Easter Sermon: I Have Seen the Lord!

Easter morning always brings to mind memories of previous celebrations of the Risen Lord.

This day, this first Easter for me as a pastor, has me thinking of some of my favorite Easter memories. My memories of Easter as a child are of the traditions that the church celebrated, which are much like the ones we have here today. We would gather bright and early for the sunrise service, which was conducted from the back porch of the parsonage. (Now that I think about, that’s not a bad idea for next year.) Following the service, we would gather in the church’s Fellowship Hall for a breakfast prepared by the United Methodist Men.

Of course, the fun was then going home and getting ready to go back to church for Sunday School and Easter worship. We would put on our new suits and be warned not to eat any of our new candy so as not to ruin our new clothes. After church, we would gather around my grandmother’s table for an Easter dinner that I’m sure was filled with too much ham and too many rolls, but no one complained.

I’m sure you have memories of previous Easter celebrations that are special to you. Perhaps at some point today you thought about your first Easter with your children and remembered their amazement at all the candy in their baskets. Maybe you went back to previous Easter celebrations and different memories you have had in the church on this special day. Easter is a day we celebrate with our friends and family that Christ lives!

These memories are special and are part of what contributes to our holy celebration of the Risen Lord. Yet, I wonder if these memories, and perhaps our celebrations themselves, can become a distraction. Do we see the true meaning and purpose of Easter? Can we say that we have experienced the Risen Lord on Easter morning in a way that transforms and shapes us both today and tomorrow?

Mary Magdalene experienced something new on the first Easter morning. This reality is present in her statement, “I have seen the Lord.” It’s not a statement Mary expected to make when she arrived at Jesus’ tomb early that morning. On that Sunday morning, Mary – the other gospel narratives tell us she was with Mary, the mother of James, and Salome – came with the purpose of fully preparing Jesus’ body for his burial. After his crucifixion on Friday, his body was hastily prepared for burial because of the coming Sabbath. These three women, especially Mary, expected to see a body wrapped in funeral cloths. They did not expect to see the stone rolled away and an empty tomb.

They did not expect the resurrection, especially Mary, who was grief stricken at what she believed was a raiding of Jesus’ tomb. It wasn’t until she saw Jesus that she was able to understand what had taken place. When Jesus called her name, Mary turned and saw it was Jesus, the Risen Lord, that was beside her, not a gardener. Mary becomes the first witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. She is the first to see and experience the new reality that came on Easter morning. This would have been shocking for the people of that time, because a woman’s witness would have been considered invalid. Her witness is valid, and we stand as witnesses of what Mary saw, what the disciples saw, and what we have seen through faith today. The tomb is empty. Christ is not here. Jesus is alive!

On Easter morning, something amazing and beautiful took place. The resurrection is the most important day in the Christian calendar and is the climax of Jesus’ ministry. We might want to believe that it is the crucifixion that is the most important day, but without the resurrection, the crucifixion is lost to history. The resurrection of Jesus Christ informs the crucifixion and confirms all that Jesus did and continues to do through the Holy Spirit. In voluntarily raising from the dead, just as he voluntarily took on death, Jesus secures the victory over our sin and redeems humanity for a relationship with the Father.

That is what is beautiful about Easter. It’s not the candy, the flowers, and the baskets that make Easter beautiful. It is that God has created something new out of the foolishness of the cross and the amazement of the resurrection. Prior to this moment of time, the world was without true hope. It was a world that was filled with despair and, even more, a world where it believed its Lord had been unfairly killed. All that changed when Christ arose from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection redefined reality and created something new. No longer would the world be in charge. No longer would sin and death have the final say in matters. God had done something new. Jesus is the head of the kingdom of God; his resurrection secures and informs this. It proves he is both Lord and Savior. But the resurrection also says that God is restoring life back to what was desired when the world was created. God has restored humanity and creation for life and a relationship with God.

