Luke 24: 1-12, April 21st, 2019
Sermon by pastor Tim Woodard
Easter Sunrise service outside at 7AM & in sanctuary at 10AM
“Hear these words from the gospel according to Luke, chapter twenty-four, verse one thru twelve.”
24 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body.
4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
“Having heard this account of that first Easter morning, let us allow our hearts to be opened to its meaning.”
“Having heard this astonishing account of that first Easter morning, let us allow our hearts to ring with joy and renewed hope! Let us bow our heads in pray.”
Just how much faith do we, do you and me, have? When we set aside the Easter Lilies, set aside our chocolate bunnies and sugared jelly beans and all the joyful symbols of Easter, it still takes a lot of faith, and a lot of courage “To believe in the resurrection of Jesus (yes, indeed, it) takes a lot of faith and courage.” /Arland Hultgren/ Throughout history, many Christians have displayed their faith, with such passion and joy, it is simply amazing to behold! A great many of them were persecuted and even executed for their belief. It is one thing to have faith in this astonishing event, it is another to have courage enough to fully live our lives truly accepting all this event means for you and me, and all of humanity! There are many, in our current time, here, and now, in the Twenty-First Century, whom proclaim to believe and call themselves Christians, but deep down in their hearts, they have their doubts. We will talk about this more next Sunday… when we hear the accounting of Doubting Thomas, a Disciple whom would not believe until he personally saw the Risen Christ. It is one thing to have proof of an event, it is quite another to believe based on faith. Where do you stand on this Easter Morning?
We come together as mere human mortals: women and men, children and adults alike, wanting to believe in Easter, for if the resurrection is true, then our biggest fear of being mortal can be set aside. The most amazing part of the Easter message from this account contained in the gospel of Luke, is that the women were the first to hear the message of Jesus’ resurrection – from not one, but two angels. Two men dressed in ‘dazzling cloths’ could only be meant to portray to us that they were messengers from God, angels, who where waiting for the women to arrive so they could deliver this accounting of Jesus’ rising from his death bed! We might ask ourselves why were the women the first to learn of this news? Especially considering it was men who finally wrote these words down for us. If it were not true, would they not have said: it was James or Peter, whom first heard this great and wonderful news; surely, this would have been the case, as they ultimately become instrumental and part of the leadership of the Christian movement – which was born out of this event. No, clearly, it was the women who first went to the tomb that day, as they were subservient to the men and it was their responsibility to tend to the body of Jesus. It was not the men’s responsibility. This in of itself, speaks to the authenticity of the account. There are many such details which taken one by one build up a strong ‘circumstantial case’ for the truth revealed to us – to consider.
Early scholars wrote about this point as well. “Poor humble women, who were certainly not expecting it, are chosen to be the first witnesses of the resurrection, so that there might not be any suspicion of either deceit or violence.” /Geneva Notes/ In the society we live in, men are still believed over women. Women, though they, though you, have found more and more equality in the work place, and in a great many roles which men have dominated throughout history, the struggle still continues. Even in our scripture lesson the word of the women was at first set aside. “Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” /Luke 24:10-11/ It was only after Peter ran to the tomb and saw for himself that the men began to accept what this might mean.
A theologian named, John Petty, reminds us that the Easter account continues. “This is only the beginning of Luke’s resurrection story. It will continue in the Emmaus story (Luke 24:13-35), Jesus’ final appearance to the disciples (Luke 24:36-49), and his ascension into heaven (Luke 24:50-53).” Our dilemma, living in our current time, we have become very knowledgeable and scholarly as a people; we are well informed. Consequential, we seek out truths through science, things which can be proven. Even though, through the passion of well-spoken believers, millions have come to believe in the Easter account; the fact is – there is only secondary evidence of the resurrection of Jesus. The burden falls on us and our faith to believe. I believe. What about you, do you believe? Until we come to believe, we will not be able to carry the message of Christianity to others. Our efforts to be a community of believers whom carry the message to others – will fail. Our willingness to do the work of Christ, to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our community – will fail. Yet, today, is an opportunity for each one of us to once again reclaim this story, this mystical story as our own. All we need is an open heart and a willingness to allow the Living Spirit of the Risen Christ to reside within our hearts. That is all that is asked of us, you and me, to do.
The Easter story is the ultimate story of hope. Eternal and everlasting hope which will free us from our mortal quagmire of despair, futility and our inability to fulfill our greatest dreams. America was founded on the promises contained in the “Declaration of Independence.” Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Many have attained great wealth and fortune. Others have attained great power. Powerful wonderful words, which as citizens of these United States we cherish! If words, in of themselves made it all true, we would truly be living in “Paradise!” From the beginning of our history, we as a people, living in this nation, we have found that we must continue the struggle to find ‘true happiness’ in our own lives, within our own homes and families – before the dream comes true for ourselves. Much sacrifice has gone into holding onto our dreams as a nation. The same is true for Christianity and us as people of faith. It takes sacrifice and commitment, to find ‘true peace’ and ‘true happiness’. We all know that the only true hope for “Paradise,” is in the heart of the gospel accounts! Easter is the ultimate hope!
Coming to believe is a process. It began at our birth. Knowing about the ‘birds and the bees’ does not take away from the mystery of new life. It is always a miracle when a child is born. A child has more than just flesh and blood. A child is given a unique personality and persona. Each is a priceless gift from our Creator God. Parents, whom have come to know of the love of God, have been able to pass this gift to their offspring. Love freely received and passed on is worthy of celebration. Seeing a child pass that love on to another and ultimately become part of that love triangle which makes life so, so special is part of the learning process. Life, we know has its burdens and tragedies, yet, in the midst, are the miracle stories which cannot be denied. Countless times, along my journey, I have seen the miracle of new life. Not just when a child is born, but in others whom have been broken, lost and discarded by society. When the faith of one has been passed onto another, restoring hope, breathing newness into another. The miracle occurs when one’s loving faith and hope – touch the heart of another. That is what Easter is all about. That is what the women did on that first Easter morning.
“Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles.” /Luke 24:10/ In their own words, from their hearts they told the disciples of what they saw, the empty tomb, and the appearance of the men in ‘dazzling’ cloths. The words which were spoken to them. “The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” /Luke 24:5/ Only Peter was willing to hear their testimony. Yet, they told their story, nonetheless. Through their courage to speak of what they saw, even though many would not believe, their words put into motion a new wave of hope and a movement we now know as Christianity began.
Our job, for those of us whom have come to believe, “Our job at Easter is to echo the women. Proclaim the Resurrection.” Rick Morley, whom wrote this thought down for us, reminds us how important it is for each one of us to speak our truth. Others will not come to believe, if we do not tell our own faith stories. I have the privilege, the freedom and the responsibility to speak from my vantage point of faith – every Sunday; we all have that same opportunity – everyday! I stand up here, but we each have the same responsibility to carry the message of hope to others, so that they too, will come to believe!
Having heard this astonishing account of that first Easter morning, let us allow our hearts to ring with joy and renewed hope! Jesus, the Son of Mary, the Son of God, has Risen from the darkness of death and his Spirit lives on! Therefore, the Love of God through Christ is alive today!
“Let us rejoice and be glad in it!” /Psalm 118:24/