for one who is alive? He is not here; he has been raised".

He is not here!

A story is told of a young mother who found herself on the last train out of Poland during Hitlerís regime. She had her first born toddler and her newborn baby with her. The bombing was fierce and the train had to stop many times for the passengers to take cover. A trip that should have taken a few hours took a few days. The food ran out and there was no water. Consequently, when they arrived at their destination, the infant was starving and ill. A group of nuns met her there and took the baby to their hospital where they would nurse it back to health. The mother felt great relief at the apparent reprieve.

But the joy was short lived. The next morning she was given the news that the hospital had been bombed during the night and that her baby had not survived. The mother was given a flashlight to search for her babyís body. What a tragic scene. Imagine the confusion. The pain. The grief. The hopelessness of a mother who herself was a doctor, whose hands and skill had no doubt saved many lives but could do nothing in this situation. She had done her best to protect her baby from danger and death, and it seemed that all would be well, but in the end there was nothing she could do to prevent her babyís death. The unexpected news of her childís death filled her with such despair and inconsolable grief.

A life without Easter would provide the same sense of hopelessness.

But imagine a different ending. The mother desperately searches through the rubble for her baby, her toddler in tow. She is crying loudly together with many others in the same situation when all of a sudden, there is another cry. The sound of a baby. Could it be? She runs to where the sound is coming from and there in the rubble she finds her baby still alive. What incredible relief, mingled with joy! Her baby is alive. In an instant her tears of sadness and the feeling of helplessness because she had been unable to prevent her babyís death disappear and are replaced by indescribable joy and relief.

On the Friday Jesus had died. Joseph of Arimathea and the women took Jesusí body down from the cross and laid it in cave-like tomb. A stone was rolled over the entrance to the tomb and everyone went home. Thatís no different to what happens today. After the body is laid in the grave, everyone goes home, and the grave is filled in. There was that sense of helplessness, hopelessness and sadness that weighed heavily on them. Jesus was dead and when a person is dead, thatís it. There is nothing more to be said.

But today we celebrate a different ending to the story. Today we celebrate with the same joy that the mother had when she found alive and well the child she thought was dead. Early on Sunday morning the women who came to the tomb were greeted by an angel who said, "He is not here; he has been raised just as he said."

We are told they left the tomb filled with joy and ran to tell the disciples. The mother who discovered her baby alive in the rubble and ruins cried with incredible relief, mingled with joy. The disciples could hardly believe it when the women reported, ĎHe is alive! Jesus is alive!í

Easter is the celebration of Christís victory over sin and the grave. The authorities (and Satan) thought that they were rid of Jesus once and for all and that all the fuss over this so called ĎSon of Godí would be finished. They were looking forward to having all this behind them and that would be the last they would ever hear of Jesus of Nazareth. Even the disciples were caught up in the gloom of death and thought that Jesus was done for and that they might as well go back fishing or whatever it was they were doing before Jesus appeared on the scene.

How wrong could they be! Things would never be the same again. Sickness and death will always be with us. We will grieve over those who leave us. We will miss those whose journey on this earth has ended but now Jesus has given us a whole new perspective. Paul puts it this way, ĎThe bodies we now have are weak and can die. But they will be changed into bodies that are eternal. Then the Scriptures will come true,
íDeath has lost the battle!
 Where is its victory? Where is its sting?í  (1 Cor 15:54-55).

We are given life when we are born. We are given a body. Sometimes these bodies have imperfections; they do deteriorate as we get older; they are subject to sickness and accidents; they are subject to death. One day our body will be laid to rest when our journey on this earth comes to an end. For some people that is a very gloomy and morbid thought, especially when it is believe that death is the end and that their loved one is gone forever.

But Easter gives a whole new meaning to death. Just as Jesus rose from the dead, we are told that all who believe and trust in him as Saviour will also rise to a new life beyond the grave. Because of Jesusí resurrection we have eternal life.

At your baptism you received the hope of eternal life, you have victory over death. Your body might fail you or fade from you, but you will never die. You will be raised, forever to live with Christ in heaven. You become imperishable. Jesus was right when he said, "whoever lives and believes in me will never die".

In Tanzania when Christians sing "Alleluia" on Easter morning, they literally laugh at death. "Alleluia! HA! HA! HA!" they shout. "Alleluia! HA! HA! HA!" That is the real message of Easter - we can sing with joyous laughter on the day of Christís victory. St Paul laughs at death when he mockingly says (my own words),
"Come on, death, what have you got to brag about now.
Come on, death, whatís happened to your power to hurt us.
You know what! You are nothing because God has given us, yes us mortals, eternal life through Christís victory over sin and death"
(1 Cor 15:55,57).

There was once a daffodil bulb. When she was young she was smooth and good looking, but then she was put in a shoebox to dry. She became ugly, brittle, and crinkly. She noticed that some of the other dried up bulbs were taken out of the box and buried, and she guessed her turn would come next. Sure enough the day came when she was pushed roughly into a hole in the cold damp earth, and covered over. "That's it. I am dead", the wrinkly daffodil bulb say to herself.

She didn't know how long it took but one day she felt the ground warming around her. A little shoot came out, and she saw the sun and felt the rain giving her all she needed to grow. To her astonishment she now became the beautiful flower she had always longed to be. It was her resurrection body. That's why Paul said, "This is how it will be when the dead are raised to life. When the body is buried, it is mortal; when it is raised it will be immortal; when it is buried, it is ugly and weak; when it is raised, it will beautiful and strong. When buried it is a physical body; when raised it will be a spiritual body" (1 Corinthians 15:42-43).

I am the first to admit that I donít understand the resurrection of Jesus. The stories baffle my rational, logical brain. It comprehends only what can be explained. The Easter story tells of a real Jesus, not a ghost.
He has a body that can be touched,
that bears the nail marks,
that eats, talks, walks,
and yet the body in which he now appears, is so different and can appear and disappear, and finally ascend up through the clouds. If ever there was a quantum leap of faith, this is it!

I do not understand it, yet without it my life would be that of a straw man in a straw world that would be blown away by sickness and death. Just as straw in the wind or in the face of fire is doomed so too I would be left hopelessness.

But in spite of all the things I do not understand about Easter, I know it is the real thing. Behind that triumphant word "resurrection" is the living truth. Nothing about Christianity makes sense without it. The fact that we are here this morning, some with a lot of faith, some with a little and maybe some who have questions about the resurrection, is a testimony to the remarkable nature of the Easter happening.

We cannot stop the process that will bring about our own death or do anything to stop those whom we love leave us. We will stand in shock and grief, broken hearted, speechless, and helpless. There will be times of pain and grief.

But thank God, we are not left hopeless and helpless - thatís because of an event that took place in one awesome moment in history some two thousand years ago, in a small cemetery outside the walls of Jerusalem. An angel said to those who were grieving, "He is not here; he has risen".

Paul says that the facts are plain. Christ has been raised. His resurrection is the guarantee that all who die in the Lord will also be raised (1 Cor 15:20).

The Lord has risen! He has risen indeed!

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
8th April 2007

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