Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Easter Sunrise Sermon

For the 4th year now, we gather at 7 a.m. on Easter Sunday at our church's cemetery out in the country for a service of Holy Communion. This year we had 48 people gathered (our average Sunday attendance last year was 48). After the sunrise service we came back to church for breakfast and then at 10:30 a.m. we worshiped in the church (74 people).

Here's the sermon from the sunrise service.

The Resurrection of our Lord — Easter Dawn
April 16, 2006
John 20.1-18
Thomas Arth

He’s Gone.
That’s what they’ve been thinking the last few days.
He’s Gone.
Their teacher, their friend, their Lord, is gone.
Some of them say, "we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel."
But he was condemned to death, crucified, dead and buried.
Gone forever.

Their hopes are dashed.
Their faith is destroyed.
He talked, he preached, about the kingdom of God.
He could have been their new king.
The things he told them.
Things about peace,
about love,
about forgiveness.
Was it a lie?
Was it wishful thinking?
Is it all over?
He’s gone.
It’s over.

Sometimes when things are just so bad
you wonder how it could possibly get worse.
Sometimes, unfortunately, you find out.

Mary loved Jesus.
He had healed her of severe afflictions
and she became a disciple, traveling with him
hearing him teach,
loving him to the end.
He was hounded all his life.
Herod wanted him dead.
The people in his own home town
would have thrown him from a cliff.
Others felt so threatened by his preaching
that they constantly tried to trick him
to get him into trouble.
They didn’t quit.
They never let up.
Finally it seemed the whole city,
the whole country,
the whole world,
was crying "Crucify him! Kill him!"
And all that Mary could do was watch.
She witnessed his horrible death.

There are many paintings depicting the crucifixion.
One in particular shows the scene,
the sky is dark,
the world is in darkness.
In the dark shadows at the foot of the cross is a figure.
It is Mary.
She holds on to Jesus’ bleeding feet.
She kisses those tortured feet.

She was there.
She wept with Jesus’ mother.
She watched them place him in his tomb.
She saw them roll the stone over the opening.

On Sunday she came back.
How could it possibly get worse?
He’s gone.
The one who saved her,
who set her free,
who loved her,
he’s gone, it can’t get any worse.

Oh, but she comes to the tomb.
It’s not the way she left it.
The stone is rolled away.
What have they done?

They’ve taken him away.
Not a moment of peace in his life.
And now in death
they wouldn’t even let his body rest in peace.

Her heart is broken.
Can she cry any more tears?
She can.

But she’s not alone.
A voice says:
"Woman, why are you weeping?
It’s an uncommon question to be asked in a cemetery.
"Why are you weeping?"
"They took my Master, and I don’t know where they put him."
"Mister, if you took him, tell me where you put him."

Oh, no!
Open your eyes!
He’s not gone!
He’s here, and he’s alive!
Nobody’s taken him anywhere.
Look Mary. See who it is.

In her grief. In her deepest sadness. Mary didn’t see.
How could she have expected to see Jesus?
She saw him die, with her own eyes.
Saw him wrapped in linen,
laid in the tomb,
She saw the stone laid over the opening,
a sure sign of the finality of death.
Hope destroyed, faith dashed.
Is it so unheard of?
Who has the kind of faith that comes to a cemetery
expecting to find life?

But listen.
The man, the gardener(?), he says something.
Did you hear him?
Did you hear what he said?
He said, "Merv!"
He said, "Gerry!" "Jordyn!" "Heather!"
Did you hear what he said?

The question, "Why are you weeping?" is not so uncommon now.
Because the one asking the question has a surprise in store.

He didn’t leave her hanging for long.
When she had bottomed out with despair,
when she had lost all hope,
when her faith was gone,
when life was meaningless,
He called her name.
When life is gone,
when death seems to reign,
when there is no reason for hope
when you can’t find meaning,
He calls your name.

He’s full of surprises.
He surprised an adulterous woman
when she heard the rocks meant for her body
fall onto the ground
because no one would cast the first stone.
He surprised a Samaritan woman
who was expecting the day when the Messiah would come
and heard Jesus say, "I am he, the one who is speaking to you."
He surprised the widow from Nain
whose only son was dead
but Jesus said, "Young man, I say to you, rise!"
He surprised a criminal on death row
who hung on a cross next to his
and who entered Paradise with him that day.
He surprised a woman in a cemetery
who watched him die
who watched him be buried
but who heard him call her name.
He’s not gone!

When she realized who this man was,
when she realized that her master,
her Lord was alive,
she went and announced it to the disciples.
It was news she couldn’t keep to herself.
He’s not gone!
He’s alive!

Death is not the end.
The grave is not the end.
The stone can’t shut him in.
"Death has been swallowed up in victory.
…victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

He’s not gone.
He’s alive.
And he calls your name.

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