Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, Colossians 3:1-4
(watch here: praise sunrise https://youtu.be/jBQ1-0SEJGM
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he* lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead,* and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ 8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! An Easter sermon wouldn’t be worth anything if it didn’t make this bold proclamation. We gather this morning precisely to hear these words, to be reaffirmed by these words, to be strengthened by these words. Christ’s suffering and death didn’t mean nothing…they meant something! They gave our Lord the opportunity to conquer death, to conquer our fear of death. We no longer have to fear death, we’re no longer slaves to death, because Christ showed that death is simply a transformation. Death isn’t an end, it’s a beginning…a beginning of a new life. Death frees us from the cares and worries of this world and opens to us a new reality. Death enables us to be larger than life. It enables us to be to live larger than life. Jesus became larger than life in his death and resurrection. He could be everywhere, at any given time, for everyone. He could be with us today just as he was with those of 2,000 years ago through his death and resurrection. Indeed, Jesus didn’t leave us on that cross but instead was transformed into the Christ that we know and love and are loved by today.
Yes, I realize that is a lot to throw at you right at the start of the message! But better at the start than possibly not all! Besides, that’s what we mean when we make that bold statement, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” Christ rose from the dead and this is the good news of the resurrection. Death didn’t win—Christ won! Christ beat the unbeatable, the unimaginable. And he did it FOR US! Do you think he did it for himself? Do you think he was eager to come back to our world after what we did to him?! Do you think he wanted to come back to our world of sin and misery?! Would YOU want to come back to our world after leaving it? Sure, there is great joy to be had in this world but there is also great sorrow. There is great heartache and grief in this world. Perhaps sorrow and heartache and grief await us in the next world, perhaps they don’t. In either case, we know they exist in this world so why would you want to return here? Stick to the sorrow and heartache and grief of that world and save yourself the trouble of having to go through the pain of death and rebirth!
But Christ died and rose again for us. Christ died and rose so that we might witness the full glory of God. We see that God is not limited by death. We see that God exists beyond death. We see that God isn’t controlled by death. Death is a powerful force in this world. Too many of us are afraid of dying. I don’t know if it’s the process of dying that scares us the most or rather not knowing what awaits us on the other side of death that scares us more. Maybe it’s little of both. Maybe it’s the thought of having to leave behind all that we cherish in this world that scares us. We’re afraid of what the world will do to our cherished belongings and relationships without our protection. Some of us are scared of who we will become after death. After so many years of identifying ourselves by our stuff and our relationships, the thought of rebuilding identities without these things and/or relationships can be scary. There are several reasons to be scared of death. But God doesn’t want us to be afraid of it. God certainly doesn’t want us to be paralyzed by our fear of death. God wants us to live to the fullest. God wants us to live fearlessly. God wants us to live joyously. God wants us to live…well, as He lives! Christ rose from the grave not only to reveal the glory of God, the freedom of God, the awesomeness of God, but also to free us of our fear of death. Christ doesn’t want us to be afraid of anything, the least of which being death. Christ is all about setting us free!
Christ’s resurrection not only frees us from our fear of death but it also serves to empower us. It empowers us to see unlike others and it demands that we live by faith. It is true, the resurrection is difficult to believe. It’s hard to believe that Jesus really died and really came back to life three days later. But believe it we are called to do. Our faith in God demands that we believe it! It is not that difficult to believe God is greater than death. God IS greater than anything that limits us. God is God! But getting back to how the resurrection empowers us to see differently. When the women went to Jesus’ tomb, what do you suppose they were hoping to see? They were hoping to see his body and his final resting place. They certainly weren’t hoping to see the stone rolled away and an empty tomb. They certainly weren’t hoping to see an angel standing outside the tomb telling them that Jesus had risen. No, they were hoping to see a dead body. Did they see this? No, they saw an angel and our risen Lord: “Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him.” They saw our risen Lord, living, walking, engaging. The resurrection empowered them to see differently.
So it ought to empower us! We gather this morning not necessarily to see a dead body. We gather this morning not necessarily to see our resurrected Lord here in this place. No, we gather this morning to celebrate how we see Christ living and walking and engaging in our own lives each and every day! The women encounter Christ as they were running away from the tomb…as they were going about their lives. They see him when and where they didn’t expect to see him. Christ was found in their living. This is where we encounter our resurrected Lord-in our daily living. We don’t gather once a year to behold resurrected Lord here in this building. No, we gather to give our thanks and praise for all the daily encounters we have with Jesus. Jesus is alive and well! I have no doubt that many of us have witnessed his presence and his blessings countless times since we gathered last Easter. We have seen Christ at work in our lives and the lives of those around us. The resurrection narrative empowers us to see Christ all around us. Praise be to God for opening our eyes to see!
Without death, there would be no resurrection. Without the resurrection, there would be no Christ among us. Death merely transformed Jesus into the Christ we know and love. So, too, will it be in our own deaths. We, too, are transformed. Death ought not scare us. And not just the grand end-of-life death either. We are called daily into many smaller deaths-death of selfishness, death of pride, and death of jealousy to name but a few. In death, we are transformed into who God wants us to be. Death transformed Jesus into our Christ, exactly who God wanted him to be for us. Let us not be afraid of who we might become. Let us not be afraid of being without what we leave behind. Let us not be afraid of the process of dying. Death is but a blink of the eye in the grand scheme of things. As we go about celebrating this day by reflecting on Christ walking with us daily, let us heed the wisdom of the psalmist: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.