Let me first say, happy first days of winter to all of you this Easter morning. APRIL FOOLS!
I know, I know it’s hard to believe this is spring. Farmers are itching to get into the fields. We golfers are looking for some nice dry days to get out on the golf courses. Some in many states may have been searching the Bible to find the directions on how to build and Ark. My Carole is waiting for sunny warm days to sit out in the sun. Others are looking to shed winter coats, and be able to do things outside, like planting flowers, or picking up the yard. Baseball games, soccer games have been cancelled and will play havoc on their seasons. It’s been cold sitting in the bleachers with blustery winds howling watching soccer. Sure, we need the rain, so thank you Lord for that. Lakes need them, the ground needs it, but Lord, we could do with a little more warmth and the sun to shine. But it’s only the first day of April. Good days are just around the corner when we will do all those things we want to when we can get outside.
You know, over 2,000 years ago many people perhaps complained as well. But their complaints weren’t weather related. It was about what they did to a man named Jesus who did so many wonderful things on this earth at that time. People flocked to see him. When people heard that Jesus was coming to town, why, the whole town went out to see him. Some came out of curiosity. Others came because they had heard the great things he had done, so having needs themselves, they ran to see Jesus perhaps hoping for a miracle.
And that is why we come today. We come to see a miracle. We come to experience one. We come following a week of betrayal, a trial, a crucifixion, and finally, the sealed tomb. We come following a season of Lent when we are reminded of our sinfulness. During those last days of Jesus’ live we are told followers of Jesus go into hiding. Others stayed around to see where Jesus would be buried. And through the rain that came that day, the wind that blew so hard, it was not a good way to end the day. It was a dark, dreary, unhappy Friday.
But as we know, that was Friday and Sunday was coming.
Every gospel has a resurrection story. Each a little different, but the same theme. When the women got to the tomb they found it empty. That’s the results of the story. THE TOMB WAS EMPTY!
We’ve heard this story over and over again. I’ve preached on it many times. For at least 34 years. But that does not change one thing from the story. Every Easter morning, we are reminded of the joy of the resurrection. We are reminded that Jesus lives today. We sing resurrection songs, songs of hope, songs of victory. Up from the grave he arose. Christ the Lord is risen today. Easter people, raise your voices. He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today.
These hymns reinforce our faith in what happened that first Easter morning. No matter how you look at it, when you read the gospel accounts the tomb was empty. The women didn’t roll away the stone, God did. The tomb was empty, not because someone stole Jesus’ body, no, it was empty because he had risen. How do we know that? Because the angels told the women that the tomb was empty because Jesus had risen. God breathed new life back into his son and he rose from the grave.
Hard to believe? Some today think so. For those women it must have been. In John’s gospel Mary Magdalene ran off to tell Peter what she found. He and John then run a foot race to the tomb, Peter looks in, pauses, let’s his eyes become adjusted, shakes his head, steps back, and begins to walk slowly back to the Upper Room. But John writes this…. because this is his story. John records “he looked in and saw and he believed.”
It isn’t what he saw that was important. Funny, how he wrote that in his gospel. It was what he didn’t see. Yes, what he saw was the tomb was empty. What he didn’t see was the body of Jesus. And because of both those points, what he saw, and what he didn’t see, he believed. Thinking about that verse in John 20:8 I thought about another powerful hymn that says, “Blessed assurance Jesus is mine. O what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchased of God, born of his spirit, washed in his blood.” I can picture John coming out of that tomb after looking in with a smile on his face believing that Jesus had risen as he said he would do. I can picture him one day writing that gospel and when he came to the time to report on the resurrection, when he wrote about seeing and believing, I can almost hear him full of joy writing the next few words about believing singing and writing with joy in his heart, “This is my story. This is my song. Praising my Savior all the day long.” He takes a deep breath, looks at what he wrote and continues with joy of the resurrection story…putting his pen down for a moment, “This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.”
That’s what the church does every Easter morning. We tell the story again and again just like the Jewish people do when they tell the story of their exodus from Egypt to the promised land. We Christians tell our story of Exodus as well, but not from the bondage of Egypt, but the bondage of sin. Not from the bondage of our troubles, but from the freedom we have from them because of the resurrection of Christ. Death is not the final event. Our resurrection will be! We also enter the promise land, but this promised land begins on this earth and ends when we cross over to the other side to be with the resurrected Jesus, and our loved ones, in a place that he went to prepare for us.
