THREE WORDS FOR EASTER:
This sermon was presented at the Festival of the Resurrection, March 23, 2008, by Pastor Jim Kniseley. The gospel reading is John 20:1-18.
Dear Friends in Christ,
This morning I lift up three words to help us focus on the true meaning of why we gather here for worship on Easter. I’d like to think that these three words direct us to the very heart of our Christian faith. The three words are: Death…Resurrection…New Life.
This past Friday evening many of us were here in this Sanctuary for the Good Friday Service of Tenebrae, the service of darkness. We heard the words of Jesus from the cross, we saw the sealed tomb, we felt the pain and sacrifice in those words and in the awe inspiring music, we saw the candles go out one by one, we watched as the Christ Candle exited the Sanctuary and heard the slamming of the book signifying the death of Jesus and we left this sanctuary in utter silence, knowing we would not return until Jesus came back to life.
Death is very real. In these past 2 weeks, I have participated in funeral services for two of our Resurrection families: for Bryan, age 28, and for April, age 42. It is a very humbling experience for a pastor to be the one to find the right words to bring comfort and assurance to families in the midst of their grief. I also know from personal experience how important it is to have the assurance of life beyond death. The first Easter after my mother’s death in 1993, I remember being with my dad at her grave, and still feeling sorrow at her passing and yet feeling so very confident that I will see her again. That’s the kind of hope I want for all of us this day too.
In the opening prayer for Lutheran funeral and memorial services, we use the phrase “help us see in death the gate to eternal life.” For me this is a reminder that we all will experience death. It is also a reminder that on the other side of death is something very very special.
The second word is Resurrection. How very appropriate it is that today you and I gather at a church called Resurrection. The tomb is empty. There is no dead body. We can say our alleluias again. The flowers have returned to the Sanctuary. Some have called this the 8th day of the week. God began the creation of the world on the first day. Now we see that God has recreated the world on this 8th day with the resurrection of Jesus. St. Paul calls this resurrected Jesus the first fruits of the resurrection. Because Jesus is resurrected, that means that death has been conquered and that because Jesus is resurrected, we too can be resurrected from the dead.
The goal of death and resurrection for Christians is new life, our third word. The reason Jesus came to earth was to provide a way for every one of us to have this new life. At the beginning of every funeral and memorial service I conduct, I always say the same thing: This service is a Celebration of New Life. This new life is the promised eternal life that Jesus promises.
One of the places that Jesus makes this promise is in the best known Bible verse in the whole world, John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might live through Him.”
You heard me read the gospel account of Jesus’ resurrection account from the Gospel of John. The account ends with something special, the expectation of Jesus himself for what we should do with this good news. Did you take note? It is what Mary did when she encountered the risen Lord. She couldn’t keep it to herself. John tells us, ‘Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” and she then witnessed what she had seen and heard.’
It is my hope and prayer that before the sun sets this day, you will take the opportunity yourself to share this good news with someone else. Boldly be a witness for Jesus Christ.
Once again I declare to you: He is risen! He is risen indeed!