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The Rector’s sermon for Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018         

                                                                                                                              

 

The tomb is empty!   Alleluia!   The angel says:  “He is not here!”   Alleluia!   The Lord is risen!  Alleluia!  


 

Are you sure?  There have been a few books written by very well-respected individuals who refute the resurrection.  So how can we be sure?    After all, all four gospel accounts tell the story differently.  So what is the truth?   If the men who wrote the gospels, who supposedly witnessed this event first or second hand, who witnessed the aftermath of this event can’t agree on what happened, where does that leave us?   What is the truth?

 

Well, let’s look at the cold, hard facts.  First of all, we know he lived.  History tells us that; even the Discovery Channel agrees with that fact!   And second, scientific evidence proves his death to the satisfaction of most intelligent individuals, except for a handful of misguided heretics.  The life and death of Jesus Christ is an historical fact.    And now we come to the resurrection.  What about that?   We can find the details in all four gospels:  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.   All four evangelists agree that something happened very early on that first Easter morning.  Three of the gospels identify the women visitors by name—Mary Magdalene, in particular, as being the first on the scene.  Luke identifies the visitors as “they;”  he says that “they” were taking spices to the tomb.  Now while it doesn’t say “the women”,  we can be fairly certain that the visitors were women because only the women were tasked to prepare bodies for burial, and since it was done hurriedly on Friday, they were reverently returning to finish their labor of love.   (Besides, it’s also a fairly well-known fact that only a woman would get up at the crack of dawn with no fanfare to perform any task that no one else would do!)

 

Now we begin to get into the discrepancies.  Matthew tells us that when the women arrive at the tomb, there was an earthquake, a dazzling white angel rolls the stone back, sits on it, and speaks to them.   Mark tells us when the women arrive, the stone is already rolled back, and they enter the tomb and see a white-robed young man sitting there and he speaks to them.  Luke also tells us that when the women arrive, the stone is already rolled back and not one—but two men in dazzling white appear when the women enter the tomb.  John, on the other hand, records that as soon as the women see the stone rolled back, they don’t enter the tomb then, but run to Peter with the heartfelt cry:  “The tomb is empty; they have taken the Lord away, and we don’t know where they have laid him!”

 

Another interesting fact:  three of the four accounts mention the presence of fear.  The guards are afraid in Matthew’s account; the women are afraid in Mark and Luke.  No one seems to be afraid in John’s gospel!   All four accounts give us a message from a white-robed man or a dazzling white angel.  In John’s version, Peter and John run back to the tomb with the women— remember, the women didn’t go into the tomb; they went back to get Peter and John first.  

 

So what is this important message that is delivered by an angel or a man or two men in dazzling white?    Matthew writes:  “Do not be afraid; you’re looking for Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here; he is risen just as he said.   But, come, see the place where they laid him.  Then go and tell his disciples.”  Mark writes: “Do not be alarmed; You’re looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has been raised; he is not here.  Look,  there is the place where they laid him.  Now go, tell his disciples and Peter that he’ll see you in Galilee, just as he told you.”  Luke writes:“Why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here, he has risen.  Remember… he told you that this would happen?” Then we come to John; his version is visual!   Before anywords are spoken, Peter and John peer into the tomb and see the linen wrappings lying there, and John writes that simply the sight of the wrappings was enough to make him believe—no body, no message from an angel—just the white burial clothes were enough to make John believe.

 

The rest of the versions speak of Jesus appearing to Peter, or to Mary Magdalene, or to a number of disciples at the same time.  Luke even speaks of the disciples not believing, except for Peter who runs to the tomb to see if what the women had said is true.  And he finds…that it is.

 

So are the discrepancies a problem?  Can we believe what we have been told?    Well, we have Peter’s testimony this morning in the book of Acts—Peter who swore up and down that he would never deny Jesus, who did deny him three times—this same Peter stands in the household of an unclean Gentile some 10 years later, telling the resurrection story to a family he doesn’t know, shouldn’t associate with, and if that isn’t disconcerting enough, he and this Gentile have had complimenting dreams—the Gentile being directed to send for Peter in order to receive the gospel, Peter being directed to take the gospel to this Gentile’s home—a  place and a people considered virtually unclean and of no use to the chosen people.  Peter stands in this unclean Gentile house and says to the Gentiles present:  “Now I know that God shows no partiality; Jesus died and rose for me, and he died and rose for you—a Gentile!”   And that entire Gentile household—men, women, children, babies, slaves—were all baptized that day—all because Peter responded to what?  The visual of an empty white shroud?  A dazzling white angel?  Or a young man in white at the empty tomb who proclaims:  “He is not here.  He is risen.   Now, go and tell what you have seen and heard!”  

 

Should the discrepancies be an issue?  No!  The truth is obvious, that is…to those who believe.  And there’s another way we can know that Jesus is alive—still—today, a way that may be evenmore powerful.   We are two thousand years away from that event, but the Spirit of our Risen Lord is so alive, so awesome in you and in this place that you can’t possibly be within these walls and not believe that HE IS ALIVE!   And if you still doubt, talk to each other.  Share what the Lord has done within you in your lives since you have believed.  Oh, I know that many of you have been coming to church for years and years, have been involved for year and years, but what I’m talking about is a life-changing experience that happens to you when you really believe.  And if you want cold, hard facts, here they are.    There are some among you who had been out of the church for many years, for one reason or another.   Then something happened; you might not even know what happened, but something brought you here.  That something is the Spirit of the Risen Christ.  This past week we had five wonderful days of worship with Christians of other denominations and we almost filled this church every day.  And one gentleman, in a wheelchair, asked to speak to me about what happened to him…that day.  He could barely speak.  The tears welled up in his eyes, and he said, “I’ve been in lots of churches in my life, but the moment I walked into this church, there was something I’d never felt before!”  It took several tries along with a tissue or two, before he could get all that out.  I smiled and said, “You’re not the first person to tell me that!”  This Risen Christ is indeed here in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

 

That spirit is what you feel in this place.  The chill, the warmth, the tear in your eye—that is the Spirit of the Risen Christ, touching your heart, your soul, your very being.   And let me tell you this:  if you haven’t yet experienced that empty tomb, the dazzling white angel, the message—He is risen, he is not here—it’s not because the invitation wasn’t extended to you.   It’s because you haven’t yet opened your heart and hands to receive it.   It’s waiting for you; it’s always been waiting for you.

 

When you come to the altar rail this Easter morning to receive this Holy Sacrament, don’t just come out of reverence; come and expect to experience the empty tomb!   Listen as the angel speaks the words:  He is risen; he is not here!    And when you leave this place remember the charge that you have been given:  Go, and tell the world that he is alive, that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  Alleulia!



 

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