April 1st, 2018
John 20: 1-18, Acts 10: 34-43
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“On this Easter morning, let us hear the accounting of the witnesses whom were there on that first Easter morning. From the gospel account according to John, chapter twenty, verses one thru eighteen.
20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes. 11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).
17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
“May the Spirit of Easter, the Living Spirit of the risen Christ, fill our hearts and open our minds to the meaning of our Easter in the here and the now.”
“Let us also listen to the words contained in the Acts of the Apostles as written in chapter ten, verses thirty-four thru forty-three.”
34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ – he is Lord of all. 37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
“Having now heard both the gospel account of Easter morning, and the words of the Apostle Peter of what had occurred that day and what he came to believe it meant, let us consider how we shall respond; both in thought and reflection as-well-as in action and in words.”
“Life after Death?”
Are you able to see who Jesus truly was? Are you able to truly appreciate what Mary saw as she looked at her son, as she gazed with her heart at her beloved son? Are we able to understand and appreciate, seeing what Mary Madeline, a woman who repeatedly appears in the story of Jesus and was among the first to testify to the Risen Christ, are we able to see through her eyes whom Jesus was? What did she see when she looked into the eyes of the man Jesus, whom inspired her and uplifted her spirit and healed her, after seeing and fully loving her for who she truly was? And then there is Peter, who Jesus mentored and trained. Jesus called Peter from the common life of a fisherman, and filled his heart with inspired teachings, and opened up the wonders of God’s mystical powers for him and the other Disciples to see and witness. Peter, once called ‘Satan’ by Jesus when he could not see the divine message of Jesus’ call to give of himself for humankind. The same Peter, who denied he knew Jesus three times while Jesus was being cross examined and persecuted. Who did Peter believe Jesus was when he was told by the Master that he would become the ‘Rock’ upon which Jesus would build the new church order. When was it that Peter finally saw clearly who Jesus was? And how did the other Disciples and followers understand Jesus? Judas was clearly lost and did not grasp whom Jesus was until after he received his thirty pieces of silver to betray him. Judas represents the doubters, the cynics and those whom are afraid to live with faith. We are called to minister to the Judases of the world, just as Jesus did for those he healed.
You and I, we must open our hearts, so we can know who Jesus was. We must become as uncluttered as a young child and simply open ourselves to the gift of love, compassion, and mercy which is offered to us! We must open our spirits and let the Spirit of Christ in, if we are to know the Risen Christ. There is no room in the words ‘faith’ or ‘belief’ for fact checking and scientific reasoning. Leave those discussions for a Bible study class or for theologians to debate as they struggle to be as authentic as they can be! No, Easter is for those who have come to know the Love of God through Christ. Easter is our opportunity to share our faith, share our belief with a world which desperately needs something to believe in!
Whenever I think of Jesus… I think of his tears for his friend Lazarus. Having heard his friend was ill Jesus traveled to where he was. But, Jesus was too late and when he learned of the death of his friend, he broke down and cried. Jesus, he wept real tears like you and I do! His response was what opens my heart to understanding, more fully, the fulness of Jesus’ love. For our benefit, so that we would come to believe who he was, Jesus raised Lazarus from the grave. He did this, the Divine essence of God, did this as Jesus wanted all of humankind to come to fully see and understand how much God loves each one of us.
When I am feeling low I feel the warmth of Christ’s love enfold me as the Spirit of Christ holds me in his loving arms. Sometimes, when my emotions begin to boil because I hear an untruth, or see an injustice, I hear Jesus’ voice telling me to “forgive them for they know not what they do.” I often need to let the steam in my soul cool down a bit before I respond.
It is the Spirt of God which gives me the tenacity and the strength to speak the truth as I know the truth. It is often not easy. My humanness often holds me back. Yet, on a day like today, a day in which our tradition as Christians has called us to be reminded, the crucifixion of the man Jesus did not stop the essence of God to rise from the grave to be with us, this gives me renewed strength and courage. Let the love of Christ strengthen your resolve and persistence, to propel you forward as you tackle that next moment when you too, must speak from your heart, even when your nerves tremble and quiver.
