Preached Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014, 7am service
Texts: 2 Corinthians 5:14-21; John 20:11-18
This sermon references this Chuck Knows Church video “Resurrection”
which we played earlier in the service.
What a joy it is to gather here this morning, to celebrate this day which is the centerpiece of what it means to be a Christian. We have come to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As the women came together early in the morning on that first Easter Sunday to anoint Jesus’ body, so too we gather in this place. But rather than finding the body of their teacher and friend, they are confronted with an angel who tells them, “you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here” (Mark 16:6). These words change the world; these the words change us: “He has been raised.”
The good news we come to celebrate is that Jesus is not simply a historical teacher, whose wisdom continues through the ages. Rather, what we celebrate is a living Lord and Savior. The one with whom we continue to be in relationship.
A traditional Easter greeting in the church was for the priest or leader to say, “He is risen!” and the congregation would enthusiastically reply, “He is risen, indeed!” Let’s try that.
Mary mistakes Jesus for the gardener
When John tells the story in his gospel, he includes a detail the others do not. He tells us Jesus was crucified near a garden, and because he was taken from the cross very near the beginning of the Sabbath, the day observant Jews are not permitted to do any work, Jesus was put in a tomb in that nearby garden (John 19:41-42).
Now John is a masterful writer, who continually makes references outside of the story to things from the Hebrew Scriptures which his original readers would have known well. So this reference to a garden, is not intended to simply add to the pastoral beauty of the scene, but is instead intended to have us recall one of those stories from the Old Testament—the story of creation. When we turn to Genesis 2 we find that when God created the first human beings, he placed them in a garden.
When Jesus is resurrected, it happens in a garden. You probably heard how John again makes this point when he tells us, not only that Mary does not recognize Jesus but she mistakes him for the gardener. In a symbolic sense, she mistakes him for Adam, the first man, the keeper of the garden in Genesis 2.
Jesus’ resurrection ushers in a whole new way of being, a new creation, a new age—a term we read frequently in the gospels. God is doing something very, very new and we get to be part of it. In Jesus’ resurrection, we know that death, destruction, and despair don’t get the last word. We know violence, cynicism, hatred, and oppression are temporary. As Easter people we know this world matters. We know the people around us matter. We know God is doing something, right here, right now. We are not people who are called to simply sit around defeated by the world, knowing death will come one day and we will have it better on the other side. Rather, we are called to be Easter people, now—today, and tomorrow, through the summer, and even at Christmastime. We are people who are called to live resurrection!
In Easter, we know hope. We know that the powers of the world have not, cannot, and will not prevail. We know that even in our darkest days there is hope. We know the story of Jesus did not end on the cross on Friday. We know death did not get the last word. Instead, Jesus’ story continued in a garden on that first Easter Sunday when he physically, bodily rose from the dead. We know Jesus’ story continues today, as we have met him in a way we cannot completely describe. We know it will continue into eternity, to the day of resurrection for us all, when we will live with Jesus in the Kingdom of God he came to share with us, as it comes in its fullness.
This is not a day where we try to deny the tragedies of life, and pretend the pain we suffer is not a big deal. No, we gathered on Good Friday to relive Jesus’ death. We were came together again on Saturday, to grieve the day of Jesus’ death. We need to remember the whole Easter story, happens in a graveyard. Jesus’ followers have come to a tomb to mourn his death, to care for his body, to perform one final loving act for the one who has given their lives new meaning and power. There is gratitude for his life, and great grief as they watched it tragically taken from him, from them.
We know the pain all too well. We too have stood over caskets. We too have heard doctors give diagnoses we struggled to comprehend. We too have been deeply wounded by the structures of power in the world around us. We know sadness and grief, just like the disciples. We too have been victims of a world that just is not right.
David Crowder’s “Here Is Our King”
In the final week of 2004, David Crowder spent two days glued to the 24-hour news channels. With us, he was fixed to the television getting reports about the earthquake in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Sumatra, and the tsunami that followed. The tragedy claimed the lives of nearly 230,000 people in fourteen countries. Crowder is a Christian singer and songwriter, so as he processed what he was watching, he began to write. He wrote the song we just sang, “Here Is Our King.” Giving the story behind the song, Crowder writes:
we know things aren’t right, we know that things aren’t as they were intended… It is the depth of our fall upon us. Even the ground under our feet is not right. The air we breathe is not right. Here though, the hope I have found in Christ miraculously expands. I believe that we are part of a bigger story unfolding. I believe that the rescue of creation has been coming toward us for a long time… but the even greater thing, the thing that expands in my chest in this moment is that there is more coming! He is coming to set things right. He is coming to set things straight… after this brokenness, after these tears, after this fury, after this tearing that is life…finally, finally…we will lift up our heads…finally…and the clouds will break…and finally…he who is all light and healing… Finally… Finally… Majesty. Here (“Song Stories”).