When we find that the tomb is empty, it should give us hope. It gave Mary and the disciples hope when they realized that Jesus was not dead, but is alive. When they saw the Risen Lord in their presence, it gave them confidence, faith, and trust to know that God was with them. Hope was real for them, as it should be for us, because they had seen Christ in his Glory. It transformed them from living lives of doubt and fear to living lives of hope and peace in response to their witness of Jesus’ presence. As the song states, because Christ lives, the disciples knew they could face whatever would come their way.

This is the Good News Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15, says brings salvation to all who hear it. Good News such as this cannot be left on the doorstep of Easter to be ignored the rest of the year. No, instead we are called to live out the reality everyday that Christ is alive. When we’ve seen Jesus alive, when we’ve witnessed his presence, that transformation from despair to hope impacts us in such a way that we can never go back to way things were. We cannot go back to a life before we knew of the resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection illuminates a way forward to living in hope, to being a people of faith, and to being a people who desire to live in response to the resurrection at all times.

When we’ve seen and witnessed Jesus’ resurrection, it calls for a response from us. We are called to live each day with the recognition that Christ lives. So often, we can say the resurrection has impact and importance everyday, and leave it like that. A vague statement of truth that has no direct impact on our lives today. What does it mean to live in response to seeing the tomb empty and the resurrected Lord each day? I think this is what it means to hold in tension the here and not yet of the kingdom of God.

We have this belief in our minds that the kingdom of God is not real for us today, because Christ has yet to return. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. The kingdom of God is real for us today because Jesus is alive and sits at the right hand of God the Father. The kingdom’s realities are real for us today because of the resurrection. Easter calls us to not just live as Easter people, but people of the kingdom. The mission of the church is to live out the here of the kingdom, as people of the resurrection, as we await the fullness of the kingdom. N.T. Wright says, “The church is called to a mission of implementing Jesus’ resurrection and thereby anticipating the final new creation.” As people of the resurrection, we are called to prepare the world for Christ’s return.

This happens by living out Jesus’ words, not just in our personal lives, but in our communities and world. Jesus’ words are not just feel-good statements we hang on wall decorations, and then ignore their application. They are meaningful. They are powerful. They are challenging. We can live out the reality of his words, because Jesus is alive. Jesus’ resurrection gives authority to the church, we who are witnesses of the resurrection today, to live out his teaching and desires.

Because Jesus lives, we can be a people who proclaim hope to the hopeless. Because Jesus lives, we can proclaim rest to the tired. Because Jesus lives, we can proclaim justice in a world of injustice. Because Jesus lives, we can proclaim love to the lost and forgiveness to the sinner. Because Jesus lives, we can live with the confident assurance of knowing that our sin has been forgiven and redeemed. Jesus has won!

Friends, you have seen the resurrection. You are witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection, because we stand on the witness of those who have come before us. How will you respond to seeing Christ today? Will this be another Easter where we see Christ’s resurrection, but by Monday we have forgotten what we experienced? Will this be another year where we decide Jesus’ words are not that important? Or will we leave here today and realize we cannot go back to the way things where? Something is different, and it calls us to live in response and to live out our lives as people of Easter, as people of the kingdom.

Now more than ever, I believe our communities and world need to see the church – both local and universal – believe that the resurrection matters and that Jesus’ words have importance. It does not need a church who believes the resurrection – Easter – is a cute story void of power, because that is what it has seen for too long. It needs to see the church take seriously God’s love that came in its most grand way on Easter morning.

Our Lord is risen. He is alive. We have seen it for ourselves. Are you willing to live as people of the resurrection? How will you respond today?

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Easter Sunrise Sermon: He is Not Here!

The three women had an idea of what to expect early that Sunday morning. What they experienced was another matter all together.

Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome – the three women whom Mark said witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion – were on their way to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body. Even though Jesus had already been anointed at Bethany, these three women wanted to do one last act of devotion and love to Jesus. They wanted one last opportunity to care for the man who had cared so much for them and his other followers.

