Easter Sunday Sermon - 2012


Sermons for Easter

John 20:1-9 - "Why I Believe in The Resurrection"

Mark 16:1-8 - "Be Hatched or Go Bad" by Leonard Sweet

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You probably do not remember the name Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin. During his day he was as powerful a man as there was on earth. A Russian Communist leader he took part in the Bolshevik Revolution 1917, was editor of the Soviet newspaper Pravda (which by the way means truth), and was a full member of the Politburo. His works on economics and political science are still read today. There is a story told about a journey he took from Moscow to Kiev in 1930 to address a huge assembly on the subject of atheism. Addressing the crowd he aimed his heavy artillery at Christianity hurling insult, argument, and proof against it.
An hour later he was finished. He looked out at what seemed to be the smoldering ashes of men's faith. "Are there any questions?" Bukharin demanded. Deafening silence filled the auditorium but then one man approached the platform and mounted the lectern standing near the communist leader. He surveyed the crowd first to the left then to the right. Finally he shouted the ancient greeting known well in the Russian Orthodox Church: "CHRIST IS RISEN!" En masse the crowd arose as one man and the response came crashing like the sound of thunder: "HE IS RISEN INDEED!"

I say to you this morning: CHRIST IS RISEN! (congregational response should be: HE IS RISEN INDEED!). I am convinced! I have faith that Christ was dead and he was buried. That I believe. But, this too I accept as true: He rose from the dead and will come again in glory.

This is Easter. And to stand here on this day in this pulpit and proclaim this word. . . I cannot begin to tell you how this defines all that I am.

But, you will say to me, how do you know that the resurrection is real? How do you know that it is really valid?

 1. Because someone told me about the Resurrection
2. Because the Resurrection as stood the test of time
3. Because I have experienced the Resurrection

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 Christ is Risen!

 [The people respond:] He is risen indeed!
Happy Easter, everyone!
"Because I live," Jesus said in John 14:19, "you also will live."

 I wonder: how many of you are sitting out there, festooned in your Easter Sunday best, but your fingers are slightly stained? How many of you colored Easter eggs this weekend? I do think I can see some pinks, blues, greens, and purples shining on your fingers from all the Easter eggs you colored, hid, found, cracked, or consumed.

Take comfort in this: you are not alone. Just over one billion real eggs are dipped and dyed every Easter in America. The Dudley egg dye company sells over 10 million egg dying kits every year. No wonder we are such a colorful bunch!

Yet eggs sometimes get a bad rap at Easter. Eggs are such a widely used symbolic food. Everyone from dancing druids and pagan fertility gods to - worst of all - bored kids on Halloween, have all claimed eggs as some sort of special specimen for themselves.

 The Christian use of eggs at Easter probably has roots in a host of different cultures and traditions. But there are two connections that make the "Easter egg" a powerful symbol for this miraculous morning. Jesus' final journey to Jerusalem brought him there to celebrate Pesach, Passover, in that holy city. The Last Supper was a Passover Seder. One of the ritual foods arranged on everyone's Passover plate was a hard-boiled egg, the "beitzah."

This egg symbolized the "chagigah," a ritual sacrifice made in the Temple. After the Temple was destroyed this egg also became a "mourner's" reminder. The Temple sacrifice could no longer be made, because the Temple no longer existed. In Orthodox Judaism hard boiled eggs are still offered to mourners as their first food after a funeral.

 For Christians on Easter Sunday - as Mark and all the gospels tell us - funeral rites were transformed. The women who came to the tomb early Sunday morning were focused on mourning...
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The Easter Choice

 When faced with new realities, you have at least three options for how to respond (and it is nearly certain that you will opt for one of these three possibilities). First, you can stay bewildered. You can let this event knock you flat on your back and then stay there. Second, you can engage in world-class denial. You can look at the facts and ignore them. Or third, you can, slowly perhaps, assimilate this new information. You may get knocked as flat on your back as the next person by this new realization, but eventually you pick yourself up. You embrace this new truth and then go through the long, sometimes painful, process of re-assessing life in the light of this new evidence.

 This is the Easter choice. When faced with the incredible proclamation that Jesus rose again from the dead, you can be agnostic and cynical by saying that you don't know what to make of this but then neither are you going to try. Who cares anyway? Or you can deny it. The whole thing is fiction, fantasy, a pious wish but something that never really happened. Or you can move past the shock toward acceptance. But let me caution you: if you are going to accept the truth of the bodily resurrection, you need to let it change you totally.

