The Alleluias of Easter
Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection on the Festival of the Resurrection, April 5, 2015. The gospel reading is John 20:1-18.
Dear Friends in Christ,
For 6 long weeks we have avoided using the word “alleluia” (our kids call it the “a” word). Today we can finally say it again. It is a word of joy and praise to God that’s been around for thousands of years in both Christians and Jewish worship. In Hebrew it’s “hallelujah” and in Greek it’s “alleluia”. The words literally mean “Praise Yahweh” or “Praise God”.
Because it is such a good word for Christians to use today I want to emphasize this word with the ringing of this bell. I am asking one of our youth to ring it once every time the word alleluia is used for the rest of the service today.
Let me tell you about how Moravian Christians celebrate Easter morning. Pastor Carol and I visited Lititz, Pennsylvania, this past year and had a wonderful tour of the church there by a delightful man and wife who used to be Lutherans. They explained to us that folks arrive by 6:00 am for the Easter Sunrise Service. They process from the sanctuary to the church graveyard and stand by the graves of their family members. At the first hint of sunrise, the pastor shouts out “He is risen. Alleluia. All the people standing in the graveyard respond, “He is risen indeed. Alleluia!” I love the witness this couple gave us to why Moravians do this. It is to show that Jesus was raised on Easter and it means that every one of their loved ones will be raised some day to eternal life.
The gospel writer John tells us about that first Easter morning. Mary Magdalene came alone to the tomb in his version, without the other women. She was the first to see evidence of resurrection (the stone had been rolled away). She ran and told Simon Peter and another apostle (probably John) and they ran to the tomb. John got there first, but didn’t go inside. When Peter got there he immediately went in and saw the folded linen wrappings. We’re not told what he thought. But John then went in and saw the same thing and figured out what it meant. These two returned to their homes. Here is a very special part of the story for me. It has to do with Mary Magdalene. She is given a very special gift. When she looks into the tomb she saw two angels and they were sitting in the place where the body of Jesus had been. That was her first gift. It was a sign. Then comes the better part of the gift. She turned around and there was Jesus himself. At first she thought he was the gardener, but then he speaks her name “Mary” and she immediately knew it was Jesus. And Jesus allows her to be the first to fully know about his resurrection and she is the first one he tells to go and spread the good news. And this is how John reports her response: “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them what he had said.” I pray that you and I will get the strong message that we too are expected to share the good news of Jesus Christ as often as we can.
Dear Friends in Christ, this is a week of emotional lows and highs for us who love Jesus. From the hosannas of Palm Sunday to the cries of “crucify him” on Good Friday and now the “alleluias” of Easter morning. So many of us have learned to contain the emotions we let other people see to just a short spectrum. We Germanic Scandinavian types don’t want to get too excited in church and some of us would rather die than have anyone see us cry in public or shout for joy in public. Then we come to this week and everything we’re told calls for emotions that are this wide on the spectrum. So the challenge this day is for us to get beyond the veneer that some of us have crafted so well and let the overwhelming and eternal joy of resurrection get to us.
This is the day when I can spit at Death and declare that because Jesus lives, my mom and dad and grandparents and aunts and uncles (and I too) will be able to claim the gift of new life in Christ.
Right now I invite you to join me in the church graveyard. You are standing right next to the graves of people you love who have died. Let’s pause for a moment to let you think about whose grave you are standing by. You know the promise of Jesus about resurrection and new life.
And so I declare: He is risen. Alleluia!
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!