Sermon Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018

I hope that you have some big plans for today. An Easter dinner with lots of people is a great event. Someone in our congregation told me that they were going to have nine people at their house today and they were excited. Jan and I are going to Flagstaff to see our family and we plan to have a big Easter dinner with our family and friends. We can’t wait to see our new baby granddaughter again and her sister. It should be wonderful. There are many other Easter traditions that you may take part in. Easter egg hunts are fun. Perhaps you will have a chocolate Easter bunny. Or maybe the Easter bunny will bring some Easter eggs stuffed with some goodies to your house. Jan has prepared Easter baskets for our children and grandchildren. I suppose we should appreciate the fact that so many traditions have grown up around Easter Day. I am sure that these rituals all started for good reason as people wanted to make Easter special to celebrate. But these various traditions seem to have established a life of their own, no longer connected to the real reason for Easter. In this increasingly secular world we live in, many do not even stop long enough to appreciate that Jesus rose from the dead on this day. After all Easter has not kept the college basketball finals from taking place. I love all of the trappings of Easter. I can easily fall victim to all that happens today and forget why we do it. For example, I love that the Alleluias are back and I am so happy that we have uplifting music rather than the quiet hymns of the Lenten season. Despite all of the distractions and events, each of you has come here to take part in a celebration for the real meaning of Easter, to give thanks to God for the glorious resurrection of Jesus; To take part in the good news that Jesus has gone before us to prepare a place for us. Through his resurrection we often say that Jesus has opened the gates of heaven. That image is helpful. We so often have fences to protect something we value. In my subdivision, we have fences so that only those who are authorized can come in. And the gates into my subdivision have a code so that only those who know the code can enter. The image of a gate is often used in Scripture. For example, in Matthew Jesus said, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” The devil cannot stop the followers of Jesus. In the Apostles Creed, we say that after Jesus was crucified, died and was buried that he descended into hell. The idea is that Jesus went and freed those who had died before him and took them up to heaven. Jesus opened the gates of hell. In another passage, Jesus gave Peter and the apostles the authority to forgive sins. Jesus said, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.“ It is out of that passage we come to the belief that Peter will meet us at the gates of heaven and will only allow in those who have been faithful. I like to think that Jesus has already opened the gates and Peter is just inside enjoying it. In the Psalm today we ask God to open the gates for us, “Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter them; I will offer thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord; he who is righteous may enter.” And in today’s collect, we hear these words, “Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life”. And that is why we celebrate so much on this day. The resurrection of Jesus has changed everything. Jesus rose from the dead and through his rising, he opened those gates for us. In John’s gospel Jesus says, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?* And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” It was the promise of everlasting life given to us by Jesus. That same promise is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans, “We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” What joy we have to look forward to. Thanks be to Jesus for all he has done for us. Jesus has opened the gates of heaven to us and Jesus has promised that the faithful will follow him there. It doesn’t get any better than this. Let’s reflect for a moment on the resurrection story. Mary Magdalene arrived first and when she saw the tomb was empty she ran to get Peter and the other disciple. The two men see the empty tomb and even go inside but strangely they do not encounter Jesus. If you came here today and do not feel the joy and hope of the resurrection then you are not alone. Because someone as faithful and well known as Peter was uncertain as well. I wish we knew how Peter felt but we are only told that he did not yet understand what the empty tomb meant. I imagine that Peter struggled with what to think. Is it possible that he thought the authorities took the body of Jesus? Was he afraid that something would happen to him if he shouted excitedly about Jesus being raised from the dead? Was he like Thomas, waiting to see Jesus for himself before he came to a conclusion? We just don’t know. All that we are told is that the two men simply went home. The story might have ended there but Mary stuck around. Mary encountered Jesus and she was the first to go out and proclaim that Jesus was resurrected. Every one of the gospel stories reports that it was the women who told what had happened. Doesn’t it help you to appreciate the role of the women followers? I know that the role of women was different in those days. They had the responsibility to go and anoint the body with oils. And I know that the women might have been able to move around more freely because the authorities would not have worried about what the women were going to do. The men may have been more cautious about their activities. Despite all of this, I would bring your attention to the fact that the women are the ones who go and tell everyone what had happened. They were the ones who got everyone excited. The reading from Acts reminds us that the resurrection of Jesus offers the hope of salvation to everyone. That same Peter, who was uncertain when he first saw the empty tomb had grown so much. Peter had become a leader of the early Christians community and was willing to speak out about his Savior, Jesus Christ. Peter gives the best summary of our Christian beliefs in his talk with Cornelius, a Roman centurion, and other Gentiles. Peter had come to the conclusion that Jesus died for the sins of all and that Gentiles did not have to convert to Judaism in order to be faithful followers of Jesus. Let us welcome all who would be followers of Jesus for that is just what Jesus taught us to do and what Peter did himself. I hope that most of you are here today full of joy, full of hope for everlasting life. It might make you wish that you could just sit back and take it all in, absorbing the glory of God and of his son, Jesus. I would just ask you to realize that the story doesn’t end with the resurrection of Jesus, nor does it end with the announcement by Mary Magdalene that she had seen the risen Lord. For Jesus appeared to his followers several times after his resurrection. Jesus continued his ministry of peace and love until his ascension into heaven. The ministry continued as the apostles began to share the story of Jesus with others starting on Pentecost. It continued with Paul who was converted when Jesus appeared to him on his ride to Damascus and Paul began to tell the story of the risen Jesus. And it continues to this day as we share the joy we have with others loudly proclaiming that Jesus Christ is risen today. Amen.

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  • Matthew 2:4-6
    “When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’””