Easter affirms that love works! There are no limits to God’s love!
Easter is first and foremost a day of celebration. We join with all the various expressions of the Western Church in each successive time zone today, and with all the expressions of the Eastern church in their time zones next Sunday, in celebration of the Resurrection. For the next forty days, we will continue to celebrate the different forms by which our risen savior appeared to his disciples during the forty days between the Resurrection and the Ascension. As part of that celebration, we will also explore some of his teachings about his vision for humanity from the perspective of the empty tomb.
Manuscript of the sermon preached on April 9, 2023, at Briensburg UMC [Audio Podcast]
Bible Readings for Easter Sunday, The Resurrection of the Lord:
Acts 10:34-43 or Jeremiah 31:1-6; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4 or Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-18; Matthew 28:1-10
The Resurrection is not only an event in the life of Christ but stands as an eternal metaphor for universal new beginnings that are constantly happening in our lives and will be forever, even beyond the death of the body. In our Service of Death and Resurrection at the passing of our loved ones, we reaffirm the resurrection promises of Jesus even as we “look to the resurrection of the dead in the last day and the life of the world to come.” (UMC Internment Liturgy). Hear what comfortable words the Scripture saith to all who truly believe.
I am the resurrection, and the life: [they] that believeth in me, though [they] were dead, yet shall [they] live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? (John 11:25-26 KJV).
Because I live, ye shall live also (John 14:19 KJV).
Prophetic voices of compassion such as those expelled from the Nashville legislature, ironically on Maundy Thursday, can never be silenced. The voices of the martyred Old Testament prophets still speak of mercy and justice. The voices of the martyred New Testament apostles still speak of hope and inclusion. The voice of the crucified Christ still speaks of unconditional, universal love. The Resurrection promises that such voices will resound from both sides of the grave.
The Resurrection paints a picture of a life – our life – that continues regardless of our body’s condition. Jesus came from Heaven, was born as a baby, became a man, died on the cross, was raised from death, and ascended back to Heaven. He was the same person in all of these stages of life. Likewise, we are the same person in all the stages of our lives. We grow and mature spiritually even as our bodies age. Eventually, when we lay aside our earthly tabernacle as Peter described (2 Peter 1:14 KJV) we have another as Paul wrote, “a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” (2 Corinthians 5:1 KJV).
Like the mystery of Christmas, we celebrate the mystery of Easter. The Nativity begins to unwrap the mystery of the life and teachings and vision of Jesus. The Resurrection begins to unfold the mystery of our own eternal lives as participants in the divine nature of Christ. The Resurrection finalizes the new and everlasting covenant in his blood and spiritualizes the Promised Land “flowing with milk and honey.” The Resurrection we celebrate at Easter is echoed each Sunday as we gather for worship and invites us to constant renewal every day and every week.
And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let [them] that heareth say, Come. And let [them] that [are] athirst come. And whosoever will, let [them] take the water of life freely. (Revelation 22:17 KJV).
In Matthew’s account, Jesus sent women to men as the first preachers of the resurrection.
Then said Jesus unto [the women], Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me. (Matthew 28:10 KJV)
In the "Gospel According to St. John," Jesus sent Mary Magdelene to preach his resurrection instead of the two men who had already been right there at the empty tomb.
Jesus saith unto her… go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. (John 20:17 KJV)
Jesus sent the women to proclaim the Resurrection. Last month was Women’s history month, and this appointment at the first Easter is a momentous historical affirmation for women in ministry. The only disciples not scattered at Jesus’ arrest were women. Women accompanied Jesus along the Way of the Cross. Women, except for John, were the ones who were present with Jesus at the Crucifixion.
Persons called and sent by God to minister any spiritual gift should not be discriminated against for any reason, especially for any issues related to gender. All persons should be encouraged in fulfilling God’s call on their / our lives. God promised to pour out God’s own “spirit on all flesh” (Joel 2:28, Acts 2:17) regardless of any age, gender, social economic position, or any other distinction used by some humans to divide and oppress others.
