Sunday, April 8, 2012

Christ is Risen!

Sermon preached for all three Easter services, Sunday, April 8, 2012, the Resurrection of Our Lord.

    In America, Easter is the day that gets folks out.  In Europe, Christmas is bigger but not here.  Christmas may have been largely lost to the secular world but Easter remains a church day.  And the glow of Easter is hard to dim.  Churches filled with folks gathered for the most fundamental fact of Christianity.  Christ is risen.  It is the least tainted of the holidays and its message remains the core and center of what today is all about.
    The other Gospels give plenty of information on the events of Easter.  But not Mark.  He gives us no visual appearances of Jesus.  Instead his Gospel leaves us with shocked women fleeing in terror at an empty tomb and a man in white telling them Jesus was risen.
    What kind of ending is this?  John tells us of Mary Magdalene crying in the garden and of the voice that turned her sorrow into joy.  Some early Christians apparently thought Mark's Gospel was so defective in its Easter report that they added a few verses later to fix it.  But Mark saw no such need.  He ended the Gospel where he ended it.  Without apology!
    For Mark it was not necessary.  It was not because he did not believe in the resurrection or had doubts or did not know the details.  He did.  But Mark is telling us that Jesus' word is enough.  Mark records Jesus predictions of His betrayal, suffering, and death.  He had told His disciples what was to happen.  We heard it to this Lent.  It was blunt.  We are going to Jerusalem where the Son of Man will be delivered over the to the chief priests and scribes and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him over to the Gentiles and after three days He will rise again.  The disciples heard it.  Well, maybe they were distract by visions of earthly glory.  But they heard it.
    Mark insists that if the first part came true, so will the second part, the Resurrection.  Mark is pointing us to the certainty of Christ's promise.  It is as Jesus said.  That is enough.  Wouldn't it be great if we all had that kind of confidence in Jesus' word?  Faith would be easy then, wouldn't it?  Too many Christians view the resurrection as that which clears up the uncertainties that went before.  Not Mark.  There is no uncertainty which needs the empty tomb to shore up the wavering truth.  So for us today.  The resurrection is not some sort of vindication of Jesus. It is the one more fulfillment of His own promise.
    There is another reason Mark does not give us a complete picture of the resurrection.  Mark reminds us that Easter does not do away with the cross. Easter points us right back to that cross.  Easter is not a happy ending to an otherwise terrible story.  It is the final chapter in the most powerful and wonderful story of love the world has ever known.  The cross and the empty tomb speak the same message: forgiveness, love, mercy, hope, redemption...
    Easter tells us that the cross did exactly what Jesus promised.  It paid our debt.  It won us salvation.  It showed us the triumph of mercy for a people with so many sins they feared nothing could trump them.  God showed us what triumphs over sin: the death that gives life and the life that death cannot kill.  There can be no resurrection without a death and Jesus shows us that we can trust the death that bestows the resurrection to us and all believers.
    The women did not leave the tomb in tears and fears because the promise was not true.  They did not leave in disappointment.  They ran with the surprise of life – astonishment that took their breath away.  Jesus' resurrection is as sure as His death – the hope that transforms life and death once and for all.  It says to Peter and to us all  the cross that has done what it promised and of the Lord who can be counted upon always and forever.
    Here is a Savior who does what He says.  Here is a Lord who becomes His people's servant even to death on the cross.  Here is blood that washes us clean of the stain of our sin.  Here is life that even death cannot kill.  Here is hope for a people convinced that there is nothing left worth hoping for, nothing left to look forward to.
    On this day, we become people of joy – joy not in what we have done but what our Lord has done for us.  Our joy is complete because it does not waver in the ups and downs of our human hearts and lives.  It stands on the Lord who keeps His Word, who dies our death and rises to give us His life.  We are joyful people – not happy people who skip through life as if death were not real, but a people filled with the holy joy that knows life stronger than death, so we ask rejoicing, "Death where is your sting?  Grave where your victory?"
    That does not mean there is nothing left for us to do.  There is.  But the heavy lifting of sin's ransom has been paid.  The pathway through death to life has been forged in Christ; we don't have to clear its way.  He has.  What is left for us is to trust, to believe, to rejoice in this Gospel for you and for me.  What is left for us is to live in this holy joy throughout this mortal life until we are delivered from every restraint to know this joy face to face in heaven.  What is left for us is to go back into the hopeless world proclaiming Christ our hope.  What is left for us is to challenge the darkness of despair and disappointment with the light of forgiveness, life, and salvation.
    We do not choose between the cross and the empty tomb.  It comes as one complete package.  We proclaim Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  We look for the life that is to come which His resurrection has made possible. Through out this mortal life, we struggle to let His Word be enough for us to hold on to.  In the midst of our broken and wounded lives, faith cries out “Alleluia!”  Amid doubt, fear, guilt, pain, and sorrow, faith insists: “Christ is Risen!”  When it seems that death, disappointment, and despair have stolen our joy, we look to the cross, we proclaim the resurrection and we steal back our joy – the joy of Christ and the joy of being in Christ, for today and forevermore.  Amen.

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