The sound of a crying baby reminds me of how Jesus said: “Bring the children to me so that I might hold them and bless them.” On yet another occasion Jesus said, “Let the children come to me for to them belongs the kingdom of Heaven.” Easter is for the children in our midst. It is right that we allow the ‘child within us’ to flourish on a day such as this! “Nothing about Easter is routine or predictable.” /Matt Skinner/ Only if we allow ourselves to embrace a child’s free nature can we allow ourselves the ‘pureness’ of this day. Even when I know not what to say, especially when I am with the children on Sunday mornings, I can feel their untarnished natures pull the simple message of God’s love from my heart. With their uncorrupted simplicity, as my guide, we are often able to pick the fruit of an untarnished message to explore together. Prayerfully, an occasional seed of God’s abundant love appears in the midst, in the core of the awkward stumbling of our words together.
Some of the most inspiring words which Jesus is quoted as sharing were in his ‘Sermon on the Mount.’ Remember how he said the inspiring words we know as the Beatitudes. “And seeing the multitudes, Jesus went up on a mountain, and when Jesus was seated his disciples came to him. Then Jesus opened his mouth and taught them, saying: blessed are they…” /Matthew 5: 1-12/ Eight inspiring and uplifting “Blessed are they” phrases that have been lifted-up ever since Jesus uttered the words. Their meaning is often discussed, and many powerful messages are displayed for the heart of a believer to embrace and enjoy. These words speak to the core and the very nature of every man, woman and child whom has ever experienced any type of human emotion or feeling. Including every joy or sorrow, every unexpressed sentiment and response to life itself. They rejuvenate the essence of our humanness in the midst-of our emotional highs and lows. Jesus, hit a home run with these inspirational words. Study groups gather around the countryside’s of our great nation and possibly throughout the world to discuss various author’s understandings of how to apply these words to our daily human lives. Yes, the teachings of Jesus are alive and have risen-up from the grave, living on and on.
When Jesus saw the Samaritan women at the well, surely you remember the passage, instantly Jesus knew her and went and talked with her, despite the prejudice of the Jews against Samaritans. In John’s gospel we hear how the woman and Jesus talked with each other, despite the social pressures not to. Jesus’ compassion quickly knocked down that ‘wall’ of ignorance and bias. Together, they talked and through God’s love and Jesus’ efforts the woman became a believer in who Jesus was, even as he helped her to see him ‘more-clearly’. Easter is an opportunity for us to carry on the living ministry of Christ to others; others whom have been pushed aside by ignorance, by prejudice, and bias, as-well-as narrow-mindedness, discrimination and fear, which has turned into hatred, injustice and violence even here in our own culture. Let us each strive to lift-up the teachings of Christ, keeping them alive in our church, our community and especially in our families and own circles of friends and acquaintances. We honor those whom came before us by remembering their good works; let us be sure we keep Christ alive in our lives… with the same respect we have given and shown our own ‘loved ones’ and friends!
“Beyond stereotypes, beyond deeply seeded religious segregation, Peter obeys his command, sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. In a gesture of faith, a movement of complete trust, a posture of submission, Peter tells the story of Jesus, a story in which he knew very well.” (Thank you, Levi Holland, for these words.) Peter reminds us all, he reminds us of the responsibility we each have in sharing the good news of the life, the death and the resurrection of Christ! Perhaps we do not fully understand all of what we are called upon to believe as Christians. Yet, through faith, we can trust those things which we have come to know in our hearts. We have come to feel and know when the love of God is in the room. Perhaps only one of us brings God’s presence alive to a room heavy laden with the problems of the day. If this is you, then it is your responsibility to speak the truth you hold in your heart. This is the responsibility we each carry, no matter where we are on life’s journey. If we trust in the Living presence of the Spirit of Christ in our lives… we will find the courage and the tenacity to speak, even when it makes us uncomfortable. I can promise you that when you do this, you shall experience a sense of peace which shall feed your being with overwhelming joy… as you realize how you have made a difference, by bringing Christ into the room!
I have come to understand that some folks’ understandings of life are not mine. When I watch the news, I realize there are people whom have a definition of life which may not be the same as mine. Hatred, bigotry, prejudice and such don’t speak to me. Life has love, compassion and mercy at its center, and is surrounded by folks seeking to share some portion of what they have with those who have not! Life is about giving back out of gratitude for what we have received. If we do not agree about what life is about, we probably won’t agree about death, the afterlife.
I see Jesus when I open my eyes and greet a new day, grateful for the love of God’s promise of a new beginning. When I awoke on this Easter morning – I felt God’s generosity and love. When we look into our hearts, can we lift-up Jesus’ life, his love, and his teachings with gratitude and joy? Easter is about remembering those who came before us, keeping their spirits alive in our hearts. Easter is about life, new life! I fervently pray that today is a blessed Easter for everyone.