Acts 10:34-43, April 4th, Easter Sunday!
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now the testimony of the Apostle Peter as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, 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 heard the testimony from an eyewitness to the happenings surrounding that first Easter, consider the implications to your own life today!”
The Easter story is the greatest drama ever written! Better than any creation that any writer has ever written! The central character is lifted-up as the great healer – then he is betrayed, flogged, and brutally executed – crucified! An innocent man is crucified because people loved him and flocked around him to hear every word he said! Then the unbelievable mystical ending which turns out to be the beginning of yet another ongoing drama – sequel after sequel! Listen once again to the setting by which Peter became aware of the Resurrection of Christ Jesus.
1 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, 7 and 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.
The scriptures tell us there were many other sightings of the risen Christ. An amazing breath-taking event; witnessed by a great many. Without a doubt the most astonishing event in history! We retell the story every year at this time, so that others who follow us will know of this event. That is what has happened over, and over again ever since that first day. Therefore, this is why… we hear Peter sharing, once again, the accounting as we read out loud from the Acts of the Apostles. By the time of this writing, Peter had been convinced that the Apostle Paul was meant to take the message of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection to the gentiles, the non-Jews. For he had come to realize through a vision that the message of God’s forgiveness and life everlasting is meant to be shared with all people! History tells us this was shared one on one, and in small group gatherings, till eventually the accounts were recorded in the Acts of the Apostles and the four gospel accounts, which we now rely on so heavily. Therefore, it is our task, our responsibility to pass these writings, these testimonies on to the next generations, while teaching others of how we heard about all the happenings in ancient Jerusalem so long ago!
What is still so exciting about all this is that it is still being recorded, here and there of someone seeing yet another sighting or phenomena that simply cannot be explained. Perhaps you have had a personal experience, or you have heard it told by someone else. Those of us who have embraced the truth of the Easter event, our faith journeys have been greatly enhanced. When exactly was the first time you heard the story of Easter? Or perhaps, more importantly, how did you hear about it and when did you actually-begin, to understand it’s meaning? Was it that Sunday, or was it the Saturday just before when your participated in an Easter Egg hunt? Or found an Easter basket set out for you to enjoy? Was it when it was explained to you that the eggs symbolize new life, new birth? Do you remember the Easter Lilies that adorned the sanctuary on Easter Sundays over the years? Then the Youth Leader or was it the young pastor who showed you the buds, the unopened blossoms of the Easter lilies and explained how they too would open-up to new life, while showing you the contrast of the blossoms already open?!
How many of you are old enough to remember all the beautiful Easter bonnets the ladies of the church would wear? There are still many that do put on their Easter bonnets to express their joy on Easter Sunday! A great many find occasion to join with loved ones or close friends to share a splendid meal in celebration! This can be so meaningful, as just saying Easter, the message of Easter that is… is so special, is just not enough if we can not find a way to express it with love and joy with someone other than just ourselves! I remember when I first started as the Pastor in Middletown, New York. Apparently, I had shared my love for chocolate and my friends had fun, literally filling the pulpit with large Milk chocolate Easter bunnies! I had to literally, unpack the pulpit before I could preach my Easter message that year! Still brings a smile in my heart. Was it my head Deacon Dick or was it my old friend Roger that put that ‘really’ big one there that day – I was never quite sure? Receiving a gift is special, yet, giving one is even more special. Isn’t that; is this not what Jesus did for us… he gave us a gift!
Last week we spoke about Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It was an exciting event. Then we talked about the agony of his betrayal, his tortuous mock trail and brutal execution. It was and still is hard to remember these events. Life can be like that at times. We all know this. However, knowing that our God, incarnate, mystically, personified, and alive in the man Jesus, experienced our pain, the injustice of it all and the agony of death, is gratifying. Not that he suffered, but that he fully and completely knows the plight of our humanness! That in of itself is reassuring as we desperately need a God that understands completely, our human dilemma! Through Christ Jesus, God understands the pain of losing a loved one as well as a multitude of other human tragedies, personally. It would be hard to truly trust in something or someone that has no idea what we are experiencing. That, for most of us, is the crux of the matter! Last week, I inserted the letter B instead of the letter M intro a numerical illustration, a point which I was making. It is embarrassing to change a reference to a half million – into a half billion. Many of you said it was no big deal, yet, if my audience were bigger it could have been. For those I may have offended please forgive me. Thankfully, the Easter message tells me, God has already forgiven me. It is heartening to know that when I stand before my Creator, God will understand my humanness and will be merciful unto me and to you also.
When our offspring grow up and become adults, and their child’s children as well – shall they remember the true meaning of the Easter message? If we forget to tell them why we use, as an Easter story illustration, an ugly caterpillar who spins a cocoon and goes into a state of regeneration, a seemingly death like state; yet when it is apparently reborn, when the process is complete, coming forth from its tomb like cocoon and rise-up on new and beautiful butterfly wings! Do we tell those who listen to us, that new life is what Easter is all about? And Easter is about being reborn free from our sinful past lives! To a child this may simply mean their parents have forgiven them for the lie they told or the dime they took without permission. The taste of as fresh piece of milk chocolate or a sugary jellybean, or even a decoratively colored hard-boiled egg may pass them the message that Easter is about a wonderful event that can change everything… beginning with that need to be acknowledged as special, no matter what we may have been or done last-night, yesterday or even the day-before! New Life, Forgiveness and Easter go hand in hand.
The blush of Easter is a moment of joy in the midst the true realities of life. Just as when we celebrate the special moments in our lives, we have learned that joy can last for but a moment. Easter, however, shall last long past the last tear shed when our earthly bodies breathe their last! Easter is about celebrating the gift of forgiveness and the promise of life-everlasting.
Shortly, we shall gather at the table of our Lord, remembering his last meal, his last night with his closest disciples. Within the ritual of the communion meal, we shall remember Jesus’ humanness that transcends past his broken body and his spilt blood. We lift-up his humanness which on that first Easter morning, transformed into the Spiritual realm of resurrection and new – life!