The Jesus who came out of the tomb is the same as the one who was placed in the tomb.
How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. (Acts 10:38 KJV)
How can so many people portray Christ, “who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed” as being in any way capable of suddenly and wholly changing his entire divine nature to turn on the most vulnerable people and shower them with eternal wrath because they are unable to wrap their minds around some abstract theological concepts we have come to affirm from what Paul Tillich expressed as “the leap of faith”? (“The Leap of Faith by Paul Tillich). Such a dramatically diametrical reversal of God’s nature from Love to Hate is not even remotely possible. God loves the world so much that God sent Jesus to be the savior of all. Any scriptures that may seem to suggest otherwise need to be reinterpreted.
In his hymn, “Come O Thou Traveler Unknown” Charles Wesley wrote these words I use as the tagline for my emails:
Pure, universal love Thou art;
To me, to all, Thy mercies move;
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.
The Bible says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8 KJV).
Jesus turned out to be the most important stone in God’s whole spiritual building.
The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. (Psalm 118:22 KJV)
The psalmist uses the cornerstone as a metaphor for the Messiah. Rejected by the religious leaders, the Messiah would become the most important part of human society. Paul continued this imagery in his letters, comparing us all to stones in the temple God is building. Each person has their place in the building with Christ as the chief cornerstone, built on the foundation Jesus has laid. We all fit together in this building of God, and until every stone is in place, the building is incomplete. Likewise, everything in our individual lives, everything in our relationships with others, and everything in our connections to all of Creation is built up around our centering friendship with Christ.
The resurrection affirms the everlasting and eternal nature of God’s love.
The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee. (Jeremiah 31:3 KJV)
What part of “everlasting love” do we not understand?
The spiritual concept of sacramental Israel is a sign that the whole of humanity is the family of God. God repeated in Revelation 21 the promise spoken through the prophet Jeremiah,
And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with [people], and [God] will dwell with them, and they shall be [God’s] people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. (Revelation 21:3-4 KJV)
My mother sent me a letter at a discouraging point in my life about a half-century ago, and she included this verse from Deuteronomy 33:27, “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” The voice of God through the voice of Moses through the voice of Mom still resonates through my soul to this hour, and will from everlasting to everlasting, through this life and the life of the world to come. God’s love has no time limits, no end, no conditions, no exclusionary clauses, and no death. God’s all-encompassing, universal love envelopes everyone everywhere; it always has and always will.
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39 KJV).
Something of our nature has already been resurrected through our affirmation of the resurrection of Christ. Can you feel it?
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. (Colossians 3:1 KJV)
Rather than trying to bring God’s nature down to our level, the Resurrection invites us to follow Jesus up to God’s level. We are invited to learn how to see humanity through God’s eyes. We are invited to learn how to love everyone the way Christ loves everyone. As Paul phrased it, we are invited to “let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5 KJV). Let God’s vision for humanity become our vision. Let us find ways to implement the teachings of Jesus in all our decision-making.
Let us take the resurrection spirit as we experience around this table in this room with this group of people, to the next table in the next room, and to the next people. Let us establish that as our pattern throughout this life and into the life of the world to come. Room to room, table to table, person to person.
We believe in the resurrection as pertinent to Jesus, ourselves, our family and friends, and the world at large. We proclaim the risen Christ and God’s love for humanity as expressed and demonstrated in the person of Jesus. God is stretching our thoughts to ever-increasing expanses of heavenly possibilities for life and love and fellowship and unity
Charles Wesley wrote in his hymn, "Christ the Lord is Risen Today,"
Soar we now where Christ has led,
Following our exalted head!
May we each come alive in new and fresh ways today! May our congregation come alive in new and fresh ways today! May we bring our community and world to life in new fresh ways today!
This is the spirit of Easter.
In the Name of Jesus, Amen.