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Sun, Apr 21, 2019

Easter Sunday - His is Risen

Duration:14 mins 35 secs

1 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.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

I remember that when I was young, the highlight of Easter Sunday was the egg hunt. Church, lilies, and worship were all there, but the real memory making event was finding eggs stuffed with candy.

I remember Easter Sunday 1987 being different. Throughout that spring, several young people and I had participated in a confirmation class. We had taken a weekend retreat to Charleston, WV, visited a variety of other churches, attended a Christian Rock concert, and talked about faith. We gathered several other times to watch the cheesy movie “King of Kings,” and study scripture. We had met with the Session. Then on Easter Sunday we stood before the congregation of the Summersville Presbyterian Church and in response to questions asked by our pastor, Russ Ward, I made my public profession of faith that Jesus Christ was my Lord and Savior. Easter Sunday, 32 years ago and my life has never been the same.

A few years later, on Easter Sunday I remember attending a sunrise service at the Summersville town cemetery. The cemetery sat on a hill above the United Methodist Church. As we stood among the gravestones, the sun began to peek over the West Virginia hills and the mist began to clear. The pastor began to tell us a story. It was a first person account of a carpenter who had been forced by the Roman soldiers to make crosses. This carpenter met Jesus during his few days in Jerusalem and so was crushed when he saw Christ carrying a cross that he himself had built. Yet, on the morning of the third day, Jesus appeared to him, resurrected from the grave and this carpenter experienced true forgiveness. I remember, perhaps for the first time, being profoundly moved by the good news of forgiveness and resurrection.

I remember Easter Sundays when my family would travel to Eden, NY, near Buffalo, to visit with my grandparents on my father’s side. My aunts, uncles, and cousins would all be there. Aunt Lynn loved to organize an Easter Egg hunt for us cousins. One particular year my cousins and I were all in high school or college. We had grown a bit tired of hunting eggs on Easter Sunday. Yet, Aunt Lynn was determined. So she hid the eggs and called to say all was ready. We slowly trudged outside. The girls were a little more energetic than I and their boyfriends until one of my cousins opened an egg and it had money inside – like a $20 bill! Suddenly we were all hunting for eggs with the reckless abandon of six year olds! Money and gift certificates for ice cream emerged from various prize eggs. We even found one egg hidden in the gutter above the garage. Unwilling to go get a ladder in case someone else managed to find another way to get on the roof, we all tried to jump up and grab the egg knowing that there was true treasure inside!

I also remember the treasure of my first Easter as a pastor. God blessed me with a call to serve as pastor of the Salem/Pageland Presbyterian Church in Pageland, SC. I started at the church in June, so I had been through all the other big church moments: Rally Day, World Communion Sunday, Stewardship, Advent and Christmas Eve, Ash Wednesday, and Palm Sunday. Now I was ready to complete my first year as a pastor with Easter Sunday. I was so excited and so was the congregation!

The small sanctuary was decorated with Easter Lilies. The communion table sat just below a center pulpit and lilies were placed on the table. There was not enough room on the table for all the flowers, so they placed a few around the base. Then to finish it off, they placed two lilies on either side of the pulpit. It really looked beautiful.

As the service began and we started to sing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today!” I felt a catch in my throat. The tickle began to become more pronounced as the service continued. About half way through my first glorious Easter sermon my voice became so scratchy I found it hard to talk. By the end of the service I barely croaked out the benediction, made my way to the back of the church, and opened the door. The fresh air began to revive my voice almost immediately. Turns out I am allergic to Easter lilies and I never noticed until I tried to preach with two directly in my face!

I remember the Easter Sunday that fell right in the middle of my three week service on a Federal Jury. Instead of spending Holy Week preparing for worship and the celebrations of Easter, I sat in a courtroom listening to truly horrific testimony every day. I am not sure I ever needed to hear the good news of resurrection more than I did that Easter.

I remember the Easter Sunday when my grandmother died the week before. After worship on Palm Sunday we piled in the minivan for the long drive from Lumberton, NC to Eden, NY. While we were gone a small tornado hit Lumberton and damaged homes of church members and friends. So that Easter morning I brought with me death and destruction, failure and shortcomings, so many things out of my control, and the stress and fatigue that accompanied it all. Maybe you bring something like that with you today on this Easter morning.

I remember my first Easter here at Reid Memorial. That was a celebration. A single worship service and 550 people crammed into a sanctuary designed to hold 400. Rows of chairs down the side and center aisles. The ushers asked me to announce that no one could leave after the final hymn until they removed all the chairs from aisles. I do not think anyone could have gotten out any other way. But remembering that Easter Sunday is why we have two services this morning.

My friends, every Easter is different and yet, every Easter is the same. Yet, I share all those Easter memories with you this morning because of a unique feature of Luke’s account of the first Easter. The women come to the tomb expecting to anoint a corpse. Jesus was dead. They knew it. They saw him crucified on the cross. They watched as Joseph of Arimathea took the body and placed it in the tomb. They prepared spices and ointments to anoint the body and now, after the Sabbath, they come to find the corpse. Yet, when they arrive the stone is rolled away and the body is not there.

The body is not there! We know the story is going to end like this, but their reaction was not joy and excitement. They do not begin proclaiming resurrection. No; the body was not there and this puzzles them. They are perplexed until two men in dazzling clothes appear and say, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again." Did you catch that? Remember how he told you while he was still in Galilee. Jesus told them that this would happen.

But they had forgotten. Only after the men in dazzling clothes share this with them do they remember Jesus’ words. Only then do they remember that Jesus had predicted not only his death, but also his resurrection. And when they remember they run to the other disciples and begin to share the good news.

So my friends, that is my message to you this morning: Remember. Because just like the women on that first Easter morning; just like the disciples who regarded the women’s words of resurrection as just an idle tale; it is so easy for us to forget. We too look at the world in which we live and get stuck on Good Friday. New Testament Scholar NT Wright says,

We reflect on, and mourn, the ruin of the world and the folly of humankind. We look in the mirror and see our own shame and sin. And then we contemplate Jesus's suffering and death at the heart of the whole thing: the place where the arrogance of empire, the frenzy of religion and the betrayal of friends all rush together and do their worst. Faced with all that, it's not hard to bracket out Easter. After all, that's what most of the world does anyway.

Yes, my friends so often we live in a Good Friday world and we forget.

But this morning, I invite you to remember. Remember your own experiences of Easter morning in years past. Remember Jesus’ words – “the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Remember Luke’s words, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”

My friends I do not have brand new news to share with you today. All I have, all we have, is this old, old good news story that we so easily forget. The challenge is to remember and to proclaim it, not just on this day, but tomorrow, and next week, and all days. So this Easter morning let us remember more than eggs and bunnies, more than sunrise services and Easter lilies. Let us remember that Christ is risen! God’s new world has been unveiled and you and I are invited to live in it today and every day. If we remember that, it changes everything. Yes, Christ is risen! Death has lost its sting! Grace abounds! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen!

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