Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sermon -- Easter Day (April 20, 2014)

MARK 16:1-8

In the name + of Jesus.

Pastor:                        Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Congregation:            He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

     It began as a dark, miserable, cheerless morning.  The women began their day, already in the grey of the morning, taking a walk to a grave.  They were not up to plant flowers or to sing songs, but to pay homage to a corpse and to weep.
     It was no better for Jesus’ disciples.  They had scattered.  They were hiding from temple guards, from Pharisees and scribes, and from the priests.  It was no secret that these eleven had been Jesus’ disciples.  If the Sanhedrin managed to kill Jesus, would they be rounded up next?  But there was another dark cloud that hung over the eleven.  Each one was bearing his own burden of guilt.  Where was all that big talk now of standing firm with Jesus, even being willing to die with him if they must?  And Peter had it worst of all.  He was the first to shoot off his mouth about his allegiance to Jesus.  But later, when asked if he were Jesus’ disciple, Peter shot off his mouth to save his life.  He denied that he had any part with Jesus.
     They all knew that Jesus had been crucified.  They heard the reports.  John could verify it; for he had stood beneath Jesus’ cross.  Their rabbi, their Lord, their Messiah was dead and buried.  They stone was rolled in front of the tomb on Friday.  On Saturday, they all observed their Sabbath rest, but their hearts were never at rest that day.  They were plagued by fear and grief, guilt and sorrow. 
     You have also known your share of fear and grief, guilt and sorrow.  You have known the grief of burying a loved one.  You have known the sorrow of a relationship fractured, if not by death, then by some squabble.  You have known the guilt of some horrible, regrettable deed you did or word you said.  And all the “I’m sorry”s in the world could not take away the deed or the guilt.  And you have known the fear that grips your heart when you ponder all of the uncertainties in your life.  And worse—the fear of the one thing that is certain: you are going to die.
     But now, Easter changes all of that.  The women were on their way to the tomb.  They wondered how they could roll back that large, disc-shaped stone from the tomb.  But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.  “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified.  He has risen!  He is not here.  See the place where they laid him.  But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee.  There you will see him, just as he told you.’” (Mark 16:4-7) 
     Go and tell: Jesus has risen!  And this changes everything.  It changes everything for the women who were grieving the loss of their beloved friend, rabbi, and Messiah.  As they ran from the grave in fear and bewilderment, their Savior appeared to them on their way back to the city.  They immediately fell to worship him and grabbed on to his feet; for they did not want to lose him again.  But they could not possibly lose Jesus again.  He has risen!  Death cannot claim Jesus again.  On the contrary, it is Jesus who has claimed death!  He has conquered the grave and he now has authority over it! 
     Go and tell: Jesus has risen.  Go and tell those who grieve the loss of a loved one who has died in the Christian faith.  Though they grieve, they do not grieve like people who have no hope.  Our hope remains no matter how tragic the death.  Though we may have to lay someone to rest in a grave, we know that that grave holds no fears.  Jesus has left death lying in the dust, and he gives life and immortality to all who have been baptized into his name.  When you depart this world, your soul does not die, but you go to be with your living Savior.  Your loved ones may be unseen, but they are not dead.  On the contrary, those who rest in Christ are the unseen guests with us at Holy Communion.  For, this is the communion of all the saints who partake in the heavenly feast and who hope in the resurrection of the dead.   Just as Jesus rose from his grave, so you too shall rise from your graves to life everlasting.  Now it is your fears which have been laid to rest.  Death is done.  Jesus lives, and he turns weeping into joy.
     Go and tell: Jesus has risen.  The disciples were not at the tomb to see the fulfillment of Jesus’ promises.  They had scattered and were in hiding.  No doubt, they mulled over the last week’s events.  And every replaying of Holy Week inflicted more guilt, more “I could have done more”, and more “I have failed my Lord.”  But Easter changes everything.  The angel at the tomb told the women: “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified.  He has risen!  He is not here.  See the place where they laid him.  But go, tell his disciples and Peter….” (Mark 16:6,7) 
     Go and tell: Jesus has risen!  Go and tell those who are burdened by guilt that their guilt has been atoned for.  Go and tell those who were derelict in their duties that their sins are forgiven.  Go and tell those who failed their Lord that he has not failed them.  He has taken your sin and guilt and laid down his life to pay for them.  He has taken your shame and your regret and has poured his blood upon them.  You have been covered in Jesus’ blood—purified of all unrighteousness and reconciled to God the Father.  Your Lord does not put you on some kind of probation period to see if you can do better this time.  No, your guilt is pardoned. 
     And if you think you have been too wicked, too fickle, too lazy, or too worldly, then hear the words of the angel again. “He has risen! …Go, tell his disciples and Peter….” (Mark 16:6,7)  Peter, who had denied his Lord, was singled out by the angel.  Yes, go and tell Peter: Your sorrow over your sin is good.  You are right to repent for your sins—for they are evil.  But it is not you sorrow that saves you.  Your sorrow will only lead to self-loathing and despair.  But now Jesus has risen!  Your sins were not too big and your evil too bad for Jesus.  He bled and died to atone for the worst of sinners.  He takes away the heaviest guilt.  Jesus was neither wicked nor fickle nor lazy nor worldly.  Jesus saves you from these things by taking them into death for you.  But now Jesus has risen!  Your sins are gone; but Jesus lives.  And he lives to deliver to you peace and pardon.  Do not doubt him; for his word stands.  Do not worry if you don’t feel forgiven; Jesus says you are, and his words are not based on your feelings.  His word stands because Jesus stands victorious over sin, death, hell, and Satan.
     Go and tell: Jesus has risen!  He lives to put an end to all grief and guilt, fear and sorrow.  In place of these, Jesus gives you forgiveness of sins, new life, and salvation.  If he forgives your sins, then there is no fear of death or judgment.  If he grants you new life, then you are already set apart as one of God’s own.  You are free from a life that is ruled by fear and grief, guilt and sorrow.  You are free from a life of malice and wickedness which lead to death.  You strive for what is good and decent for the glory of God and for the good of your fellowman.  New life in Christ cannot mean cheating and using and despising people, but loving, serving, and helping them.  This is how Jesus displayed God’s love to you, and this is how you show God’s love to others.  If Jesus grants you salvation, that means he will make all things new again.  At the resurrection of all the dead, Jesus will raise you from your grave with a body that is holy, glorious, incorruptible, and imperishable.  You will receive a place in the new creation, the home of righteousness, where there are no fears or sorrows, no grief or guilt, no pain, no problems, and never a dark, miserable, cheerless moment again.
     Go and tell: Jesus has risen!  Easter changes everything.  Jesus reconciles you with God the Father, relieves you of all fear, remits all your sins, restores you to life, and will raise you from the grave to everlasting holiness, perfection, peace, and joy.  Go and tell: Jesus is risen.  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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