Easter Sunday Sermon
Rev. Kit Billings
March 27, 2005
Mark 15:42-47; 16:1-8
The title of my Easter sermon this morning is, “The Living Truth of Easter,” and I’m guessing that you noticed in your bulletin that I put emphasis on the word, Living. My title this morning could also very well have a subtitle to it, which might read: Which Has Cynicism As A Major Target in life.
Do you find yourself easily cynical in life, easily swayed in your mind to want to look at the down or dark side of things? There is a powerfully living truth of Easter, which I have found in my own life and in the lives of so many people is easy to ignore or be cynical about. Although we may call ourselves “Christians” it is easy, I find, to ignore the deep-down positive Light and energy of Easter the other 364 days of the year, which is not good nor healthy. And so, if cynicism is one of those mental demons within your own life too, please listen today with some extra attentiveness…I dare you.
All of the Lord’s followers back then missed the point of Jesus’ teachings about Himself. They all fundamentally misunderstood who and what He was, using natural (or lower) ways of thinking rather than spiritual forms of understanding. Initially, Mary (the Gospels tell us) saw Christ on Easter as a kindly gardener and she and the other women were asked, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” How easy it is to see Christ as merely a kind and helpful man who did many good things, but not the living Lord of Heaven and earth.
How could Jesus be God, anyway? For if that claim is true, then it would also be true that every aspect of Jesus did rise from that tomb so long ago unlike any other person in history. What would it mean, therefore, if perhaps it was and is true that Jesus of Nazareth awoke on His own power and walked (every bit of Him!) out of that tomb and into the dusk of that first Easter daybreak? If it were true, this wild assertion within Christianity, then wouldn’t there be some signs I could recognize helping me to see the reality of this cornerstone doctrine in Christianity? And if it were true, what impact does this have on my personal, daily life…especially the attitudes with which I harbor in my mind?
Just think for a moment about all of the possible signs around you that actually stem from God’s marvelous creativity in His attempts to get through to you that Easter is for real—that it is so much more than just a fun and wonderful holiday with tales about Peter Cottontail comin’ down the bunny trail. [Or, if one had happened to be part of my parents’ household when I was growing up, we could say that Easter is a lot more than being involved in our annual Easter egg coloring contest of trying to see who could not only make the prettiest egg, but also the ugliest egg!]
Yes, think for a moment of all the signs you’ve already encountered today that the spiritual truth of Easter lives—which means that Christ our Lord is risen indeed and has conquered both evil and sin, glorifying His humanity in the process—which is to say that He made Himself fully Divine, making His love the preeminent force of life. If these assertions are true, then where are the signs around or within me that it is true?
God’s Word teaches that thousands of years before the Christ would come there would be a gradual, ever darkening fall into evil and darkness in all its forms, but then (as we read this morning out of Jeremiah’s prophecy) the Lord would come to our rescue and save us from enslavement in such hellishness and release us from captivity. For indeed, if God had not incarnated into our flesh and finite humanity and glorified it as the Gospels reveal, then there wouldn’t be any overt presence of God around us right now, since the hells would have won. And if the hells were to have won, then life would be nothing but dread…it would not be inspiring, beautiful, nor alive with God’s spirit and love.
What have you experienced lately that has been trying to remind you that the Lord is not only very real but that His glorification is complete, which means that Christ is alive and calmly determined about lifting your life from the spiritual equivalents of that dark, musty tomb He was put in on Good Friday?
So let me ask you, did you hear any beautiful birds singing outside before you came to church? I did. Has your heart and soul been stirred by the wonderful singing by all of us during our hymn singing, or perhaps when our choir has sung? Mine has. Have you felt a tinge of some special, positive energy all around you today, something precious? And what about the incredible miracle that happens every day, that happens when nighttime suddenly comes to an end, and the glory of a new sunrise unfolds before you? Is there a message in the unbeatable glory of every morning sunrise? And how about the fact that at various points in your life a surprising entrance of love or inspiration suddenly made its way into your heart and mind…unbidden, un-asked for, and indeed, unexpected? How many times, in other words, has God broken through your tempting cynicism or hard-heartedness and reminded you that He is not only powerfully alive but is active in reaching your life with His life and energy, ever so capable of enabling you to win out over your own struggles with what is dark, negative and hurtful of you and or others in life?
