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Sermon based on Mark 16:1-8
2,712,630. According to the Centers for Disease Control in the United States of America from their most recent data this is the number of people who died in the United States of America from 2016. The five leading causes of death and the number of deaths within each category is the following:
- Heart Disease = 633,842
- Cancer = 595.930
- Respiratory Disease = 155,041
- Accidents = 146, 571
- Stroke = 140,323
I certainly wish these statistics were an April fool’s Day joke but sadly they are not. What makes these numbers more than just a statistic for us is that those people who are included in these figures are parents, spouses, siblings, friends, and even our children. When our parents or spouse die, a part of our past goes with them. When our children die a part of our future goes with them. When any loved one dies, it is safe to say a part of us goes with them.
The late C.S. Lewis was a great writer and theologian who married later in his life to Joy Davidman. Their celebrated marriage was chronicled in a popular play and later a movie entitled Shadowland. Their relationship was a short-lived one because cancer took her life. When she died, Lewis said that the pain of her loss was not centralized in certain places or at certain times but in Lewis’ own words, “Her absence was like the sky, spread over everything.” Every death brings to someone a sense of loss and that sense of loss also brings us a sense of pain. These types of feelings were no different for those followers of Jesus. On Friday the disciples of Jesus lost their mentor and friend. Jesus’ death for them was like the description used by C.S. Lewis. Jesus’ absence was like the sky, spread over everything. Everything they had been a part of over the past three years of their life and everything that they believed in was gone. For the disciples who felt this way it probably seemed like an April Fool’s Day joke to later learn what happened when the women mentioned in our gospel lesson Mary Magdalene, and Mary, the mother of James and Salome went to the tomb early Easter morning.
They came to the tomb to pay their final respects to Jesus and to anoint him with spices to preserve his body. They too, had lost their hopes and dreams that Jesus’ life and ministry had given to them. To magnify their loss, as they arrived to the tomb, they could not find Jesus’ body. Our Scripture passage says that they discovered a young man dressed in a white robe. He told them not be alarmed and offered these words to them:
Do not be alarmed, you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He has been raised, he is not here. (Mark 16:6)
Filled with fear they were instructed to inform the other disciples, but because of their fear they chose not to say anything to anyone. Like those first witnesses, sometimes, we too have difficulty in believing the truth about Easter. As we speak about the truth of Easter it’s interesting to note that every year thousands of people climb a mountain in the Italian Alps, passing the “Stations of the Cross.” The Stations of the Cross for those who are unfamiliar was originally a devotional practice of the Catholics that commemorates the death of Jesus Christ. There are 14 stations, each one standing for an event that occurred prior to Jesus’ death. Commonly, plaques depicting each station are placed along the walls of a church or on this case in the Italian Alps along a trail. As a person makes their way past each station, they are to meditate and pray about that event. It was once reported that a person walking along the Stations of the Cross there in the AIps noticed a little trail that led beyond the cross. They fought through the rough thicket and, to their surprise, came upon another shrine. This shrine symbolized the empty tomb of Jesus and obviously it was a shrine that had been neglected. The brush had grown up around that part of the trail so many travelers had gone as far as the cross, but stopped there. As Christians, far too many of us have gotten to the cross. We like the disciples have known the despair and the heartbreak. Not all of us this morning have moved beyond the cross to find the real message of Easter found in the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus.
Annie Johnson Flint has written a wonderful poem that helps communicate this message of Easter. Flint’s poem is as follows:
Some of us stay at the cross,
some of us wait at the tomb,
Quickened and raised with Christ
yet lingering still in the gloom.
Some of us ‘bide at the Passover feast
with Pentecost all unknown,
The triumphs of grace in the heavenly place
that our Lord has made His own.
If the Christ who died had stopped at the cross,
His work had been incomplete.
If the Christ who was buried had stayed in the tomb,
He had only known defeat,
But the way of the cross never stops at the cross
and the way of the tomb leads on
To victorious grace in the heavenly place
where the risen Lord has gone.
That is the message of Easter. The message is loud and clear for us today: THE LORD HAS RISEN. HE HAS RISEN INDEED! The resurrection of Jesus proved to us the claims Jesus made about himself, that he was the Son of God in the flesh that he would die and on the third day following his death would be resurrected.
No longer would people have to follow rules and traditions to find salvation, instead they would need only believe that Jesus died and was resurrected so that we may inherit eternal life. During the Lenten season some church members joined me in a study of the gospel of John entitled, John The Gospel of Light and Life. The author of this book a Methodist pastor named Adam Hamilton had this to say about the resurrection of Jesus. Hamilton said that the Resurrection has the power to transform our sorrow into joy and hope and our fear into peace and courage. Over the years when Hamilton has been asked whether the Resurrection of Jesus is really true his reply has been the following, “Not only do I believe in the Resurrection but I’m counting on it!”
We too can count on the that fact that through our personally accepting Christ as our Risen Lord and Savior we can inherit the kingdom of heaven and its riches. We who are lost can be found on Easter Day! For Jesus’ closest followers they had been to the depths of despair as they watched Jesus being crucified on the cross at Calvary. They had experienced confusion, fear, and hopelessness as they tried to make sense out of what happened.
Then came the news that Jesus promised three days later when he was raised from the dead. There were moments of doubt in some, as we see from our account told in Mark, but the thrilling episodes of meeting the Lord and hearing his voice once again in the days to come, rejuvenated their spirit. With the resurrection of Jesus, came an exciting new hope and new life for the disciples. That Easter experience was a new beginning for the disciples, a beginning that did not really manifest itself until the day of Pentecost with the empowering of the Holy Spirit. But Easter turned everything around and made Pentecost possible. The Resurrection of Jesus means that we never lose hope. Through the events of today, death’s sting has been conquered forever. Remembering these words that we often pray at a burial service for a loved one in the Moravian Church:
Where, death, is your victory? Where, grave, is your sting? It is sin which gives death its power, and it is the Law which gives sin its strength. All thanks to God, who delivered us from the fear of death, the power of sin and the condemnation of the Law. Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Indeed let us celebrate this new life from death for Jesus’ resurrection has taken the sting from death and we have inherited God’s greatest gift, new life in the heavenly kingdom.
Our closing prayer also from our Moravian Liturgy for Burial says the following:
Glory be to him who is the Resurrection and the Life. Even though we die, he gives us life now and forever. Glory be to Christ, in the church which waits for him on earth, and in the church which is around him in heaven, forever and ever. Amen
The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.
April 1, 2018