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Sermon April 21, 2019

Happy Easter! This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. I hope that you feel the joy of Easter today at Transfiguration. I hope that you find joy in the rest of your life today. I hope that you will take this opportunity to be with family and friends. Jan and I are excited to drive to Flagstaff and join our family there, to be with our granddaughters and to share a lovely Easter meal.

I encourage you to remember wonderful Easters in your past life. Perhaps you might reach back into your childhood and recollect something special that happened to you on this day. Maybe it was a picnic in a beautiful setting. Maybe it was an Easter egg hunt at your church. Maybe it was a favorite food prepared by your grandmother. Maybe it was the games you played with your cousins. Maybe it was the chocolate bunny that you devoured in one setting.

For this is a day of great joy.   It is the day that Jesus, our Savior, created for us. It is a day to celebrate Christ’s victory over sin and death. In the early church, this was the most important day of the year. It was a time when newly baptized Christians joined the rest of the faithful followers of Jesus. Easter was always more important than Christmas. In fact, the celebration of Christmas did not occur until the 4th century. The resurrection of Jesus is the foundation of our Christian faith.

The message found in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians may be the first writing ever offered about the resurrection. Paul stated it simply, by saying, “in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” and Paul explained that the resurrection is the core of our belief. “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” In other words, if we as Christians don’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus then the entire construct of our faith falls down in a heap like some dynamited building.  And yet, believing in the resurrection is not easy.

The Corinthians must have struggled with the concept or else why would Paul have spent so much effort explaining it to them in this letter. The issue of the resurrection has been debated often. How it happened we don’t know. What exactly happened we are uncertain. Still, the idea that Jesus was raised from the dead is something we firmly believe.

Paul wanted the people of Corinth to know that the resurrection of Jesus wasn’t just an historical event.   It did happen along time ago. It is something that happens even now. For all of us will be made alive in Christ. Christ lives in us just as he lived in his followers long ago.

Our understanding of the resurrection of Jesus is informed by the stories we read in each of the four gospels. I find the stories to be simple and straightforward, almost like one friend speaking to another. While the four gospel stories of the resurrection are similar in nature, they differ in the details. In all four stories, one or more women go to the tomb and find it empty. 

Today, the resurrection story is told by John. Mary Magdalene is the first one to arrive at the tomb. When she sees that the tomb is empty, she quickly runs to find Peter and the other disciple. They return and Peter is the first to enter the tomb followed by the other disciple. Are you surprised that the other disciple is the one who saw and believed. We read nothing about what Peter believed. It is also interesting that the two of them simply leave the empty tomb and go home. They do nothing. We are left uncertain what they thought.

It causes me to think about times when we are uncertain, not just about the resurrection but about other matters of faith. Perhaps our first encounter with the risen Jesus was an occasion when we didn’t know how to respond. The apostles would soon meet with Jesus in the locked room. Then, they would accept the glorious news that Jesus had risen from the dead.   We have had many encounters with the risen Lord and now we know that Jesus did all he said he would do.  

Mary remained behind. You may have noticed that three times in this story she says, “I do not know where they have taken him.” Her search for Jesus is a constant in this description. Mary’s grief must have been overwhelming. She was so despondent over the death of Jesus that she just wanted to anoint his body, to be with him once more. And yet, she was denied that opportunity because of the empty tomb. She thought someone had stolen the body. Only Jesus himself could help her through her grief.   Are there times when we too search for Jesus and feel as if we are lost without him? I think we can relate to Mary and her search of Jesus.

Another interesting situation in this narrative is the fact that Mary did not recognize Jesus when she first saw him. She thought he was the gardener. We don’t know for sure why she didn’t know it was Jesus. It may have been her grief that caused her confusion. It may have been the unexpected surprise. Or perhaps it was that Jesus didn’t exactly look the same. On Wednesday, when we discussed this passage, it was suggested that the spiritual body of Jesus somehow looked different. Mary recognized Jesus when he spoke with her. Only then did she know the risen Lord. She ran back and proclaimed to everyone, “I have seen the Lord”. How do you experience the resurrected Jesus? What have you read, seen, felt, heard or prayed for that helps you to have faith in the resurrection?

I am sure that some people here can share an experience of seeing Jesus. But most of us have not. One way we all encounter Jesus is in an encounter with another human being, someone who shares God’s love with us in a special way. I saw this happen when we recreated the washing of the feet here in this church on Thursday. The care that was given in the washing of the feet was a reflection of the risen Jesus. 

I find faith in the story itself. I don’t think the writer embellished the story in any way. After all, it was the women who found the tomb empty and first knew that Jesus was risen. Women were not given much credit at that time. It gives me faith in the accuracy of the story to know that the writers didn’t take all of the credit away from the women. I also appreciate the truth of the resurrection when we are told that Peter did not believe when he saw the empty tomb.   If a writer would describe Peter in this way, it gives me hope and faith.

I also find faith in the change that came over the apostles after the resurrection. Yes, it was not until Pentecost that they proclaimed the good news so loudly. But their trust in God grew dramatically as they spent time with the risen Jesus.

My faith in Jesus also comes from my experiences. I have had several times when I felt God’s presence. I felt God protecting me and guiding me.   I feel Jesus is walking beside me. And I experience the risen Jesus in the people I encounter, the people who show the presence of God in their lives. I find it in the faces of people who come to this church and share God’s spirit with others. I find it in the volunteers who help others in this church and in the community. I find it in the people whom I visit, who despite their ailments, are so thankful for God’s presence in their lives. C.S. Lewis said it well, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

I hope that the light of Christ shines brightly in your life today. The early Christian leader Clement said it this way, “All things have become light… This is a new creation.” Let’s celebrate God’s new creation in Jesus.  The joy that we have today is not caused by the words I share with you but rather the witness of people who were there. The risen Lord Jesus is found today in the love shared by those around us. It is found in God’s spirit that guides us and cares for us. May you have a blessed and joyful Easter! Amen.