He Is Risen
What a day! What a glorious, wonderful day! It is as if it were written in a Divine script; the sun is shining and the birds are singing and this sanctuary is dressed in a thousand different colours. It is Easter, friends: the One who was dead is now very much alive!
The disappointment of Good Friday has been replaced with unspeakable joy! Let’s try this one more time: “Christ is risen!” He is risen, indeed! My prayer is that the
truth of that single sentence will change your life ... today, tomorrow, and forever.
Now the story of our Lord’s resurrection is told a bit differently in each of the four Gospels. In Matthew, two Marys went to the tomb early on Sunday morning to finish the painful task of embalming the body of the One they loved. In the Gospel of Mark, the Marys brought a woman named Salome with them. In Luke, the women are not identified at all by name, but still it was women — and not men — who first learned the Good News of Easter. I find that fact, in itself, quite fascinating.
But in John’s Gospel, which we read today, Mary went to the grave all alone. Perhaps she went there to care lovingly for the body of Jesus, but more than likely, I think she went there to grieve. Most of the time, we need to be surrounded by family and friends when we are faced with the death of a loved one. Isn’t that true?
There is both comfort and strength in numbers. But sometimes, we don’t want company. Sometimes, we just need to be alone; and I think this is the case with Mary on that first Easter Day. She needed some space; she just wanted time to mourn, and to wonder what might have been.
But curiously, when she arrived at the place where they had laid Jesus on Friday night, the large stone which sealed the entrance to the tomb was gone. Immediately, she jumped to a radical conclusion: grave robbers! She assumed that someone had stolen the body of Jesus, and she sprinted back to tell the others of her discovery.
But Peter and John were not content simply to hear about the news; when Mary told what she had discovered, they had to go and see it for themselves. They ran to the tomb. Out of fear, or curiosity, or anticipation, we don’t know; but scripture tells us that they ran. John got there first, but he was a chicken! He saw the grave clothes but he wouldn’t go inside, so he just sat there and waited for Peter. Peter, the impetuous one, didn’t even break stride!
He boiled into the grave, saw it was empty, and immediately knew that Jesus had risen from the dead. They didn’t understand it all... maybe they never did ... just like maybe we never do ... but they believed that Jesus was alive. Somehow, they knew that Jesus was alive. It seemed to suggest that we don’t need to understand Easter
to believe in the resurrection.
And I don’t think it was just a coincidence that the first clue to the resurrection of Jesus Christ was that the stone had been removed. The theological implications are enormous! When Jesus was buried on Friday, a giant stone was placed between Jesus and the people who loved him. Though Mary went to visit Jesus’ grave, she wouldn’t be able to see him, because the stone was in the way. She wouldn’t be able to touch him, because the stone would prevent her. It was like a barrier that she was incapable of moving herself. Somebody had to do that for her. And Somebody did.
Throughout the season of Lent, the members and friends of this congregation have been on what we called a “Journey of Stones.” Each Wednesday, we would carry a small stone into worship with us, and that stone would become symbolic of our sins that arc a barrier between us and God. After the message each Wednesday. we would lay our stones of sin at the foot of that cross. One stone stood for someone’s pride, while another stone stood for someone’s dishonesty. One stone symbolized a couple’s fractured marriage, while other stones stood for the sins of gossip, or prejudice. or adultery, or hatred. By the end of Lent, the base of the cross was filled with stones. Our stones. Our sins. We can’t remove those sins by ourselves; someone has to do it for us. And Someone has. Maybe you can’t see the base of that cross this morning, but I can, and I tell you that it’s empty! All the stones are
gone. All the sins are removed. And that is the ultimate message of Easter: that what we could not do by ourselves, God did for us, no questions asked.
Every pastor knows that on Easter Sunday, he or she is preaching to people who may not be regular worshipers. Perhaps some of you are in worship today for the first time in years ... perhaps some for the first time ever. You have sins, yes? You drink too much, or you swear too much, or you are angry too often, or you have been unfaithful in too many relationships. And maybe that is even the reason you have stayed away from church: your shame has been too much for you to overcome. In truth, you are no different than the rest of us. Today it is my privilege to tell you that the stone has been rolled away for you, too. You may think that your sins are too great to be forgiven, but you’re wrong. You may think that God can’t accept you just the way you are, but you’re wrong. The stone is rolled away! The sins have been forgiven. The Saviour has chosen to love you.
There is a story about W. C. Fields, the famous vaudeville comedian, who was also a notorious atheist. One evening, before his performance, an assistant came into Fields’ dressing room and caught Fields reading a Bible. Embarrassed, Fields slammed the Bible shut and said, “Just looking for loopholes!” What Fields was looking for is grace. What he was looking for is forgiveness ... a second chance ... a time to start over. Well, Easter is the ultimate loophole! When Jesus made good on his promise to raise from the grave, all of his promises became reality. His promise to forgive sin, His promise to be with us wherever we would go, his promise to give us eternal life, that’s no loophole, that’s a fact!
Today we are surrounded by the evidence of Easter. The flowers, the hymns, the confident voices of our friends who boldly claim: “He is risen.. risen indeed!
It’s easy to believe in the resurrection today, but what about tomorrow? What about Tuesday or next Saturday, or later on in May? What about when people let us down or when loved ones die ... or when the sins of our lives overwhelm us once again? Will Easter then be just a distant memory? How will we believe then?
In 1088, when (he Berlin Wall came tumbling down, a young woman named Anna in East Germany was already asleep when her friend pounded on the door. “Anna, the Wall is down, and we have freedom!” she said. “You must come and see!” They ran down to the gate that had divided east and west for thirty years, and it was true. The Berlin Wall had been toppled. For three hours they partied on the border. They ran back and forth between east and west, they drank beer and danced with soldiers. Then they went back to their homes.
The next morning, Anna awoke and thought she had dreamed that experience; it all seemed too good to be true. Quickly, she got dressed and ran back down to the border and remembered that it was all true. But (his time, before she went back home, she picked up a shattered piece of the Berlin Wall and took it home with her, now a tangible reminder that she was free.
As you leave today, you too, will be given a reminder that you are free. A small pebble marked with the word “Alive” will be handed to you. May it be for you a reminder that you are free. May it he a reminder that you are released from the shame of your sins, Free from the punishment of God. Free to be alive! And if the Son makes you free, you shall be free, indeed. Happy Easter, my friends.