“The Signs of Easter”
John 20:1-18, April 16th
Easter Service 10 am
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Listen carefully to this account of the first Easter morning from the gospel according to John, chapter 20, verses 1 thru 18.
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. 10Then 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 God of Easter bless our understanding of these ancient words of the gospel accounting of the Risen Christ.
“The Signs of Easter”
The signs of our Easter celebrations are all around us! Easter lilies and spring flowers decorate our sanctuary reminding us of the rebirth of these beautiful flowers, with their allure, charisma, exotic aromas, and fragrances. Easter Eggs, in abundance for the children, even some chocolate bunnies, reminding us ‘all’ of new life! Honey basted hams and roasted turkeys as the center pieces for family gatherings! Specials at local restaurants for all of us ‘empty nesters’ and ‘retired folks’, a long way from our families. Folks are wearing their best Sunday outfits, why there are a few who have gone out and bought something new for this joyous occasion! Evangelist, preachers and good Christians alike are doing their best to put forth a good strong message for the sake of the crowds, and the opportunities galore to spread the old-old gospel story of Jesus and his ‘Glory’ on such a day as this! Stories about butterflies and caterpillars that come together in their cocoons and are restored as beautifully adorned attractive creatures, delightful to the eyes of the beholder! Yes, the signs are all around!
Seems like just yesterday we were celebrating the birth of the Baby Jesus. Then, it seemed he grew up really-fast and all kinds of things began to happen! We have been journeying together since then and ‘yes’ all kinds of things have happened ‘really’ fast! Some good – some not so good. Life has overshadowed all the excitement and good news of Christmas. Then came Ash Wednesday and we were asked to be reminded of our mortality. From there we faced temptations, Jesus’ and our own. Subsequently, we were forced to grapple with the impossible a few times; one time we were challenged to be born again. From there we learned we were speaking of being born anew in the Spirt. Moving into the ministries of Jesus we discussed ‘spiritual thirst’ verses ‘human thirst’. The next challenge was to move beyond our blindness, seeing more clearly through the eyes of a blind man. We traveled through a metaphor of dry bones and came to experience the very Breath of God! Finally, we remembered Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and we had a parade and shouted “Hosanna!” From that emotional high we entered into Holy week! We came to understand how God no longer rules and judges us from way-up-there, in some far-away place called the ‘The Kingdom of God.’ Rather, we learned that God is right here with us, involved in our day-to-day lives. God loves us and is with us… now and forever more.
Easter is all about the God of love. The God who was born incarnate in the baby named Jesus. Lived as we live, with human mortality as its anguish. Our annual Easter celebration is meant to remind us of our Living God, living in our lives today. God ‘loves us’ is the message we want to hold close to our hearts. This is what today is all about: God loves us.
We began the week with joy in our hearts, knowing that Jesus had come to “save” us! Praise be to God! Yet, we had to pass through the anguish of Jesus’ betrayal and trial, on Thursday, at our Maundy Thursday service. On Good Friday, we participated in an ecumenical ritual of Jesus carrying his cross and being brutally executed by crucifixion. I think most modern Christians find this all too easy to identify with, especially the trials and tribulations of humanity! Some days, many of us feel like we have been persecuted and nailed to the cross for no just cause! In the pit of despair, Friday ended in anguish! If not for us, surely for the followers of Jesus, way back when all this happened in Jerusalem.
“Some folks say the Resurrection is about joy, others say hope. Rev. Kate Matthews tells us she appreciates the way Marcus Borg calls it. (It being Easter of course!) “God’s yes to Jesus and God’s no to the powers that be”- the empires of violence, injustice and greed that try to rule our lives today just as they killed Jesus long ago. (Marcus Borg is one of the great progressive Christian theologians of our time.) But God, Borg reminds us, said no to all that and yes to Jesus. Jesus, who told us that everyone would know that we are his followers if we love each other. So… I think we can say that the Resurrection is about joy, yes, and hope, and most of all, love.” /The Rev. Kathryn Matthews/
So here we all are, sitting here together awaiting some miraculous message from our preacher, for it is Easter you know! And every Christian preacher knows that on Easter Sunday one must dig deep inside and bring forth the most spectacular salvation, redemption and soul saving speech of the year! One thing an oral presenter worth their salt knows is: never follow the choir’s nor the band’s best musical piece – before starting the sermon. Rather have them perform after the sermon whereby everyone feels lifted-up with their hearts strings all aflutter. Surely, that is the goal, to bring everyone’s once a year focus of the Risen Christ to a high so very, very high that all of life’s problems will fall to the wayside and each will remember that it is Easter that has done this!
