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Sermon for Easter Day

Augustana, 2011

34 Easter Day.mp3

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

At dawn on that first Easter morning, Matthew tells us, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to Jesus’ tomb.  And Matthew tells us two details that the others do not.  He said there was a great earthquake because an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  This angel looked like an angel and just the sight of him filled the guards with terror.  But the angel spoke to the women.  Literally, “Stop being afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.”

I get a little different picture in my head as I read the other Gospel accounts of Jesus resurrection.  From Luke, which we read early this morning, we get the idea that the opening of the tomb had already happened and that Mary, when she arrived at the tomb was surprised to find it already open and wondering where the body of Jesus was.  There are some minor differences in the account of that first Easter morning.  Critics say that these are inconsistencies and therefore the story of Jesus resurrection was made up by the first disciples.  I would offer you a different explanation.  I would say that because there are these minor differences, it means that Mary and the other Mary and Salome and Joanna and John and Peter did not collude to get their story straight.  They just told what happened from their point of view.  Much the way any six of us could witness the same thing and then turn in six accounts of the same event each from our perspective.  What is amazing is that with all of the people involved and the telling of this story multiple times, the Gospels, all four of them, by and large agree.  All the Gospels agree that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb along with other women (see Lk 24:10; Jn 20:2). The first three Gospels agree that one of the others was named Mary.  Mark tells us Salome was also present, and Luke that Joanna was present. So, all the Gospel accounts agree that Mary Magdalene went along with several other women.  She may have run ahead to be the first to see the empty tomb, or else John just didn’t mention the other women with her. In John’s account, after all, Mary says, “We don’t know where they have put Him.”  Similarly, she may have been the first to get back to the disciples, or else John simply left out Jesus’ first appearance to the women as a group.  As for going while it was still dark, this hardly contradicts Mark who said it was “at  sunrise”, since the minutes before and after dawn always resemble “twilight”—part dark, part light.

If the story of the empty tomb were invented by the early church or by Mark, it is hardly likely that it would feature women as the primary witnesses, especially in the way Mark portrayed the incident.  John’s (and perhaps Luke’s) apparently independent version corroborates this judgment.  The women presumably supplemented the supply of spices they had prepared earlier (Lk 23:56) by buying more on Saturday night, after the Sabbath had ended.  Conversely, Mark may have compressed the events of Lk 23:56 since his point was that they bought spices to anoint the body on Sunday morning.

Matthew agrees with Mark that there was one angel at the tomb.  Mark described the angel as a “young man” which was common in Jewish literature.  It could be that Mark only told about the angel that spoke because Luke and John tell us there were two angels.  Luke is supposed to be working off the memoirs of Peter who was there.  And John was working from His own memory in the writing of his account.

The point I’m trying to support by telling you all this is that Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus Christ, did not just come back from the dead, He was resurrected, that is His human body came out of the tomb and was transformed.  This is an historical fact and an historical fact that is indisputable.  Many people doubt that Jesus was resurrected.  But their doubt is not based on the historical evidence, rather on other grounds, usually philosophical grounds, like whether a man could come back from the dead.  The historical facts as we have them, lead us to conclude nothing other than that Jesus was risen from the dead.

Others say that the disciples stole his body but that easy to refute because there was a guard at the tomb.  Matthew even records that the guards were still on duty when the angel arrived to open the tomb.  And so the empty tomb truly is proof that Jesus was raised.

I want you all to consider one other factor this morning though.  These disciples who all fled when Jesus was arrested, even Peter who denied knowing Jesus three times, these disciples whom we will hear next week were locked in the upper room for fear of the Jews even after the news of the women, Peter and John.  These are the disciples who are going to face Herod’s palace guard standing over the tomb to steal Jesus’ body?  And these disciples who are fearful of arrest and crucifixion themselves, they are the ones who are going to change their minds all on their own, less than a month later and start preaching that Jesus was risen from the dead?  And this Jewish Rabbi, Paul, this former persecutor of Christians, he is going to go from the good life of the Rabbinate to a life of poverty and martyrdom all by himself?  No.  The faith of the disciples and the preaching of the apostles simply cannot be accounted for merely by group hallucination, wishful thinking, or even conspiracy to commit fraud.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.  Jesus is risen from the dead.  Everything has changed.  The old order of the cosmos has passed away and the new has already arrived.

There is an old story from Eastern Europe about an old wise rabbi.  His students come to him one day and say the Messiah has come.  The old rabbi gets up and goes to the window of his little shack of a house and stares out the window for a very long time.  Finally, he pronounces, “No, the Messiah has not come.  Nothing has changed.”  (Neuhaus, Death on a Friday Afternoon.) The rabbi was correct to think when the Messiah comes, everything will be changed.  Everything will be different.  But he was wrong because he could not see it.

Dear Christian friends, Jesus Christ is risen today.  Everything we thought we knew about the universe from the beginning up this point has been changed.  Death is no longer the end.  Jesus proved it.  Paul told the Christians at Corinth,

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”  (1Cor 15:1-8)

Paul went on to say,

“Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1Cor 15:12-19)

Everything is different.  The dead we bury will one day no longer be dead.  Easter is the proof that everything has changed.  We started the first Easter service, the Easter Vigil outside last night just over there in the cemetery because the message of Easter is that one day, our cemetery will be empty.  The women saw the empty tomb and the angel, who proclaimed that Christ had risen.  Everything is different now.

The Easter message it too big for one Sunday, it takes a lifetime to comprehend it and grow into it and to be changed by it.  But know this.  Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

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