 That's the Easter choice. The problem for most of us is that we are not surprised enough by Easter to realize we face a choice. Easter is a part of the background scenery of our lives. We've never been afraid of Easter, never been bewildered by it. Believing that Jesus rose again from the dead becomes a little like believing the earth is round and that it orbits the sun. Once upon a time people didn't know that. They thought the earth was flat and that the sun orbited the earth. It caused quite a stir when this view had to be revised. But that was a long time ago and now we accept that picture of our solar system without much thought. Sure the world is round and we orbit the sun, but what does that have to do with anything? It doesn't change what I have to do at work tomorrow, does it?

 Is that what Easter becomes for us? We believe it happened but then, we've always believed that. Even Easter has somehow become part of the "routines" of this world. So why would it have much of an effect on what we do tomorrow? Easter is no longer shocking for us--it surely does not make us re-evaluate everything else we think we know. And anyway, we're not sure we want to have everything in our lives changed.

 Of course, if we can believe in the resurrection at all, it is a gift of faith granted to us by the prior gift of grace. But if we have received that grace and accept the truth that gets proclaimed from every Christian pulpit in the world each Easter Sunday morning, then we have to know that this truth changes everything. This is not some fact we can ponder just once every twelve months. This changes everything.... and on EVERY day.

 Scott Hoezee, Comments and Observations
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 What You Love Will Not Be Spared

In recent weeks, I have been reading a powerful book of poetry by Louise Glück, entitled Averno. The title Averno takes its name from a crater lake in southern Italy that during the time of ancient Rome was thought to be the entrance to the underworld. In one of Glück's most haunting poems in this collection, called October, she contemplates the season of autumn and the gradual, day-by-day dimming of light that goes along with that time of the year. Her poem is about cold winds and changing leaves, but is also, of course, about us, for we cannot escape the eventual fading of the light. In stark terms, she writes, "You will not be spared, nor will what you love be spared." When I first read those words, I had a physical reaction to them. A sharp pain squeezed my forehead, and I began to weep. I wept because these words are undeniably true, and I wept because I hate their truth. Sure, there are times when I grapple with the fact of my own mortality, but I don't ever want to be told that the people who I love will not be spared. Don't tell me that they won't survive this life--not one of them. I imagine that the sight of the empty tomb hit the three visiting women like that...what you love will not be spared.

Easter begins with fear. At least that's the way Mark tells it. It's not that Easter begins with wild panic--no, not that. Easter begins with the kind of fear that feels a lot like heart-break. It begins with the twist in your stomach that comes when the phone rings and you hear the voice of your sister. "Are you sitting down?" she asks--that kind of fear.

Early in the morning, three women approach the tomb bearing precious herbs and oils to wash the body of their Lord. They have come to comb out Jesus' hair, to sponge away the dried blood, to massage precious myrrh into his skin. They hope to engage in the ritual act (the act of care) that is traditionally done before sealing a body in the tomb. They have come to anoint the crucified one. Yet, even as they discuss how they will gain access to the cave (after all, it is closed by a massive boulder), they find that the stone has been rolled away. The tomb is empty--vacant, except for some young guy who is definitely not Jesus; and suddenly, they are afraid. They fear that their last chance to pour a little compassion on the broken body of Jesus has escaped. They fear that they are witnessing the final insult of this whole horrible affair. First, Jesus' life is stolen, and now, even his body has been taken. And, perhaps, they also fear... no, they simply must fear that death has won. Death, the ever-ravenous monster, has finally, and utterly, swallowed up their beloved friend.

Scott Black Johnston, Deadly Things
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 Ongoing Easter

 Ongoing Easter gets us finally home at last, for life is not an endless circle but life is moving to an end point. The crowning achievement of the risen Lord is to bring us finally home together with the whole family of God in that transition from time into eternity. It is a great privilege to witness that transition in the lives of people and I think of one this Easter day. Her name was Augusta. She lived 100 years, raised in the prairies of South Dakota, faced every manner of hardship and heartache, but was buoyant and lived on the resurrection side of the cross, raised a family. In the last hour of her life standing with her daughters around her in the hospital room, I heard her bless her daughters. Being a mother to the very end and with a twinkle in her eye, looked at the faces of her daughters around her and pointed to them each one and said, "Too much lipstick," and then closed her eyes in peaceful death.

That is the goal toward which the ongoing Easter draws us and transforms our dark, gloomy mornings into a shining doxology. We say with all the faithful of all of the ages, blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. By His great mercy, we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to an inheritance that is imperishable, unfailing and undefiled, kept in heaven for you. Though you must go through various trials, all this is so that your faith may redound to the praise, glory and honor of Jesus Christ. Without having seen Him, we love Him, and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. The outcome of your faith is the salvation of your souls.
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The Legend of the Touchstone

 Do you remember the Legend of the Touchstone? It's a great story to recall on Easter Sunday morning. According to that ancient legend, if you could find the touchstone on the coast of the Black Sea and hold it in your hand, everything you touched would turn to gold. You could recognize the touchstone by its warmth. The other stones would feel cold, but when you picked up the touchstone, it would turn warm in your hand.

