(praise service watch here: https://youtu.be/fw1FyPG936s communion service watch: https://youtu.be/lOXb-_rDv-M)
1Early 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. 2So 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.’ 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.
11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and 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. 13They 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.’ 14When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ 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.’ 16Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). 17Jesus 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.”’ 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
There’s a story about a girl named Becca and a boy named Joe. Becca was in a burning house. None of the firefighters could get in the house because the fire was too big. But Joe dressed up in one of the fire suits and managed to get into the house. When he got up the stairs, the steps fell off behind him. When he got into her room he sealed the door up behind him. Joe held Becca tight, kissed her, hugged her, then said that he loved her. She asked what was wrong, and he said that he was going to die. Becca’s eyes widened as she began to cry. Joe picked her up and jumped out of the four story house. He landed on his back with her on top of him. Joe died to save Becca’s life.
If that little story tells us anything it’s that we do the strangest things in the name of love. Who among us wouldn’t run into a burning house to save the one we love? Who among us wouldn’t take the impact of a four story fall to save the one we love? My guess is that few of us wouldn’t do as Joe did to save the one we love. Love is a powerful emotion. It makes us do the silliest of things. It compels us to do things that no one in their right mind would do! Running into a burning building, throwing ourselves out of a window…these are things that only a crazy person would do. But this is the power of love; it makes us do things we’d be wise not to do. And to die in the name of love?! Well, that’s just dumb! And yet we are so quick to do it. Perhaps it’s just what it means to be human, being susceptible to the power of love.
Jesus was no different than you and me. He was just as susceptible to the power of love as you and me. Jesus loves us! Jesus was willing to die for us! Jesus loves us so much that he was willing to come back to us. Jesus came back to us…he is risen…he is risen indeed! We gather this morning to celebrate how our Lord not only left us but came back to us, all because he loves us so much. And Jesus only left us to carry our sins into death and to conquer death itself, both of which help us. Our sins are no longer obstacles in our relationship with the Father. We no longer have to fear death. In Jesus, we see that death is nothing more than a transformation into new life and a new identity. We mustn’t be afraid of death. Death isn’t an end but a beginning, a beginning to a new reality. And we’re not alone in death. Jesus walks with us through death just as he walks with us through life.
We gather to celebrate not only Jesus rising from the grave but also the power of love. Love compels us to do some pretty silly things but it also enables us to do some pretty mighty things. It enabled Jesus to withstand the agony of the cross and overcome the powers of sin and death. It enables us to live free of fear and doubt. It is an amazing thing to live without fear. It is an amazing thing to live in nothing but hope. It is an amazing thing to live assured of what Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans,
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (8:35-39)
Paul knew the power of love, especially the power of God’s love. Nothing can separate us from His love. God has loved us since the moment we were conceived in our mother’s wombs and will continue to love us until we return to him in our heavenly home, of this we can be assured!
Recall I asked us to reflect on two questions these last few days: what is the love of Jesus? and what does it mean to love one another? And I suggested that Jesus’ love is sacrificial by nature. Jesus went to the cross on our behalf. He sacrificed life in this world for us. But he also sacrificed life in the next world for us too. I’m sure he would have preferred staying with the Father but he chose to come back to us. We must forget just how sacrificial his love for us is! Nor should we forget his commandment to love one another as he loves us. Jesus didn’t suggest we love each other. Jesus didn’t recommend we love each other. Jesus commanded we love each other. And when we obey his commandment, we know the Father’s love as we hear Jesus say in John’s gospel, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (15:9-10).
The cross and the resurrection are first and foremost about love…about God’s love for us. Love makes God do a pretty silly thing in sending the Son to the grave and bringing him back into the world that sent him there. God is just as susceptible to the power of love as we are. Of course, God IS love so naturally He would be influenced by it. I like what Rick Warren, the great evangelist, once said, “God is love. He didn’t need us. But he wanted us. And that is the most amazing thing.” God loves us! God went to the grave and came back because He loves us. Let us rejoice in his love, in the power of love to make all of us, God included, do some pretty silly things. Speaking of silly things, I came across a funny little observation about love that I’ll leave you with.
If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it was, and always will be yours. If it never returns, it was never yours to begin with. If it just sits in your living room, messes up your stuff, eats your food, uses your telephone, takes your money, and never behaves as if you actually set it free in the first place, you either married it or gave birth to it!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.