Well, if all of these signs weren’t enough, then yesterday while I held two different babies (not both at the same time mind you), one snored and the other snorted in the most adorable of ways, and I almost didn’t know what to do with myself, I was so tickled. And if all this were not enough, think about the fact that over the centuries since Jesus was here incarnate, how massive world war campaigns (like those of the Roman Empire) are emphatically resisted and thwarted. I find it compelling that thousands of years ago the world once felt pretty much okay when one nation was bent on world domination. After the Lord came (which made love and goodness primary) I find it awesome how the world responded when Hitler’s Nazis broke like a wildfire wanting world domination and nearly achieving it. It is compelling to me that most of the world eventually said, “Think again buddy! We’re coming at you with full force and putting a stop to your ridiculous evil and domination!”
No, political and military wrongdoings continue into today, but the great value in peace and prosperity for all has clearly grown immensely since Jesus was glorified over 2,000 years ago.
Another sign to me of Christ’s victory over Hell that first Easter morning is the presence of so much education throughout the world. I mean think about it, wherever the light of truth shines to dispel ignorance and falsity, Christ (the Light of the world) is behind it! Yet another sign are so many healing arts—spiritual ones, physical ones, and psychological ones too. Just look in the Yellow Pages some time of all the counselors and psychologist and therapists whose work it is to help people to learn, grow, heal and change for the better. Yet, while all these things are true, nothing is more compelling to me concerning the powerful evidence that the Gospels are telling us the truth than the fact that Christianity exists.
What else explains how a small band of truly everyday men and women, true “nobodies,” would turn from total dejection, as well as outright fear and anxiety concerning their physical welfare into champions of faith and inspiration? For most of us, if we had been in the shoes of either the twelve male disciples or those few (but utterly determined) women disciples we would probably have felt like they did after watching their religious master and mystic get flogged horribly and then die a terrifying death such as crucifixion, I suspect we would either be deeply saddened or heartbroken (like the women) or hiding away in an anxious and deeply worried state of mind like the surviving eleven. In short, my answer is, nothing. Nothing I know of, except what both the Gospels and the Book of Acts describe, can explain how a small band of undereducated misfits could all of a sudden turn the tide and move out together with the transformative message of Christianity. People who had been through the worst kind of pain and disappointment (since they all thought that Christ should have taken Himself down off the cross to prove His divinity to all) just do not go out into the “spiritually shark infested waters” of first century Palestine and Rome feeling so deeply and abundantly on fire in their souls as those folks did. As far as our typical “movers and shakers” of life go, typically I think of people in our time like the leader who works at the White House, or perhaps others at the Pentagon—or maybe one or two others around our globe—who could pull off an accomplishment like starting and fructifying a new world religion. The chances are “zero” that a prostitute, a number of other women, and a bunch of manual laborers and fishermen and a tax collector could do all that it would take to organize and develop a religion in the face of Roman and Jewish hatred and malice.
No, the presence of Christianity makes no sense at all…unless one considers that the Lord’s Resurrection is for real. And personally, I know and feel in my soul that it is for real.
There is only one force, one Person, one Being capable of transforming such a bewildered, forlorn and fearful little group like the first apostles of Christianity into some of the world’s greatest spiritual leaders we’ve ever known—and that “Someone” is our glorified and risen Lord, Jesus…the God-Man himself…“God with us.” The best proof that Jesus Christ rose from His grave with everything underneath that linen cloth He was buried in is Christianity itself. Any other explanation would have seen that small band of unorthodox rebels just whisked away into time, buried underneath the stone and dust of history like some average little pyramid in the sands of Egypt. The religion of these rebel Jews would have disappeared easily and forever. If Jesus had not risen from the dead we would never have heard of Him. The attitude of the women back then was that they were going to pay tribute to a dead body; the attitude of the male disciples was that everything had finished in tragedy. If Jesus had not risen as He predicted He would, the word “Christianity” would never have been printed in our history books, nor spread throughout our world as it has.