It is a loving act that these three women came to Jesus’ tomb to perform. Keep in mind that on Friday – three days by the Jewish way of keeping time – they witnessed Jesus’ betrayal and his violent and brutal death on the cross. We can excuse the fact that the prophecies about Jesus’ death were the furthest from their mind. These were words that Jesus spoke. He said that on the third day, he would be resurrected. For the women, this was the furthest from their mind. They were focused on the obstacle that was ahead of them. How would they be able to roll away the heavy stone that was placed in front of Jesus’ tomb? They were in mourning and, perhaps, doubted what Jesus said about his resurrection would happen.

What they knew was this: their Master, their Friend, their Teacher, and their Lord was dead. On this first day after the Sabbath, these women wanted to care for him in the only way they knew how – by giving of themselves.

You can imagine their surprise when they arrived at the tomb – the same tomb Joseph of Arimathea had used to bury Jesus on Friday – and saw that the stone had been rolled away. This is not what they expected to see. They expected things to be as they were on Friday, but what they witnessed on Sunday morning was the furthest from their expectations. They didn’t expect to see an empty tomb! They expected to see Jesus in his burial clothes and, yet, Jesus wsa not there!

The three women were still focused on Friday. When they saw the tomb was empty, it wasn’t an immediate confirmation that Jesus was risen from the dead. Their first reaction was one of fear. Where did they take Jesus? The women assumed that someone had come to the tomb and taken Jesus’ body overnight.

It wasn’t until they saw the angelic messenger that they realized the reality of Friday afternoon had been eclipsed by a new reality of Sunday morning. The messenger stood before the women and proclaimed: “He is not here! He is risen!” Sunday has come! A new reality has taken place. Jesus is resurrected. The prophecy of his death and resurrection was true.

These three giving, loving, and compassionate women who had decided to set out to care for Jesus would be the first to learn the most important news ever delivered in human history. They were the first to realize that Friday was not the end of the story. Sunday is the new beginning. Our story does not end at the cross, but it begins with Jesus’ resurrection. This is not a resuscitation of life. It is much deeper. On that Easter Day, Jesus’ resurrection secured the victory over humanity’s sin and death itself.

As we gather for our Easter celebration, it is because Jesus is alive that we celebrate today. Betrayal could not keep Jesus from fulfilling the Father’s mission for him. Death could not prevent Jesus from being the Messiah who redeemed humanity and inaugurated the kingdom of God. Hope is alive. Jesus is alive.

Easter is important. The resurrection is crucial. Without the resurrection, there is no hope. There is no potential for faith. There would have been no power and life-changing meaning behind Jesus’ words. Without the resurrection, there would be no reason for us to be here today or any day. Jesus’ teachings and life would have just been simply inspirational ideas on how to live a better life, but would be void of power and hope. Even more, Jesus’ death would have been in vain.

But the tomb is empty. Jesus is not here! He is risen! Sunday morning came!

It was a new reality that came on that Sunday morning. We cannot remain a people of Friday afternoon, who cry out “They killed my Lord!” We are a people who shout with loud Hosannahs “My Savior lives!”

This is a powerful new reality. By this very act, all who would believe that Jesus lives and secured the forgiveness of sin is given the greatest gift, through faith, of a relationship with the Heavenly Father through the Holy Spirit. Today, we can place our hope in the fact that Jesus did secure the forgiveness of humanity’s sin, because he lives today and sits at the Father’s right hand. Sin and death have no power over us anymore.

A new hope came on Sunday morning. It is a hope that is still powerful and beautiful. A hope that is still relevant in a world that believes that faith is not something worth having. We know that is not the case, because our Savior lives!

Today, we are not a people of Friday. Just like the three women who were the first to witness the tomb being empty, we are people of Sunday morning. We worship today in anticipation that something happened on that day, something beautiful and powerful, and it is as life changing then as it is today.

Let us shout with loud Hosannahs that Sunday came! The tomb is empty! Jesus was not found there. He is Risen! Glory be to God!