Saturday, April 4, 2015

Glory to God! Easter Sunday Sermon

Glory to God!                                                                        4/5/15
Mark 16:1-8, Philippians 3:7-14

A decade ago, perhaps you watched the television show Alias.  It was a spy thriller series, in which a daughter/father team stood for justice and attempt to keep one step ahead of the antagonist Arvin Sloane.  Arvin was attempting to reconstruct a series of prophesies from a 12th century Italian philosopher, which, if done correctly, would lead to eternal life.  Jack and Sydney Bristow made it their mission to hinder Arvin Sloane, a murdering, conniving, ruthless man, from getting his hands on the formula for eternal life.

In the series finale, Arvin is able to create the elixir that will bring eternal life, and in the presence of Jack Bristow, drinks and receives his long desired wish.  He will live forever.  I remember the first time I saw this:  they are setting themselves up for a new series.  But alas, no, this was not the case. Arvin drinks the elixir while standing in a cave, in front of Jack, who then proceeds, in a truly masterful plot twist, to blow up the entrance to the cave:  the rocks enclose Arvin Sloane in his cave.  He will live forever, alone with no chance to live anywhere but the cave.

The godless, graceless, selfish attempt to live forever ultimately backfired on Arvin.  But it is a back drop for us today of how godly, grace-filled and selfless is God’s plan of redemption.  The picture of eternal life from the Lord’s eyes is one filled with wonder, majesty, life and beauty.  And it has come to us because of the story we celebrate today.

Easter is both a bookend and a springboard.  It is one of the two bookends in the Holy Week series. Easter’s mirror is Palm Sunday, with its praise and triumph of Jesus Christ.  But in between these two celebrations, is the mystery of God’s plan, with its betrayal and fear, and sadness and death on a cross.  The Easter Bookend brings together the great variety of emotions and experiences of that first holy week.

Easter is also a springboard.  It projects us into the future:  the story of the resurrection brings with it the answer to the great enemy of death, God’s promise to us in his prototype of Jesus, and the glory of new life in Christ.  As a bookend and a springboard, Easter calls us to look back in review, and to look forward with a promise.

The worst Sabbath was complete, and now the women could return to anointing the body of Jesus.  Mary, Mary and Salome were followers of the Lord, financing and supporting the ministry of Jesus.  They were with him at the cross, and were there when Joseph of Arimathea took the body of Jesus from the cross, and were going to the tomb on that third day to do their work.  Along the way, in what to me is a very humorous detail in Mark’s gospel, they ask one another as they are walking to the tomb, “who will roll away the stone from the tomb’s entrance?”  The short answer is that God will provide.  God’s provision is evident in several details of the story.
·       God provides by rolling the stone away.
·       God provides a white robed messenger, to speak to the women, whose first words to the alarmed women are, “don’t be”.
·       God provides the truth:  You are looking for Jesus who was crucified, he isn’t here.  Look for yourselves.
·       God provides a mission:  Go and tell the disciples, and Peter.
·       God provides a promise:  He is going ahead of you into Galilee.  There you will see him, just as he told you.

St. Augustine taught “no doctrine of the Christian faith is so vehemently opposed” as the resurrection.  The idea of resurrection is deeply embedded in human history, though in Augustine’s time there was great debate about whether or not the body accompanies the soul into heaven.  Things have changed since Augustine’s time, and in the modern world, the resurrection isn’t so much opposed as it is ignored, or packaged as a cute sermon for Easter, or scoffed at as mythology.  But if we were to look at Scripture, the theme of resurrection is found consistently throughout its pages, and is the core of the Christian faith:  Jesus died for our sins.  God’s power raised him from death and made him alive again.

We read the gospels and it is easier to relate to some of Jesus’ other teachings and commands:  Love one another.  Ok.  It can be hard at times, but we get it.  Let your yes be yes and your no be no.  It is a challenge not to make an oath, but we can agree that it is beneficial to speak simply.  But resurrection?  What does that mean?  We can’t speak to it the way we can other teachings from our Lord.  Yet our faith is built upon resurrection.  Paul writes, “if we have faith only for this life, we are to be pitied more than all people” (I Co. 15:19) and, “if the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die” (15:32)

The Apostle’s Creed affirms the importance of resurrection by naming it twice, with 14 of the creed’s 110 words devoted to the subject.  “On the third day Christ rose again from the dead”, and in the final paragraph, I believe “in the resurrection of the body”.

Our modern fractured world ignores the healing that comes from Scripture and the gospel proclaimed by the church.  Jesus rose from the dead.  He was the first.  There will be a resurrection of our bodies.   We follow Jesus.

The resurrection that leads to eternal life, the good kind mind you, not the Arvin Sloane in a cave model, is found through Jesus Christ.  We place our faith in him.  Our righteousness, Paul writes, comes from faith in Christ.  It is not our own resume that gets us into heaven, but rather, the righteousness that comes from God, and faith in God’s son.

Paul made it his spiritual mission to know the Lord, to know Christ’s resurrection power, to know the fellowship of sharing in the Lord’s sufferings, becoming like Christ in death and resurrection.  Hymn writer James Montgomery captures this idea in his hymn Go to Dark Gethsemane:  The last words of each stanza read like this:

Turn not from his griefs away, learn from Jesus Christ to pray.
Shun not suffering, shame or loss, learn from Christ to bear the
“It is finished!” hear him cry; learn from Jesus Christ to die.
Christ is risen!  He meets our eyes.  Savior, teach us so to rise.

Jesus worked out salvation for us.  But in our discipleship, we experience life through the lens of Christ:  life, death, and the future make sense through him.

Paul writes:  My goal is to win the prize for which we are called heavenward.  For this goal, Paul says that “Jesus took hold of him”.   We are claimed through Jesus Christ for a great purpose, and at a great cost.  This is ultimately why Resurrection is important!  Resurrection explains the cross, explains why our bodies matter, and affirms the family of faith.

Scripture says that “For the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).  If Jesus had simply died, and that was the end of the story, there would be no story.  It would have been meaningless.  But Jesus, through his resurrection, opens the door to heaven, enters himself, and then invites you and I.

Because Jesus invites us, we should take life very seriously.  It is a gift.  And we will give account of the gift given us.  The Scripture says that “our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit” (I Co. 6:19).  That the Holy Spirit would make home within us is not a meaningless gesture.  It speaks that God feels the body is important, not just a place to hold the spirit, but, along with the spirit and soul, raised on that last day by the resurrection power of God.

It is not just our bodies that we are concerned with, but the people we have come to know and love and live alongside.  Resurrection affirms a good future for you, but also for those around you.  For those you love, and for those whose earthly life has ended.

Today we celebrate the bookend of Holy Week:  Triumph, cross and resurrection are intricately connected in Scripture.  The theme of today also springs us into new life in Christ.  The choice before you is to believe that the message should be kept to one Sunday a year, as a cute story that we can let out on Easter (but no other time), or if it really is part of the gospel, and therefore, true:  God’s good news, for you, your household, your neighbor, and all of creation.  If this is the case, then stand with me to proclaim:  Christ is risen:  He has risen indeed.

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