Sunday, March 27, 2016

Sermon at Sunrise

Resurrection of our Lord c Sunrise
“He is Risen Indeed”
John 20:1-18
March 27, 2016

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The man that Peter and John and the other Apostles followed had done great things.  The man that Mary Magdalene and a number of others followed had done great things.  Jesus of Nazareth did things, miraculous things, things that only God can do.  He preached with authority and not like the scribes and Pharisees.  He talked about the coming of the Kingdom of God and all that it meant.  He talked about himself as the way, the truth, and the life.  He talked about himself as the resurrection and the life.  But now, he’s dead.  Their leader is dead.  Now what?  What’s next for us?  Are they going to come looking for us too?  Are we going to be flogged and crucified just like Jesus?  We just don’t know.  And that’s just it, isn’t it?  The “not knowing,” the uncertainty.  It’s just the worst.  Now, there’s the good kind of uncertainty: uncertainty and suspense of a book or a movie – that kind of uncertainty we can live with – even find some pleasure in it.  Then there’s the uncertainty that doesn’t feel so good – the unknowns in our lives that aren’t so pleasurable.  Financial uncertainty: we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future with the stock market or the price of oil.  Am I going to have a job next year?  Next week?  Political uncertainty: Who is going to be the next president?  Relationship uncertainty: What’s going to happen to my children?  Are they going to do well in school and get a decent job?  Are they going to make it home safely tonight?  Is my relationship with my spouse going to stay strong for years to come?  Is my relationship going to get any better at all?  Is my health going to improve?  All these uncertainties in our lives.  Then there’s those big picture uncertainties: How long do I have?  What happens when we die?  Is there even a God at all?  What does he think of me?  What does all of this uncertainty do to us?  We really don’t like not-knowing-what’s-next in our lives.  Uncertainty can fill us with anxiety and fear – leading to despair: “What am I going to do?  What next?”
And that’s where Mary was on that Sunday morning – filled with uncertainty and in despair about it all.  She’s in such a state of uncertainty and despair, she can’t really see what’s really going on.  In John’s account, Mary Magdalene is the first to return to the tomb.  She’s sees the tomb has been opened.  But what does she think?  Does she remember the three times Jesus said he would die and then rise from the dead?  No!  She runs away.  She can’t see clearly.  She’s blinded by her uncertainty.  She tells the others her own interpretation of what she just saw: "Somebody has taken our Lord away!" It must be a tomb robber.  Peter and John go and check it out.  Our text says that John “saw and believed.”  But believed what?  The next verse says, “for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”  They leave – still uncertain of what had happened.  
Mary sticks around – sobbing – looks into the tomb again and sees two angels!  That doesn’t happen very often!  That should have told her something amazing and divine was happening right now.  But she still thinks Jesus is still dead and his body has been stolen.  She turns away from the tomb and sees Jesus standing right in front of her.  Again, her fear and uncertainty causes her to misinterpret again: this guy must be the gardener.  Maybe he knows what happened.  But Jesus says a word, her name, and all the uncertainty goes away.  She finally sees correctly.  She sees Jesus for who he really is – her Lord risen from the dead.  And that fact – that indisputable fact changes everything.  With a word to Mary, Jesus brings certainty to all the uncertainty and misinterpretation in her life.  Jesus isn’t just risen.  He is risen indeed!
So what now?  For Mary Magdalene and the disciples, their lives were transformed by the resurrection of Jesus.  What about your life?  Is your life transformed by the resurrection of Jesus?  What about that laundry list of uncertainties I talked about earlier?  What about all the uncertainties in your life?  You know what you’re uncertain about.  So, what difference do the words “Christ is risen indeed” make in your everyday life?  
John writes these words at the end of this chapter:
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

The words of this text, the whole of John chapter 20, the whole the four Gospels, even the entirety of the Holy Scriptures are a word from your God to you to bring certainty to your life.  Because with that word, we know beyond a doubt, that Christ is risen from a dead.  And because he is risen from the dead there IS certainty in your life.  Because Christ is risen from the dead, you know that all his promises are true, because they have already come true.  He really is the Son of God.  Because Christ is risen from the dead, you know that Christ is victorious for you over sin and death itself.  You know that there is a God who actually loves you.  And because Christ is risen from the dead, you know that, because he is risen, you will also rise from the dead.  It’s as good as if it has already happened.  And it has already happened.  In your baptism, where your Lord has called you by name, there you have already died and risen from the dead in Christ.  Because Christ is risen from the dead, you are already living your eternal life – a life that never ends with your savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
The uncertainties of our fallen world will continue to plague you and me.  We have no crystal ball.  We can’t see what’s going to happen later on today or tomorrow or next year.  We can be blinded by uncertainty, misinterpretation, and lack of trust.  But because we are fallen creatures in a fallen world, there is a certainty that does stick with us: death.  I heard a story a long time ago about a graveside “ceremony” in the former Soviet Union.  There was no clergy – officially.  But a former Russian Orthodox priest was there.  People eulogized the deceased person.  But that didn’t do much.  There was no real comfort to be found in memories.  The talking about the deceased slowed to a stop and then – silence – everyone was about to walk away.  Then that priest spoke just three words – illegal words in the Soviet Union – but just three words that actually brought comfort, peace, and certainty to those in mourning surrounding that casket.  He boldly said, “Christ is risen!”  And that was enough.  Everyone understood and took comfort in the certainty of those words.

There are many uncertainties in our lives, but there is an even greater promise in your life: the fact that Christ is risen.  When facing all the uncertainty and suffering and pain in our lives - and even death, those three words are enough.  Those three words are a confession of faith – a trust – a trust in what your God has already done for you and even more importantly, hope in what He will one day do to you.  They are life changing, cosmos shaking words – a rock on which we can stand in the middle of our lives of uncertainty on shaky sand.  We don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but one thing we do know with unshakable certainty: Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Amen.   

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