Sunday, April 1, 2018

Easter Sermon

The Resurrection of our Lord – John 20 – April 1st, 2018

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, alleluia)
My dear and beloved friends in Christ – we are gathered here and celebrating our Lord's resurrection not simply because of quaint tradition, or because we've always done it this way, but because the Resurrection of Christ Jesus is the most profound and impactful event, not just in the history of the world, but in your life. There is nothing more important in your life than the fact that Christ Jesus is risen from the dead. And I mean that right now – not just for eternity, not just for sometime off in heaven or on the last day whenever that gets here, but right now, your life is shaped by the fact that Christ Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus' resurrection shapes everything about your life, your day to day life. And we can forget that, overlook it, take it for granted sometimes. But our Gospel text this morning gives us an example of just how impactful Christ Jesus and His resurrection is in a very real way. Listen.

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early. Pause right there. Who is Mary Magdalene? What's her story? Luke describes her thusly in chapter 8: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out. Being possessed by seven demons – that's not a happy place. And many people think that Mary is the same “sinful” woman who anointed Jesus' feet in Luke 7. Either way – if the best starting place for you is that you're merely just the gal who was possessed by 7 demons, you were in a bad place. Not only were you in a bad place, but you were isolated, alone, driven away from people. And if you were in fact a prostitute, you were even more isolated, used and abused and touched not for true intimacy and union, but to be tossed out and ignored like trash. That's where Mary was – and then comes Jesus. And she is healed, the demons are cast out of her. She is forgiven, and she is welcomed. She is clean and holy, and she becomes part of the group – she travels around with Jesus, she has friendships and connection with Jesus and the disciples and the other gals there. That life of isolation, terror, fear and shame has given way to a new life with Christ.

And then comes Good Friday. And they kill Jesus. The Disciples are panicked and go into hiding. Mary still gets to hang around with the women – the other Gospels note that other gals were with her, but John in his Gospel is just zooming in on Mary – but what would Mary's fear be? They were all gathered around Jesus, and what's going to happen to Mary now that Jesus has died? Those relationships she had – they were centered in following Jesus – are they going to crumble now? Jesus is the one who had protected her and had rescued her from the demons; are they going to come back for her now? Is it all going to fall and crumble back into the way it was before? And so going to that tomb that Sunday morning, Mary knows there's a very real possibility that it's all going to fall apart, that tending properly to a dead body is end; turn out the lights, the party's over. That's where Mary is when she reaches the tomb – and that's why she's so distraught.

[Mary] saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran 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.” And she gets to the grave, and the large stone is rolled away, and what does she think? They've taken Jesus body. They hated Him, this man who had made her life good, they hated Him so bad they stole and defiled His corpse. And so she runs to the disciples, gets Peter and John, and Peter and John run to the tomb, and they find it empty. But they didn't remember the promise of the Resurrection and comfort Mary. Instead, “Then the disciples went back to their home. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.” They don't comfort Mary, they ditch her. Leave her crying at the tomb and run back to hide. Fear and isolation. And then Mary stoops in the tomb, and she sees two angels – and they talk to her: “Woman, why are you weeping?” And she doesn't notice, doesn't put together that there are angels there – that's how distraught she is. Of course she is – you see what's happened to her life, right?

She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” They, the world is at it, the world is messing with everything again and I don't know, I am powerless to stop it. And so she turns, and then there's Jesus, right in front of her – and she doesn't recognize him – probably staring at the ground through tears and fears. And Jesus asks, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Gentle, polite, kind words. But Mary in her distress cries out, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” And there's the best hope Mary thinks she has – I'll drag Him, I'll drag His body through this garden all alone and by myself and hide Him. In that moment, that's the “best” hope.

And then Jesus says one word. And this is the most important word, the hinge, the one that completely changes everything in Mary's life once again, the one word that turns an incredible darkness into light. And Jesus said to her, “Mary.” Mary. Her name. I'm not some stranger-danger body snatcher, I am your Lord, Mary. I am your friend, Mary. I am your Savior, Mary – and I'm standing right here risen from the dead. The world that you fear so much, those demons that you worry about, that sin and temptation that hound, they you all did their worst to Me, and I rose... and I didn't rise away from you, I didn't rise and say, “Thank goodness I don't need to have that demon-trollop girl hang around anymore” - I rose to call you Mary My friend. Forever. And then, for Mary, the utter joy. This is comedy – this is the wonderful twist that leads to the happy ending. Mary is so ecstatic that Jesus has to say: Do not cling to me, for 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.” I've got a bit more business to do, Mary – but go tell the disciples, because you're not cut off from them either, go tell them that My Father is still our Father – ours, together. That's what My death and resurrection have ensured. And in fact, next weekend we will see what Jesus does when He shows up to those fearful disciples (because they weren't quite sure of what Mary had said). But for this morning – do you see the shift, the change? Do you see the movement from the despair of Mary's life to the joy of Christ's resurrection for Mary?

This is why Christ's resurrection is the most important thing in your life. Today. Right now. You see, Satan recycles his tricks, and in this world the Devil will hound you. He'll toss out temptations and folly, and there will come times when you will look upon your life with regret and sorrow. Satan will stir up violence and wickedness and hatred all around you – we have that in spades today. And you will come across fears and worries and doubts – and fears and worries and doubts that often are very, very real. And understand, I'm not diminishing any of this – these things are often big and real and nasty – things we wouldn't breathe a word of to anyone. This past month may very well have been the worst of your life. Next Tuesday may be the hardest day you face – I don't know when, but hardship and trial will come. That's what Satan does to us while we are in this sinful world. Mary's tears were real, and often yours will be real as well.
And yet, here is the hinge in your life. You are baptized into Christ. Jesus Christ called you by name at your baptism – Jesus had you baptized by your name. It wasn't just some blanket, random thing – but He Himself had you brought to the font, and Jesus Christ called you by name. And therefore this is the truth – you belong to Him. You belong to the resurrected Lord who has gone through and conquered Satan and all of His tricks, and His promise to you at your baptism was to be your Lord who would see you through it all, to be your Lord who would be with you through it all. He cleansed you, He forgave you, He declared you holy right there at the font. He made His Spirit – the Lord and giver of Life - to dwell in you. He declared you worthy to be in His presence, both now in His church and forever in His kingdom – that's why we start our service with the words of our Baptism – in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Right there at the font, your risen Lord called you by your name.

If you would remember the catechism – what does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. Daily. Even though you are daily caught up in this sinful world, your sin is daily drowned and you are cleansed. Daily you arise anew to live before God, live in His presence in His own righteousness and purity forever because Jesus loves you and is pleased with you and delights in you and has done everything to see that you will be with Him forever – that you will be with all of the saints, that we will rise from the dead ourselves and be with Him forever – and without the troubling taint of sin that makes us all too often annoying to each other. But this isn't just then – it's now – Romans 6 – We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. That's the reality of your life right now. That's who you are in Christ. And nothing, no sorrow or hardship, no matter how big or hard or difficult they are – indeed even death itself can't change that. Jesus Christ faced all that for you, He went through all that for you, and He rose from the dead, and He brings you with Him. You are safe, secure, loved, and protected in Him. You have true life in Him, life that will long outlast any junk you see now. Therefore we gladly proclaim: Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!

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