Easter Dawn (John 20:1-18)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Easter Dawn + April 21, 2019

Text: John 20:1-18

MARY MAGDALENE COMES TO THE GRAVEYARD TO WEEP,

BUT THE LORD HALLOWS THE GRAVE AND FILLS IT WITH NEW HOPE.

When you wake up, you usually come up with a plan of what to expect that day.   Mary was expecting to go to the tomb, numb to what had happened and finish giving her Lord a proper burial.  What she found was worse than her expectations could have told her: The tomb was open and his body was gone!

“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.’”

After they go home, Mary remains behind, weeping.  Weeping not only because Jesus has died, but now because there is something else that’s happened.  Something terrible!  Her mind goes to all the worst scenarios, like one of His enemies in a fury took His body and did some awful thing with it.  She is in the utter pit of despair.

There is a reason that Easter begins in a graveyard, in the deepest place of loss.  If you walk around a cemetery, the tombstones tell a story.  If you look at the date of birth and the date of death, a picture unfolds in your mind.  It may have happened in old age, it could have happened in middle age, or it could have happened to a child (even a miscarriage or a stillbirth).  No matter the cause or the time, it’s still the same because they’re gone, and they will never be back.  You will never hear them speak again, except perhaps in a recording.  You’ll never be able to share new memories with them or call them on the phone when you want to share something.  You’ll never be able to hold them again.  All that seems to be left is memories.

Imagine Mary’s anguish at the tomb.  That is where God came to her.  First, He sent two angels: “Woman, why are you weeping?”  But then God comes to her personally and says, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”  Still grasping for answers, she implores this man to tell her where Jesus is, until He calls her by name—remember that voice you never thought you would hear again?  Oh wonderful surprise!  She wanted Him to stay, to revel in this moment.  Can you blame her, after being spared from such excruciating emptiness?  But He says, “Do not cling to me, for 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.’ ”

Easter begins in a graveyard as a proof to who God is.  There, in the place of death, He doesn’t stand far off, or shy away from comforting us.  He is compassionate toward all of our loss and pain.  He’s no stranger to it, because Jesus, the Son of God, also shares our mortal life.  He is acquainted with us in the way only our Creator could be, but He also became our brother.  Don’t think God does not understand your pain.  He feels it in His own body.

Here in the place of death, He shows His great power to save.  We think of death as final because that’s what our heart and our experience tells us.  No scientist (mad or otherwise) has been able to reverse when someone dies.  But God the Father did by raising His Son from the grave.  He breathed into His nostrils His Holy Spirit and Jesus lives forevermore.  He is the God who raised Jesus from the dead, the God of the living.

Even standing amidst other tombs, this God is the one who proclaims and delivers hope.  Many can talk about hope and silver linings at the time of death, but so much of it is just platitudes—they’re in a better place; God needed another angel.  The Word of Jesus proclaims and delivers that hope, because it is the Word that formed the heaven and earth, and it is that Word which will bring a new heavens and earth.  Jesus did not rise for Himself, but for us, that by believing in Him we might have life. He rose so that you could laugh at death and say, “This person is not dead, but sleeping”[1] and it’s no euphemism; it is the truth because God Himself has made it true.

There, in the graveyard, at her lowest point, Mary learned what St. Paul later wrote for our benefit:

34 Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

                  “For your sake we are being killed all the day long;

we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

But Jesus was not done with His work as He stood outside the tomb: “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”  He destroyed the power of sin and death, and He ascended to the Father, there to intercede on our behalf with His holy wounds.  There, He goes as a forerunner, so that as Jesus stands before God the Father, so we who are in Him will be able to stand in the presence of a holy God.  He goes there to rule over all creation, where by His almighty power, He indeed works all things for the good of those who are called by His Name.

The Almighty God, the Victor over Death comes to you today.  Amen!

Alleluia! Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! Alleluia!


[1] Mark 5:39

Easter Sunrise (John 20:1-18)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Easter Sunrise + April 1, 2018

Text: John 20:1-18

Sermon from Rev. David Juhl, adapted

 

With glad hearts raised to God, we say Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

 

It takes a special breed to be a morning person. Not everyone can get up before the crack of dawn and feel like they have six hours of activity under their belt. Most of us need a cup, or several cups, of coffee, or some other caffeinated beverage to jump start the day.

 

Saint Peter was a mo(u)rning person. Please spell it with a “u”. He’s up early and running to the tomb because Mary Magdalene has a strange report. The stone is rolled away from Jesus’ tomb. John is running with Peter and gets there first. But Peter goes into the tomb first. It’s a good thing he did.

 

Peter promised he would stand by our Lord’s side to the end. He didn’t. We all know he denied knowing the Lord three times, just as Jesus told him he would. The last time we heard about Peter, he was running away and weeping bitterly. He did the impossible. He lied about Jesus when he should have told the truth. Instead of preparing to pay the consequences for his allegiance to the teachings and person of Jesus of Nazareth, Peter wimps out, takes what he sees is the easy way out, and sins greatly.

 

We also take the easy way out every day. Opportunities abound to proclaim your allegiance to Jesus. But we won’t seize the day and speak up. There are times it’s ok to be a Christian, like around other Christians.  But then there are those awkward pauses when your faith comes up in conversation with a jaded atheist.  There are those silences after someone makes a statement about the value of life, or what they think God is like.  We act embarrassed about the whole situation and hope they doesn’t notice that we are a Christian.