With such expectations, it is no wonder that preachers beg to take the following week off, so that they can regroup and pull themselves together before tackling the arduous task of speaking of the doubts that next week’s scripture lesson demand!
No, this annual celebration of Easter does not make it any ‘more’, or ‘less’ so! ‘It is what it is’ rings clear in my heart. What happened that day has been recorded in each of the Gospels for us to consider. The ‘spectacular’ and ‘unbelievable’ resurrection of Jesus they all proclaim. Though the details are clouded by the differing memories of how many angels were at the tomb that day, and whether the stone was moved before or after Mary and the others came. But united they are in proclaiming that mystically, the tomb where Jesus had been placed was now wide open! The linens by which he was wrapped where neatly set where his body ought to lay. Each gives a different yet startling account of angles and or the Risen Christ, appeared to those that first went to the tomb. This dramatic proclamation is what we proclaim on this Easter Day!
Today, is not meant to be the day of debate or doubt! Today, is the day we all want to shout! For hearts are filled with Joy at this dramatic display of God’s love! Saying to us all that the Messiah has surely come, wiping away our fears and our misgivings about the mortality of our human plight! Lifting-up our hopes that one day we too, will be raised up with those who come before us! Yes, indeed, this is a day to celebrate and be joyful! Eat heartily and snack on your favorite treats, for the Joy of a Christian whom is filled with faith and hope this day, ought to take this moment to bask in the outpouring and abundant love of God on such a day as this!
The Easter account has survived the fall of the temple in Jerusalem; the fall of the Roman empire. The tradition of our Easter celebration has lived through the chaos, the corruption and has lived through the dark ages, the crusades, the corruption and the wars; wars which have torn humankind asunder. Yet, the hope and the love of God has outlasted all of this!
This accounting of the resurrection of Jesus as the Christ, has survived the challenges and risks of interpretations through decades of the oral traditions, as-well-as the early writings with all their difficulties within the ancient procedures of their transcription processes, as-well-as the cumbersome methodologies during the handling of translations into different and multiple languages. Despite all of this, the awe-inspiring account of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus… lives on!
We, Christians of the 21st-century, we know that humankind has not become any less sinless. We know all about the difficulties of human existence; the trials and tribulations which go along with being children, teenagers and young adults. The challenges of being mothers, fathers and grandparents seem endless. We have faced the disappointments of addictions, cancer, heart disease and tragedies of all sorts. We know the weaknesses and the dramas of our democracy, with its challenge of freedom and justice for all! Conversely, we know the horrors and the injustices of tyrants and dictatorships. No, we are not exempt from the harshness of life. Yet, we have hope, hope which abounds all around us, despite it all.
We have been passed this beautiful awareness of how our God came to live amongst us; felt our pain, endured our humanness, and yet overcame it; giving life to such hope, such love.
We have been given reasoning capability, so we can consider the realities of life, as we look to the meaning of the words contained in the Bible. With our God given abilities we can sort through falsehoods and illusions, seeing clearly the messages of truth, the message of life, the message of God’s love.
Yes, we have experienced many things in our lives, mostly human realities, yet within our own ranks we have countless stories of God’s intervention, God’s mystical touch, unexplainable miracles which have occurred in our life-times. We have had our own personal experiences, the unexplainable moments where something, like a mystical intervention or coincidences which have overwhelmed us… bringing us great joy in-the-midst of sadness and disbelief. Yes, God lives, the Spirit of God is in our midst, we are-able-to rationalize and reason. We can take into account our own experiences; as we look at the traditions which have outlived all of the realities of the ages.
Despite it all, the accounting of the resurrection of Jesus stands.
God is with us today, tomorrow, and the day after that. God was with us all day, every day, throughout the ages, despite our humanness. God loves us, one and all! The true signs of Easter are all around us! You can see it in the love of a father as he supports his son during one of life’s hardships. Easter is seen in the daughter’s tenacity to move forward with her life, after the death of her beloved father whom was the center of her very life, all the way! Easter shows in the look of joy in the face of a child as she finds a brightly covered Easter egg – in the midst a clump of grass. Easter is when new life energies us forward from that last failure. Our God has taken on our sinfulness and restored us to right size, offering us the opportunity of second chances, new life! This new life is all around us, all we need do is look for it.