The resurrection was no April fools joke. That tomb was empty. And many could verify that the contents of that tomb was empty. No one could say someone stole Jesus’ body because there were guards there all-night long. Those soldiers never tried to move the stone. It was sealed. It just happened. It happened because God made it happen. And it happened at the right time and when the women got there and found the stone rolled away, in John’s account, and after the disciples return to the Upper Room Mary returns to the tomb and stands outside the tomb crying. John records, “As she wept, she went over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head, the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman why are you crying.” “They have taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they put him.” At this she tuned around and saw Jesus standing there but didn’t realized that it was Jesus. “Woman,” Jesus said, “Why are you crying! Who is it you are looking for?” Mary thinking this person was the gardener seeks to find where he put Jesus’ body. But then a voice that she had heard many times speaks again. He calls out, “Mary.” And we might say Mary’s eyes were open to the truth of the resurrection. For this was Jesus. “Teacher, teacher, is it really you?” Oh yes it was!
It’s an amazing story that it is a shame that we hear only at Easter. For that message is the Christian message of hope and resurrection. It’s the story that touches us because we know that because Jesus lives we can face our tomorrows. We can face the struggles that we have in our lives daily.
The other day Carole was reading to me some things from Facebook about a tornado that happened and caused wide destruction and even some deaths in the south. They had a picture of a what looks like a light pole broken and it is hanging on some wires in the shape of a cross. It was very clear it was a cross. Under it, it says something like “From death to resurrection.” Many Christians saw that as a sign from heaven of God’s presence through this disaster, while nonbelievers had nothing good to say about it and that Christians are wackos. They could care less about that pole. It was just a pole, so Christians should not make something out of it. Some felt comfort in knowing that even though there were some losses, God was still there in the midst of their troubles, saving others. Others, the nonbelievers had another take on it, saying who could believe in a God who allows, or even creates tornados and death in the first place.
But that is what Easter is all about. On an old rugged cross God’s son gave his life for the world, which includes nonbelievers as well. The empty tomb is a sign to both believers and nonbelievers that Christ is alive today and is very active in the world. That’s the hope we Christians have. As Paul writes when we face death we don’t face it believing all is lost, all is over. NO! We face it with hope of the resurrection. We face it with the knowledge that death becomes the door to eternal life. That’s a joy and perk of those who are true believers in Jesus Christ. We cherish the old rugged cross. We cherish certain signs we believe our loving God gives to us, even though we go through tragedy. Out of the burning bush Moses saw God. Out of the tomb of death we see the risen Jesus.
Folks, no matter how you slice it, God is good all the time, and all the time God is good.
On that first Easter morning when that sun came up the Son, S-o-n was already up. No nails could hold him, no cross could hold him, no tomb could hold him. They could have welded that stone shut and it would not have mattered. They could have surrounded that tomb with a couple hundred soldiers but that would not have mattered either. I bet that even if they placed a few soldiers inside that tomb, when the time came for Jesus to rise, he would have risen without them even knowing it. That would have blown their minds, and the minds of this world. What matters on that first Easter morning, at around daylight, when Mary got there, something Godly happened. The stone was already rolled away, not to let Jesus out, but to let the world in to see what John saw. To see what John didn’t see as well, for Christ had risen. No two ways about it. Up from the grave he arose with a might triumph over his foes, he arose a victor from the dark domain and he lives forever with the saints to reign. He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!
This was no April fools joke. It was the truth of God’s promise found throughout Scripture and Christians throughout the world celebrate this resurrection morning with hymns, Easter lilies, rejoicing in what the Lord has done and continues to do.
We are blessed! We are fortunate that the one that brought us into this world and created us in our mother’s womb thought us worthy enough to be invited into his family. Those who believe in his son Jesus, who believe he lived, he died, that he rose, and one day will come again, rejoice because we know that our hope is built in our Savior Jesus the Christ.
So, may it be with all of the church this morning. We celebrate God’s goodness and his mercy. Many of you will sit at a table to celebrate an Easter meal. Children will open Easter baskets and enjoy the candy that acknowledges Easter. Like those chocolate eggs, that when you bite into them have different things inside. It all reminds us of the resurrection of Christ. When we see those flowers beginning to poke through the ground we realize spring has sprung. When we think about the empty tomb we know that Christ is risen and lives today.
You won’t hear me say April Fools this morning because the truth is that the tomb will always be empty and even though there are many who still doubt, who still fail to believe, those who have no faith at all and think Christianity is shallow, it doesn’t matter. We pray one day they will discover the truth of the resurrection. For facts are facts. When the women got there, it was empty. When Peter got there, it was empty. When John got there, it was empty. And when Mary returned, sobbing, guess who came to comfort her? The risen Christ. So, shall it be with all God’s people today. Happy Easter. Let us lift our voices in thanksgiving to our Father in heaven for sending us his son. Hallelujah! Amen!