Once a man sold everything he had and went to the coast of the Black Sea in search of the touchstone. He began immediately to walk along the shoreline picking up one stone after another in his diligent and intentional search for the touchstone. He was consumed with this dream. He wanted desperately to find this miraculous stone. However, after several days had passed, he suddenly realized that he was picking up the same stones again and again. So he devised a plan... pick up a stone; if it's cold, throw it into the sea. This he did for weeks and weeks.

Then one morning he went out to continue his search for the touchstone. He picked up a stone; it was cold... he threw it into the sea. He picked up another stone - cold! He threw it into the sea. He picked up another stone... it turned warm in his hand, and before he realized what he was doing... he threw it into the sea!

That's a good parable for Easter, isn't it? Because that can so easily happen to us. We can come upon a miraculous moment like Easter... we can feel it turn warm in our hands... but then (so dulled by the routine) before we realize what we are doing... we throw it away. Absentmindedly, mechanically, nonchalantly... we toss it aside and miss the miracle of Easter.
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Humor: The Gospel Has Been Proclaimed

 A first year student in a Catholic seminary was told by the dean that he should plan to preach the sermon in chapel the following day. He had never preached a sermon before, he was nervous and afraid, and he stayed up all night, but in the morning, he didn't have a sermon. He stood in the pulpit, looked out at his classmates and said "Do you know what I am going to say?" All of them shook their heads "no" and he said "Neither do I. The service has ended. Go in peace."

The dean was not happy. "I'll give you another chance tomorrow, and you had better have a sermon." Again he stayed up all night; and again he couldn't come up with a sermon. Next morning, he stood in the pulpit and asked "Do you know what I am going to say?" The students all nodded their heads "yes." "Then there is no reason to tell you" he said. "The service has ended. Go in peace."

Now the dean was angry. "I'll give you one more chance; if you don't have a sermon tomorrow, you will be asked to leave the seminary." Again, no sermon came. He stood in the pulpit the next day and asked "Do you know what I am going to say?" Half of the students nodded "yes" and the other half shook their heads "no." The student preacher then announced "Those who know, tell those who don't know. The service has ended. Go in peace."

The seminary dean walked over to the student, put his arm over the student's shoulders, and said "Those who know, tell those who don't know. Today, the gospel has been proclaimed."

Steven Molin
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Old Clothes

When I was a girl, I spent a lot of time in the woods, which were full of treasures for me. At night I lined them up on my bed: fat flakes of mica, buckeyes bigger than shooter marbles, blue jay feathers, bird bones and -- if I was lucky -- a cicada shell, one of those dry brown bug bodies you can find on tree trunks when the 17-year locusts come out of the ground. I liked them for at least two reasons.

First, because they were horrible looking, with their huge empty eye sockets and their six sharp little claws. By hanging them on my sweater or -- better yet -- in my hair, I could usually get the prettier, more popular girls at school to run screaming away from me, which somehow evened the score.

I also liked them because they were evidence that a miracle had occurred. They looked dead, but they weren't. They were just shells. Every one of them had a neat slit down its back, where the living creature inside of it had escaped, pulling new legs, new eyes, new wings out of that dry brown body and taking flight. At night I could hear them singing their high song in the trees. If you had asked them, I'll bet none of them could have told you where they left their old clothes.

That is all the disciples saw when they got to the tomb on that first morning --two piles of old clothes.

Barbara Brown Taylor, "Escape From the Tomb," article in The Christian Century, April 1, 1998, page 339.
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 When Is Easter This Year?

In an article in The Christian Century, history professor Steve Ware asks the question, "When Is Easter this year?"

For those of you who didn't learn this in confirmation class, the date of Easter corresponds to the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Seriously.

In his article, Ware explains how this came to be. Here's the short version of the story: In 325 A.D., Constantine, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, convened the Council of Nicea. Among the business before the council was to establish a uniform date for Easter. Out of the discussion and debate came the "Easter Rule," setting Easter, as I said, on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. As is often the case with church councils, the decision was not unanimous. The Eastern bishops wanted to schedule Easter in conjunction with the Jewish Festival of Passover since, after all, Jesus went to Jerusalem, in the first place, to celebrate Passover. The Western bishops preferred a date corresponding with the beginning of spring, because that was the time already established for a lot of pagan celebrations, and they figured to capitalize on the momentum. This is why, to this day, we have such things as the Easter Bunny and colored eggs associated with Easter. Well, on this, and other issues, the church eventually split. To this day, we, who are descendents of the Western line of Christendom, use a different calendar than the Eastern Orthodox churches. Sometimes our celebration of Easter falls on the same day, and sometimes it varies by as much as five weeks!