 

Churches this day are packed of full and part-time Christians. Easter is one of those “can’t miss” holidays where everyone puts on their finest, gets up before dawn, and runs to church to hear the familiar account of an empty tomb, a weeping woman, and a case of mistaken identity. The sorrow of Friday turns to joy today.

 

But when you walk out those doors, it will be business as usual. You won’t remember why Jesus rises from dead, let alone dies for your sins. Easter is just another Sunday among other Sundays of the year. Why this forgetfulness?  There’s just too much sorrow and sadness in your life for the Resurrection to matter. Knowing that your Redeemer lives gives comfort, but it doesn’t pay the mortgage. Hearts waking with gladness to see what the Savior has done won’t fix a broken marriage. Good Christian friends rejoicing and singing will go on fighting and not speaking to each other once they leave this building.

 

All of us are mo(u)rning persons, or should be. Jesus Christ gives up His life so you may not die. Jesus rests in the tomb on the Passover Sabbath so you may rest in His Word and Sacrament every Lord’s Day. Beloved, count the cost of the Resurrection and what might have been, had our Savior not been born according to the flesh. Today would be just another Sunday. Tomorrow would leave us all, according to Tennessee Ernie Ford, “another day older/ and deeper in debt”.

 

Today Jesus removes the “u”. Today Jesus makes us morning persons. Spell it now without the “u”. “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Ps. 30:5)  Sorrow is gone with the night. Morning has broken. So has the seal on our Lord’s tomb. So has the power of sin, death, and hell. Satan cannot stand the sight of the sun rising over Jerusalem, much less every place that Christians gather this Resurrection morn. He knows it’s another day closer to the ultimate sentence of residence in the lake of fire.

 

Today Jesus Christ ensures you, who trust in Him as your Redeemer, will miss the lake of fire. Today death is a thing of the past. Jesus is alive. So are you. Even if you can’t see it, believe the Word of the Lord:

 

3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:3–11)

 

You are baptized into Christ. You are washed clean from the stain of sin.  The Word of God does not lie.  Appearances may deceive, Satan tempts us, people disappoint us.  But the Word of the Lord endures forever.

 

What can death do to you now that our Lord has conquered it? Death is nothing. Life is everything. Satan is nothing. Jesus is everything. Sin is nothing. Grace is everything. 9Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (Isaiah 25:9)

 

Rejoice in your God. Today Jesus makes you are a morning person. Because He lives, you also shall live and reign with Him to all eternity.

Allelulia! Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia) Amen.

The Resurrection of Our Lord (Sunrise) (John 20:1-18)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

The Resurrection of Our Lord (Sunrise) + April 16, 2017

Text: John 20:1-18

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

No doubt you’ve seen it for a few weeks now.  Easter sales, Easter dresses, Easter candy, Easter lilies.  If you didn’t know better, you might think Easter is just another holiday with its traditions, no different from the 4th of July.  It’s just an excuse to get together and have fun with family and friends.

 

But with all of these traditions, it might be hard to get down to the reason for celebrating.  If we don’t know what Easter is about, then we’re just left with pastel colors, bunnies, and ham.  The name “Easter” doesn’t tell the story.[1]  The reason we celebrate today is because this is the Resurrection of Our Lord.  Jesus who was dead now lives!

 

It’s popular this time of year to try and debunk the Resurrection as old-fashioned myth, or just a peculiarity of Christian religious tradition.  If it is, then get up and go home.  Religion is just an opiate for the masses, and I’m peddling nothing more than therapeutic lies.

 

But it is not just myth, it is truth.  Jesus actually was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary.  He actually suffered under the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.  And yes, He did rise from the dead on the Third Day.  All of this is true, and that’s what makes Easter such a reason to celebrate.

 

The resurrection of Jesus is a fundamental change to our existence.  Sin is forgiven and death’s grasp is broken!  Without Jesus and His resurrection, life on earth is depressing. All you can hope to do is live for the moment and spend time with all the other people who no more than a flash in the pan of time.  But Jesus is risen, and that means human life has a hope and a future—the hope and future God truly intends for all people.

 

The resurrection of Jesus gives comfort in sickness and death.  He gives the hope of a joyous eternity.  His resurrection puts the greatest joys and most painful sorrows of this life into eternal perspective.  As we grow weary of this life, that’s where Easter makes all the difference.
The true meaning of Easter—the death and resurrection of Jesus—is not something to be put on the shelf and brought out just once a year.  The devil would love it if you believe that lie, because then he can get you to do whatever he wants, scaring you with the threat of the grave.  If you believe that, you may as well eat all the ham and candy you can get your hands on, because you too will die.  But if you want more, believe in Jesus whose death and resurrection changes everything.

 

That’s why Easter is such a big celebration.  Jesus gives joy to our lives!  He gives us more joy than can be found in fleeting things.  He lifts up our hearts from the depths of sorrow and gives us new hope and strength.  When it looks to us like everything is a lost cause, our Lord and Savior is there with His Word—“Do not be afraid.”  Amen.

[1] The name Easter comes to us from the Old English name for the month of April.