This is the hope of resurrection we celebrate this morning. We know the world is not right. We know everything including the ground under our feet, the air we breathe, and the people around us are not what they were created to be. We feel in our bones a need for justice, a whisper in our hearts there is so much more to life than what we’ve been taught, we have seen beauty and long for more. We feel connected to people we have never met, celebrating in their triumphs, grieving in their struggles, knowing there is something bringing us together (Wright).
In the midst of our tragedies, we know there is something greater. We know there is newness, majesty. We know, in the dead and cold of winter, that spring is coming—which is why spring is one of the popular themes of Easter. We know when life is at its darkest, God is still God and Jesus is still with us. Hope is not out there somewhere waiting to arrive. No, it is right here, right now. Resurrection is the claim that majesty is here, finally. It is the bold statement that God gets the last word—not the evil, the sin, the brokenness. We know, in the end, and in the now, God wins!
As Jesus emerges from the tomb on Easter Sunday, we know hope in a way we hadn’t before. This is the central message of the Gospel. The entirety of scripture points toward it. In the midst of all the brokenness, there is always hope. There is always hope. There is always hope. For God is making all things new.
And more than just waiting for it, God invites us to participate in it.
The old has gone, the new is here.
When I was a kid growing up in southern New Jersey, we would periodically drive past a billboard a few miles from our house. While the pictures on the billboard would change, the words were always the same, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new,”—2 Corinthians 5:17 from the King James Version of the Bible. This sign was on the property of a Christian retreat center called America’s Keswick. All I really knew about it growing up was the sign.
Later, when I entered in the ministry, I took youth from the church I was serving to Keswick for a weekend retreat every winter. In the chapel at Keswick many of the youth I pastored had powerful encounters with Christ, many for the very first time. On my first retreat there with the youth, I learned more about Keswick, including that across the lake from the retreat center, there was a residential addiction recovery center. Since 1897, men have been coming to Keswick free of charge for residential treatment for alcoholism.
For Keswick and the men it serves, 2 Corinthians 5:17 has tremendous power. The old which has passed away is the alcoholic self; and the new one is becoming is sober – renewed and restored to life with family, friends, work, etc. It is a transformation, a foretaste right here, right now, of the resurrection to come.
When we take youth on mission trips, and we see homes transformed, people fed, and lonely people get connected to a group of teenagers—we get to see a piece of the resurrection to come. When we give food to be distributed by Tri-Lakes Cares, and see people’s lives turned around, we are participating in this new life. When a house is rebuilt in Black Forest, and those who had been living in a camper are now able to return home, God is using us in his project of restoration and renewal. When we connect with a friend who is struggling through a difficult marriage, with one who is suffering as their spouse’s memory fades, with a parent who is living through hell with their teenager, when we listen to one who is struggling with diagnosis or grieving the loss of a loved one, we are participating in God’s good plan to make all things new.
Make no mistake about it, as Chuck said in our video clip, we are Easter people. When everything is coming crashing down around us, when we are feeling as though things will never get better, when it feels like all the bad around us is winning—it is just then when we experience resurrection!
Easter Sunday is not just a celebration of something that happened 2,000 years ago. Today we celebrate what has happened in Christ, continues to happen in part today, and will happen in fullness in a day to come.
Today is a day of celebration—not of bunnies, chocolate, and springtime (although I like all those things)—but a day to celebrate resurrection. A day to celebrate, and accept the invitation to be part of new life – Majesty! Finally! Here!!
“Song Stories.” Bethel Church – Temple TX – A Life-Giving Church in Central Texas. Web. 16 Apr. 2014. <http://www.bethele3.org/ministries/worship-arts/song-stories.html>.
Wright, N. T. Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006. Print.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotations of Scripture are from the New Revised Standard Version available online at BibleGateway.com.