Sermon: Easter 2016

Easter 2016
John 20:1-18
RUMC March 27, 2016

For most of his life, Thomas Jefferson was convinced that some of the stories of Jesus written in the gospels were filled with falsehoods.  And once he completed his two terms as the 3rd President of the United States, he decided that he would edit his own version of the gospels. So with quill in hand, he went through the gospels of the Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and scratched out all those supernatural references of miracles and physical healings.  According to Mr. Jefferson, Jesus was a great teacher of love, morals, and service–and nothing more.

The last verse of the Jefferson Bible reads, “There they laid Jesus and rolled a great stone at the mouth of the sepulcher and departed.”  If you wish to purchase a paper copy of the Jeffersonian Bible, it can be ordered from Amazon.com for only $4.95.

Now Jefferson was right about one thing, Jesus did die.  But hopefully for all of us here, the story continues.  Our Lord did rise from the dead.  Down through the ages Christ has revolutionized the lives of believers.  And that is what our faith is all about.

Today’s scripture is John 20:1-18.
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
This is the word of God.  Thanks be to God.

If you were to describe your personal experience of Easter, using only punctuation marks, which ones would you use?

  • Would Easter be a comma (,) which makes you pause, think or listen?
  • Would Easter be a period (.) like Thomas Jefferson, who believed Jesus died and was buried?
  • Would Easter be a question mark (?) because there is still doubt in your mind as to what had happened?
  • Would Easter be an exclamation point (!) because Christ is alive in your hearts?

Max Lucado in his book, Six Hours One Friday told a story of a Brazilian missionary who tried to help a remote Indian tribe who suffered from the ravages of a deadly virus.  Many had died of that plague.  However there was a ray of hope, because there was a hospital nearby.

The only way to get patients to the hospital was to cross the river.  But the members of this particular Indian tribe would not cross, because they believed evil spirits inhabited it.  And according to their superstitions, to enter into the water, meant certain death.

This missionary who worked with this group, tried to explain there would be no harm if they would simply wade across.  But the people would not listen.  To further explain that the water was harmless, he took them to the edge of the river, and placed his hand under the water.  Again they were not convinced.  The missionary jumped into the water, waded up to his waist, and splashed water on his face, but they would not believe.  Finally, the missionary dove under the water and swam beneath the surface.  When he emerged close to the other side, he raised a triumphant fist.  It was then that the Indians broke into a cheer, jumped into the water, and crossed the river.

This story is similar to what Jesus had done for us.  He entered the river of death and emerged on the other side.  This was done so we might no longer fear death, but find eternal life.

Six of the world’s major religions, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Confucianism, Sikhism and Christianity are based on personalities who happen to be the founders of their faith.  But Christianity is the only religion that claims an empty tomb for its founder.  For example:

Abraham was the father of the Jewish people and died around 1900 BC. He is buried in Hebron, Israel at the Tombs of the Patriarchs.  His mausoleum has a black top on it.

Siddhartha Gautama or the Buddha lived to be 80 years old when he died in Nepal in 483BC.  He was cremated and some of his remains are believed to be in a temple in Kushinagar, India

Mohammed the founder of Islam died at the age of 61 in 632 AD.  He is buried in what is called the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia.  His tomb is cordoned off with gold mesh and black curtains; it is one of the places that devout Moslems visit during the annual pilgrimage or the Haj.

Confucius was a great Chinese philosopher died in 479 BC.  He is buried in the cemetery of Confucius in Qufu city in Shandong Province in China.

Guru Nanek is the founder of the Sikh religion.  This is the religious faith where the men wear turbans and carry swords.  Guru Nanek died in 1539 and his cremated remains are located here Katarpur, Pakistan.

And now we come to Jesus the Christ who said, “I am the resurrection and the life.”  Here we see the empty tombIf we were to remove the resurrection from our belief structure, we would lose our identity.  It would be like taking the engine out of the car.  The automobile might be nice to look at, but it wouldn’t be able to go anywhere.

For Christians, the resurrection is more than an event of history or a creed we recite.  And if we truly respond to it by giving our heart to Christ and becoming born from above, we will be changed by it.  That is what resurrection faith does.

One person who had resurrection faith was United Methodist Pastor, Kelly Clem.

On Palm Sunday 1994, a tornado struck the church that she served, the Goshen United Methodist in Piedmont, Alabama.  The destruction to the building was tremendous.  On that fateful day, 90 people were injured and 20 tragically died.  Among the fatalities was Pastor Clem’s four year old daughter, Hannah.

The night after the tragedy, Pastor Clem tried to sleep through the emotional pain of the loss of her daughter and the physical pain of her injuries.  But she had an unusual dream: She saw was herself lifting bricks and tossing them aside so she could rescue the many victims.  But as her dream progressed, she saw the spot where her daughter had died.  There in that place, children were dressed in beautiful bright colors.  They seemed oblivious to the onlookers as they played and laughed on the grass that was the greenest of green.  When Pastor Clem awoke, a peace settled over her that strengthened her for the funerals she would have to conduct.  The next day, a news reporter asked if the disaster had shattered her faith.  She said, “It hasn’t shattered my faith, but I’m holding on to my faith.  It’s holding me.”

Pastor Clem had resurrection faith.  And with this type of life changing faith, we will be able to get through anything and face any obstacle or difficulty.  With the reality of the resurrection, we will experience life after death and see our loved ones.

  • The resurrection matters because Jesus is who he claimed to be.
  • The resurrection matters because Jesus has the power he claimed to have.
  • The resurrection matters because my past and yours can be forgiven.
  • The resurrection matters because my problems and yours can be managed.
  • The resurrection matters because my future and yours can be secure.

I recognize that there are many like Thomas Jefferson who choose to believe the end of the story was when they rolled the stone over the mouth of the tomb.  Unfortunately we live in a culture that is skeptical of the claims of faith.  Intellectually it is easy to accept the resurrection as only a metaphor or symbolic.  Jesus did say “Nothing is impossible with God.”  What makes Jesus unique and special is the supernatural.  I believe you can combine the moral teachings with the miracles.

Let me close:  Easter is all about hope and belief.  With Christ in our hearts, Easter becomes meaningful.  We have the assurance that God loves us; we are his children; and we know we have a place when we die.

If Christ is not in our hearts, it becomes a regular holiday of chocolate bunnies, egg hunts, decorated baskets, jelly beans, candy chicks, spring clothes and dinner with family.  So I would encourage all of us to embrace the spiritual aspect of Easter and all these things will be a joy.

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