To read this sermon from The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr. click on “Continue reading” below.
I remember my first Holy Week experience as a Moravian pastor serving the Covenant congregation in Wilmington, North Carolina. I remember one evening awaiting members to gather for our reading services and I remember reading an article in a magazine about the Oklahoma City bombing that had taken place in 1995. This article was reporting about the trial that was getting ready to take place. To refresh our memories, this bombing took place just three days after Easter Sunday in 1995. The story I read chronicled what happened to the city following that horrific event. The article shared that barriers among people and churches were beginning to be taken down. Conversations in local restaurants often became spiritual in nature.
The article also spoke about a local pastor in town, Nick Harris who was pastor of the First United Methodist Church located across the street from the bombing site. Pastor Harris was suppose to be recording his weekly radio show in the sanctuary at the time the bombing took place but because the producer was late, both of their lives were spared. A couple of days later Harris was allowed to enter into the sanctuary of the church. There he witnessed one of God’s special miracles. Easter lilies had been left in the sanctuary along the altar and choir loft railing. While the bombing had shattered the windows and skylights in the sanctuary, those Easter lilies were still standing in place. Not a single one had been knocked out of place. Those Easter lilies given probably in honor or memory of loved ones served as a reminder that Jesus is far more powerful than death and that good is more powerful than evil and that love will always reign over hate. That is an important message worth communicating in the times we live in.
Our epistle lesson this morning from Corinthians also provides for us an important message for our time as this passage speaks of the truth of Easter Sunday:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures… (1st Corinthians 15:3-4)
That is the great news of the gospel according to the apostle Paul.
However, the very first news of Easter seemed to be no good news at all. The news that Mary Magdalene brought to Jesus’ disciples brought little encouragement or hope. We can only imagine the disbelief and shock of Jesus’ disciples when given the news from Mary. Here they were already grief stricken at the unexpected death of their Lord and Savior and Mary comes to share this news. Mary according to our gospel lesson had arrived to the tomb early that morning and noticed that the big stone covering the tomb had been pushed back. She of course went to tell the other disciples the first ones being Peter and John. In a foot race they rushed back to the site with John entering the tomb first to confirm that what Mary had shared was indeed true, their Lord and Savior was no longer present in the tomb. As the disciples returned home, Mary was left at the tomb weeping. As she reentered the tomb, she saw two angels, one sitting where Jesus’ head would have been and the other where his feet would have been. They asked her why she was weeping and suddenly a third figure appeared asking the same question. She mistook this person for the gardener. Only when Jesus spoke to Mary by name did what was real become real for her. Being addressed by the risen Christ, listening to him and doing as he asked of her gave Mary the assurance and ability to experience and share with others the joy of the resurrection. She rushed to the Upper Room and proclaimed to the other disciples, “I have seen the Lord!”
Many of us gathered here this morning have heard this gospel story many, many times before. Some of us might know by memory the events that happened on that first Easter morning. The same suspense that Mary and the other disciples experienced is simply not there for us. But hopefully this morning there is a desire to know and trust in God’s promises. We give thanks this day in the blessed assurance that because Jesus rose today we too will have life, in fact a new life to celebrate on Easter morning. Today has already been a day filled with celebration as many of us gathered this morning in God’s Acre for our Sunrise service. I love praying together our Easter Morning Liturgy.
Growing up in Charlotte we did not celebrate Easter morning outdoors with a service. Even while living in Pennsylvania attending Moravian Seminary, due to the winter conditions often still present, a sunrise service was often held indoors. One church I served held their Sunrise service on the campus of Lehigh University at the Stabler Observation tower, the highest point on their campus with views of the entire Lehigh Valley through their floor to ceiling windows. I remember one church member who worked for over 40 years as a coal miner. He shared with me how his occupation taught him the meaning of Easter Sunday. One of his responsibilities was to check the mine for methane gas before the rest of the crew could enter the mine. Each morning he took his safety light and would descend alone into the mine. Every tunnel and shaft would be checked to make sure no methane gas was present. If his safety lamp’s light began to flicker he knew there was a possibility the gas was present and he would run as quickly as he could towards the entrance out. It was rare that this happened but occasionally it did take place. Typically after a few minutes he would venture up and announce that it was safe to enter the mine. He compared this experience to Easter Sunday because essentially this is what Jesus Christ has done for each of us. Jesus indeed came out of the depths of death. He has announced to all who are gathered this morning that things are okay, that with his presence in our lives we are safe. Through our belief in Jesus’ resurrection we can enter in the darkness of the unknown and know that things are safe because of Jesus’ presence. We too can enter into the church triumphant one day with the assurance that we have new life, new life eternally with God in heaven.
Our gospel reading from John suggests that even with evidence or proof we may not have the peace and knowledge we seek. For Mary and the disciples the peace they needed and the belief they had that Jesus would rise again from dead was only reaffirmed when they came face to face with the risen Christ a few days later. Only at that time did they really believe. Oftentimes many people come to Easter morning with questions. A couple of questions people might be asking are the following:
- Why am I here?
- What will be my legacy upon my death?
For Mary and later for the disciples who saw Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus gave them hope of eternal life with God. They also recognized that Jesus was still a part of their lives. Even in his physical death, they did not lose Jesus for he was still present among them. When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior and desire to follow him in our lives as Christians, we too will not lose Jesus. Much too often when we gather for worship on Easter Sunday we focus our attention upon the empty tomb, the risen Lord and God’s victory over death as we should. Yet too often we fail to take into account the fact that like Christ, we too have been raised, raised to a higher standard of living. We must bear the responsibility for living our lives in new ways. As Scripture shares, we are new creatures in Christ, delivered from our sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. No matter how much darkness might try to take over our world and life, we can take comfort knowing that God loves us. God sent Jesus to be our sacrifice. God so loved the world that he gave us His only Son so that whoever believes in Him may not perish but have life eternal. Why are we here? One reason is to proclaim this truth to others.
In thinking of the second question, “What will be my legacy upon my death?” I am reminded of a time long ago when doctors would still make house calls to patients. A doctor was visiting a patient at their home who was nearing the end of their earthly life. A hospital bed had been set in their living room. As the doctor prepared to leave the patient inquired whether or not they would get better. The doctor who was a person of faith hesitated in answering. Taking the doctor’s hand the patient said, “I don’t want to die. Please tell me what lies on the other side?” The doctor quietly answered they were not sure they could answer that question to their satisfaction. They talked about the mystery of life and death for a few minutes and than the doctor prepared to leave. As the doctor prepared to leave and just as the doctor was opening the front door, a dog appeared and jumped into the doctor’s arm to their surprise and delight. The dog had been patiently waiting in the car but somehow how managed to roll down a window and jump out to wait for the doctor. Turning to the patient the doctor said, “This is my dog. She has never been in your house. She did not know what might be inside here. She only knew that her master was inside so she jumped out of the car without fear to wait for me.” The doctor continued, “I can not tell you what is on the other side of life, but I do know that my Master, my God and Jesus are there and that is enough. When that door is opened I will pass without fear into His presence.”
As the sun rose this morning, the sun will set later and the darkness of night will appear once again. On this special day, let us confess our faith, our desire to live a new life with our Lord. May we all listen to his voice calling us to go with joy and tell others that He Is Risen Indeed!
The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.
April 16, 2017