Sunday, March 31, 2013

Looking for the Lord -- An Easter Sermon

Luke 24:1-12


Are you looking for the Lord?  Then, “why do you look for the living among the dead?”  Does the story of Jesus end with Good Friday, or is there another chapter to the story?

On that first Easter morning, five women went to the Tomb expecting to find a body.  They brought ointments and spices to finish the burial process, which was interrupted by the coming of the Sabbath.  It would seem that for the disciples hope died with Jesus.  The women weren’t looking for the living among the dead.  They were looking for their now dead teacher.  Hope had given way to despair.  All that remained to do was finish the burial process.  

Resurrection wasn’t on their mind when they arrived at the Empty Tomb. The message delivered by the two men who greeted them at the Tomb jogged their memory, but I don’t think they were prepared to truly understand what had occurred.  They may have remembered the words of Jesus, but I don’t think they were jumping joy quite yet.

When they returned to the place where the rest of the disciples had gathered, the response of these disciples was less than enthusiastic.  They wouldn’t believe this story.  Surely the women were delirious with grief.

Tom Long, a teacher of preachers of long standing, offers his own take on what transpired that first Easter morning:
It is somewhat reassuring to realize that the first Christian sermon ever preached did not register high on the Richter scale either. When the women came back from the cemetery on Easter morning, they brought with them word of an empty tomb and astonishing news: "He is not here but has risen!" All Christian preaching begins here, and all Christian sermons are reverberations of this Easter news, first announced by the women to the apostles. The response? The translations differ; you can take your pick. The words seemed to them like "an idle tale," "empty talk," "a silly story," "a foolish yarn," "utter nonsense," "sheer humbug."
On that first Easter morning no one was singing “Christ the Lord is risen today.”  No one was sounding the trumpets.  There was simply shock.

  So, if you come this morning full of questions and doubts about this resurrection thing, then you’re in good company.  Reports like these throw us off balance.  They don’t fit with our expectations.  After all, dead bodies are supposed to stay dead.

There may be others of you who don’t have any questions.  You’re okay with taking the story at face value.  You’ve heard the story enough times to buy into the message.  But, how does the story speak to your life?  What difference does the resurrection make to your life?  

Yes, how seriously do you take this Easter story?  Is it just another holiday, which in this case celebrates the coming of spring?  Or, does Easter make a difference in the way you look at God, your neighbor, even life itself?   Do you go looking for the living among the dead, or do you go looking for the Lord of Life?

Even though this spring has been rather cold, and the flowers and trees are taking their time budding, it seems appropriate that Easter coincides with spring.  Since we live in a region where winter takes its toll, we welcome the warm rays and even the warm rains that come with spring.  When we see and hear nature’s reawakening, something reawakens within us.    

Although we’re not singing the hymn “Now the Green Blade Rises,” the words of this hymn speak to the moment.

Now the green blade rises from the buried grain, 
wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
love lives again, that with the dead has been;
Love is come again like wheat arising green.

Yes, love is coming again like “wheat arising green.”  Life reigns victorious over death, which loses its sting in the presence of the risen Christ.

And then the closing stanza goes like this:
When our hearts are wintry, grieving or in pain,
your touch can call us back to life again,
fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been;
Love is come again like wheat arising green.

Easter brings with it the promise of a hopeful future.  It invites us to share in the joy that comes from God.

Several of the scripture readings for Lent speak of new beginnings.  In Christ the old is gone and the new has arrived. Good Friday, therefore, is a voice from the past, while the resurrection speaks to us in the present from the future.  Death tried to seize control, but life ended up victorious.
 
The message of Easter is one centered on life.  And this life that finds its foundation in the risen Christ is sacred.  As Christian ethicist David Gushee writes, life is sacred because God has declared it so.

Human life is sacred: this means that God has consecrated each and every human being – without exception and in all circumstances – as a unique incalculably precious being of elevated status and dignity.  (Gushee, The Sacredness of Human Life: Why an Ancient Biblical Vision Is Key to the World's Future33).  
And if God has declared human life to be sacred, then this “leads to a full-hearted commitment to foster human flourishing.”

The message of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, is that God loves the world.  As the Gospel of John makes so clear – because God loved the world, he sent his son into the world.  At Christmas we celebrate this truth – that God is present with us in the person of Christ.
Theologian Karl Barth spoke of the “humanity of God.”  He writes:
s it not true that in Jesus Christ, as He is attested in the Holy Scripture, genuine deity includes in itself genuine humanity?  There is the father who cares for his lost son, the king who does the same for his insolvent debtor, the Samaritan who takes pity on the one who fell among robber and in his thorough going act of compassion cares for him in a fashion as unexpected as it is liberal.  And this is the act of compassion to which all these parables as parables of the Kingdom of heaven refer.   (The Humanity of Godp. 51).
Here is the full-orbed message of Jesus – from Christmas through Good Friday and on to Easter morning – God loves the world that God creates.  We see how God loves the world in both Jesus’ teachings and in his actions.  Good Friday represents the world’s attempt to extinguish this light, but this morning we come to celebrate the good news that the light of God present in Jesus can’t be extinguished.

The women may have gone to the tomb looking for the dead, but they come back with the message that the one they assumed was dead, is in fact risen from the dead.  They proclaim this message to a group of disciples who aren’t ready to receive it.  Peter goes to check it out, but he goes away wondering what had happened.  The disciples traveling toward Emmaus have heard the news, but they’re not ready to receive it.  In fact, they won’t be ready until Jesus reveals himself in the breaking of bread.

Having heard the message of resurrection?  Are you ready to receive it?  Are you ready to embrace the abundant life available to us through the resurrection of Christ?  Are you ready to affirm life and celebrate its potential?

For those of you who have seen Les Miserable, you will know the story of the redemption of Jean Valjean.  Having been given a second chance at life by a kindly Bishop, who gives him the silver he was trying to steal.  From that point on a transformed Jean Valjean, taking an alias, devotes his life to the care of others.   This is the message of resurrection.  Having died with Christ in baptism, we are raised to new life with Christ (Rom. 6:4).  Therefore, let us rejoice and be glad, and share together in God’s provision of life in its abundance!  Let us go forth from this place, taking with us the message that in Christ, life is not only sacred, it is the gift of God.

Yes, Christ the Lord is risen today!

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
March 31, 2013
Easter Sunday

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