Easter Sermon - New and Improved
“New and Improved”
Acts 10: 34-43
Colossians 3: 1-4
Jeremiah 31: 1-6
Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24
Spring was easy over the last ten years or so when we lived in Tennessee. Sometime in February I would see the crocuses start to bloom, followed by the tulips, and the green sprigs of the daffodils. Robins, or as my youngest called them - big fat belly birds, would line our fence top. The pear trees would be in bloom and my sinuses would be going haywire. In fact, by the time the Masters tournament aired on television, and the pink azaleas could be seen, most of the world in which I resided was in bloom. Nature, God’s canvas, was coming to life in technicolor. It offered a certain invigoration. It offered restored energy to hear the birds singing and to see new life rising from the bare landscape.
This year I have been introduced to something new. Something quite different. I am not sure how the continued adventure into Spring will look, but this time called “Break Up” offers its own rejuvenation of Spirit. The sun has come back with a vengeance and I never knew how happy I could be to see the lines in the parking lots, not to mention the roads! I have seen birds, many types I have still yet to learn their names, right outside my window and heard them singing their songs. There is the sound of water flowing as I sit on my deck, where weeks ago there was only the silence of the frozen pond. The ice on the Arm melts more between each trip to and from Anchorage, and the sunsets have been amazing as we watch the Alaskan sun hang above the landscape, creating bright orange, red, and purple hues on the mountains and their reflection in the water.
No matter where we are today. No matter where we sit this morning. This moment, this Easter Sunday, is steeped in regeneration. The world around us comes to life from a desolate and dark place. This is what God has done for each of us. We have been brought from the darkness into the brightest of light. Today, through the salvation of Jesus Christ, we gather as new and improved versions of our previous selves. The snow and ice around us is melting and we are offered new movement and new relief in our ability to walk firmly on the ground God has set before us. What began as the dark and desolate death of our savior, has been replaced by the remarkable light which revealed an empty tomb.
The Empty Tomb
There is a good chance the reading from John this morning leaves you with many questions. It should. It is a very important text and we should be as familiar with it as we could possibly be. But, in all honesty, the text makes very little sense apart from the rest of the story contained in the pages of the Bible.
Over the last few days, Jesus and the disciples have been through a roller coaster of emotions. Just a week ago, they were welcomed into town as a King and His entourage. Cheered for and having palm branches and coats laid down at their feet. They had been prepared to take on anyone or anything. But, amidst this jubilation and this revelation of Jesus’ true nature they had a dinner. During this dinner Jesus made some remarks that seemed out of place and hard to comprehend for his disciples. He even pointed out that they would desert Him in His darkest hour. They simply could not fathom doing this and likely waved it off. Then, this King of Kings knelt on his hands and knees, humbling himself, before all of the disciples. Even the one who was to betray him, and washed their feet. The master had become the servant. A role He expected all of us to fill.
Jesus’ servitude continued into the garden of Gethsemane, where he took on the sins of the world. All those that had been committed, all those that were being committed, and all those yet to be committed. The evening is abruptly ended when he is taken from the Garden by Temple Guards to be tried for blasphemy by the Pharisees. The table was set and the lamb was being led to slaughter. Hours later the sound of hammering can be heard echoing from the mountain as Jesus is nailed to a cross. Of course, he was whipped and beaten before ever taking his place on his wooden altar. An unblemished lamb was sacrificed for the sins of all in the world. This was the will of God, this was the atonement for our world, separated from the love and light of our creator.
Perhaps, this story is simply a tragedy without the ending we hear today. But, no! We have an ending that removes sadness and abolishes darkness from every corner and every place where shadows creep. We have the ending of the empty tomb. We have the story of a risen savior! We have not just the story of forgiveness, but we have the continued story of eternal life and true salvation from the darkness of death. Our restoration on this Easter Sunday is one to be heavy jubilation about and one that should change us to the core, when we realize its impact in our relationship with God, with one another, and with the world.
If you will indulge me for a moment, please allow me to take you for an investigative look at the tomb we see this morning.
First, lets consider the guards of the tomb. Why would a criminal, crucified under the direction of Roman centurions have a tomb, much less a guarded tomb? It speaks to the story and prophecy of who Jesus was and what His death meant. The guards were present because the Pharisees believed Jesus’ disciples would take his body and claim he arose. They were also there because Pilate likely did not trust anyone following the debacle of Jesus’ trial. He did not want to chance the civil unrest of the body being taken by either group. Therefore, the tomb had guards.
Second, when the disciples return to the tomb following Mary’s announcement that the stone had been rolled away and, “they had taken Him.” What did they find? As they walked into the tomb they found the linen wraps of his preparation on the floor and the cloth for his face neatly folded on the resting place. John tells us they believed after seeing this. The understanding the author is hoping we gather is that if anyone would have stolen the body, then they would not have taken the time to remove the ceremonial wrappings and neatly fold the face covering. No, something else has happened here.
Third, Mary walks into the tomb and finds two angels sitting inside. John makes a point to tell us where the angels sat. One at the foot and the other at the head of where Jesus lay. The symbolism is rich here. Think back to where this image might have been present. Can you recall a time where cherubs sat at either end of an important vessel, facing one another, for God’s Word? This is a direct reference to the Ark of the Covenant. The important vessel which represented the covenant between God and the Israelites. This imagery reveals to us that the covenant has changed. It is now firmly stationed upon the mandates of Christ to love God and to love one another.
Lastly, Jesus presents himself to Mary. She is unable to recognize him at first and even questions if He is the gardener. This is the sign that the resurrected life is different. It changes us somehow, even to the point of unrecognition by those who know us best. Jesus lets Mary know He is on His way to be with the Father, calling all others His brothers and sisters, revealing that we too share the same creator. Therefore, Jesus’ resurrection will be shared by all who call Him brother.
My brothers and sisters. On this beautiful morning on this regal mountain top, we sit atoned for our sins. The tomb, though empty of Jesus’ physical body, was quite full. It full of the hope promised by the prophet Jeremiah and the forgiveness give to us by almighty God. It was full of the redemption of those lost and set apart from a world that oppressed them or made them feel unworthy. It was full of redemption for those who did the oppressing. It was full of eternal life for you and for me. It was full of salvation for us all.
Today is a glorious day. Today is a day to begin all new life. If there is something holding you back in your life from being who you feel God created you to be, well then today is the day to make a new start. Today is the reminder that each of us sits in life anew. We sit refreshed in the salvation and redemption given to us by the Grace of God! It had nothing to do with our own actions or our own works. This was done for us that we may be healed from our transgressions and freed from those things which drag us down each and every day making us less than what God intended us to be.
Like the dawning of Spring and the magic of the Alaskan break up, let the cold and darkness recede into the everlasting light and find glory in your life, your new and improved life, in the risen Christ.