Christ, our living God, did come up and out of that tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, and some extremely dazzling and wonderful happenings came with Him. As one theologian has put it essentially, nothing else could have changed sad and despairing men and women into people radiant with joy and flaming with courage!
Christianity was born that first Easter day, revealing to our world that there are things in existence that will always prove themselves stronger and more powerful than the evil forms of dominion and control being used by Rome and the Sanhedrin back then. For indeed, Jesus Himself is these very unbeatable powers and forces, which will not be forever killed, buried and left alone in some dark tomb. In short, God in Christ—love, goodness and the power of Divine truth—will always ultimately be victorious over hell, over all that is evil, destructive and poisonous. And this means, there is no valid excuse for being cynical. Nope. Sorry. That attitude is really not a viable lasting option for anyone personally associated with Jesus Christ.
Indeed, the Lord is at least four wondrous and inspiring Divine substances, each one spelled simply with these short-lettered words—“love,” “good”, “truth” and “life.” Christ is love, which means that Love Itself rose again from that grave. The Lord is all that is good. Jesus is the truth, in all its forms…He is the Word that was made flesh. He is the One who can understand you and love you more than anyone else in existence. And Jesus risen and glorified is at work. He is life! He is abundantly alive and creatively active in this world, given the fact that God-in-Jesus made every least degree of His finite humanity Divine. And it is our calling, those who want to follow Christ today, to be very busy with helping the Lord to beautify and glorify His creation, which He suffered and died for. Thus, ever since Christ came up and out of that tomb (once His glorification was complete), everything about Him will continue to rise again and again and again throughout our world. This is one of many glorious meanings within Easter, that no matter how hard human beings may try, there is no way we can keep the Lord (who is Divine Love) from rising again! Surprising us. Perhaps bewildering us. Certainly shocking us out of our feelings of misfortune and cynicism.
This, by the way, is why in the Bible and in our theology the Lord is also known symbolically as the morning or sunrise, which by the way is why it was no accident that those sad and misunderstanding women (Mary, Salome’ and the mother of James) “happened” to find themselves walking toward the Lord’s empty tomb with that great, heavy stone rolled away in front of it at dawn.
For we read in 2 Samuel young king David saying: “The Spirit of Jehovah has spoken within me, and His word is upon my tongue. The God of Israel has said, the Rock of Israel has spoken to me. He is like the morning light, when the sun is rising on a cloudless morning, shining bright, as when after rain tender grass [springs up] from the earth.” (23:4) Or in Hosea, “Jehovah will revive us after two days, on the third day He will raise us up, and we shall live before Him. And we shall know, and we shall press on to know Jehovah, as the dawn is His going forth.” (6:2,3)
Our doctrinal lesson expands things as usual: “Seeing that 'the morning' in the proper sense means the Lord, His coming, and so the approach of His kingdom, what else is meant by 'the morning' becomes clear, namely the rise of a new Church, for that Church is the Lord's kingdom on earth. That kingdom is meant both in a general and in a particular sense, and indeed in a specific sense, the general being when any Church on earth is established anew; the particular, when a person is being regenerated and becoming a new human being, for the Lord's kingdom is in that case being established in him and he is becoming the Church; and the specific, as often as good flowing from love and faith is at work with him, for this is what constitutes the Lord's coming. Consequently the Lord's resurrection on the third morning, (Mark 16: 2, 9; Luke 24: 1; John 20: 1) embodies in the particular and the specific senses the truth that He rises daily, indeed every single moment, in the minds of regenerating persons.”
Indeed, one of the great living truths of Easter is that the Lord our God is fully alive and at work every day—He is present with us to save and regenerate us out of any evil and falsity we may be struggling with. One of the great truths of Christianity is that it is not enough to know about Jesus Christ, a true Christian must know Jesus Christ in such a way that the Lord can often rise again within your heart and mind. Should you be willing to take the Easter story at face value, then know that this means that Jesus Christ will continue to work within you and in all life in a way that makes new sunrises of God’s Love happen within you, now and always.
Are you willing to believe this Good News? Are you willing to live every day with deep commitment in honor of this astounding and wonderful truth? Are you willing to develop your own, personal relationship with this totally loving and helpful Divine Friend, with Jesus? The very presence of Christianity on earth bids you to wholeheartedly respond with YES.