Joy to the World: He Is Risen!

Sunday Worship at Black Forest Community Church
Black Forest, CO
April 5, 2015 – Easter Sunday
© Rev. Diane Kay Martin

                                                 Joy to the World: He Is Risen!

Scripture Reading:  Mark 16:1-7

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

<<<Repeating last lines from Three Women at the Tomb Trialogue that takes place between the Scripture reading and the sermon…>>> “From death, we have life. From despair, we have hope. From the end, we have a future.” Amen.

Thirty or so of us gathered here on Good Friday evening, two days ago. The sun was setting, and in the darkened Sanctuary we heard, delivered by Bev Turner and Bill Otto, a dramatic reading of the story of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion from the Gospel of John. There are details in that story that surprised some of us—shocked some of us—and as we sat in darkness and listened, the horror of the scene became all too real to us. We were caught up in the dreadfulness of the story, and the title of my sermon expressed the question I think every one of us was asking in our hearts: “Why Do They Call It Good?” Then, as Brooks Myers sang in his deep, mellow voice “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” we stripped the altar and left it bare, as it was at the beginning of service today, with the cross draped in black and the crown of thorns hanging over it. It was a solemn service—and that was fitting—for a Good Friday that didn’t feel all that good.

We did find some hope in the story though—some “good” in Good Friday. There is good news in Jesus’ life. After all, he came into the world to show us the way to the heart of God. His message was always one of reconciliation, peace and love. Jesus spoke enough wisdom to challenge us, performed enough miracles to awe us, until the day we die. And even if the story had ended at the cross—even if Jesus had never risen from the grave—Jesus’ story still would have been “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” Jesus came to share with us God’s radical love for all. Joy to the world!

But there is good news in his death, too. Jesus came to secure for us God’s radical forgiveness too. You see, ever since Moses brought God’s law to the people of Israel—long before Jesus was born—the people were required to make blood sacrifices to atone for their sins. Animals—doves, goats, rams—were brought to the Temple to be sacrificed as gifts to God. The animals were killed (as humanely as possible) and their carcasses were burned on the altar to pay the debt for the giver’s sins. The death of an innocent animal cleaned the slate for that person—for a while. But they had to keep coming back and bringing sacrifices for their forgiveness again and again and again. Then Jesus, an innocent man—a man who was also the son of God—came and died and cleaned the slate for all people, for all time. Joy to the world! No more animals needed to be sacrificed, ever again, because forgiveness is ours, forever! That is the good news of his death!

And then came Easter!

Now, I want us to think about something here. I want us to be like our angel Bill and leave no stone unturned! J When Jesus died, what were the last words he spoke? “It is finished.” When Jesus gave up his spirit, his work on earth—the redeeming work he had come to do—was finished. The debt was paid; the slate was clean, for all people, for all time. He died, and it was accomplished. No more was needed. The animals that had been sacrificed before Jesus came—were they required to rise again from the ashes in order to secure the giver’s forgiveness? No. So, neither would Jesus have been required—for the forgiveness of our sins—to rise from the grave. Really think about this: Would more be required of Jesus than had been required of the animals? It wouldn’t make sense.

But then why Easter? What more was accomplished by the resurrection? I like the Apostle Peter’s answer to this question: “Blessed be [God who] has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead![1]

“A new birth into a living hope.” God didn’t just leave us forgiven; God offers us a new life! God resurrected Jesus so that we can have hope of change in this life! Jesus rose to a new life in the flesh so we could, too. Beyond forgiven, we could be changed! Jesus specifically named Peter, told the women to tell Peter to meet him in Galilee. Peter had denied Jesus, said he didn’t know him, not once, but three times. Peter gained his forgiveness when Jesus died, but he gained the chance at a new life when Jesus rose from the grave. Peter could change, and Jesus wanted to tell him that! Judas could have, too, if he hadn’t already taken his life into his own hands.

Jesus was doing a new thing here. In the Old Testament, God asks the people, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots?” (The answer is, obviously not.) God continues, “Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.”[2] In other words, you can’t change either, because you are accustomed to following your own way. In fact, I did a word search, and the only times I found the word “changed” in the Old Testament in reference to people were about changing clothes or wages or color or a name or a date or a law or one’s expression—or one’s mind or behavior in a negative way. God experiences a change of heart on several occasions and acts mercifully toward his rebellious people. But records in the Old Testament of people changing for the better? Sadly, few and far between. It’s no wonder we needed a savior—not only to save us from our sins, but to save us from our inability to move past them—our stuckness—amen?

What are you stuck in? I can tell you where I need to do some work. I could be a little less pessimistic, a little less serious at times. I could take things a little less personally. I could resist that feeling that wells up inside me when the driver ahead of me blocks both lanes so I can’t get into the turn lane until the light has already turned red again. Grrrr! I could make more time for my family and my friends. I could laugh more. Sometimes I get stuck.

I thank God that the resurrection is about getting unstuck. Without it, we would be stuck in our sin, in an endless cycle of repentance and forgiveness, repentance and forgiveness, for the same old things, over and over again. Granted, we thank God that forgiveness is available—but change is possible because of the resurrection. The message of the resurrection—the Easter message—is we have a new life in this life! We can change! People can change!

Yes, Mary Magdalene, you said it! “From death, we have life! From despair, we have hope! From the end, we have a future!”

And from our stuckness, we can change! Amen.

[1] 1 Peter 1:3.

[2] Jeremiah 13:23.