Easter B Sermon (2015)

The Resurrection of our Lord
Texts: Mark 16:1-8;
Acts 10:34-43; Isa. 25:6-9

THE CONTINUING OF THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST

Children’s Sermon
Object for lesson: malted milk eggs [handed out to the kids at the end]. Pretend this is a real egg and you found it laying outside. How would you know what’s inside it? It could be some sort of bird, but what kind? And aren’t there other animals that hatch from eggs? (Kids give answers.) Yes, what if it was a snake or a lizard? But you can’t really know that until what’s in here actually comes out on their own, right?

The Easter stories about Jesus seem to say that he rose from the dead with a different kind of body. People had trouble recognizing him. And he suddenly appeared in locked rooms. He was in the grave, and it was kind of like being in an egg. Because when he came out, people were surprised. He was different in ways that they couldn’t guess.

We sometimes talk about going to heaven when we die to be with Jesus. And we will. But that’s not the last thing to happen to us. Going to heaven is a bit more like being in an egg and growing into something different. Because someday God will raise us with new bodies like he did with Jesus. It will be like hatching from an egg. And it will be a surprise. We can’t guess what those bodies will be like. Different from these bodies, like Jesus’ body was different on Easter. But we’ll have to wait and find out when we ‘hatch’ — when God raises us. [End with prayer and giving out the candy eggs.]

Sermon
Many or most of you know that my Dad passed away a week ago, and that we will honor his life with a memorial service this Saturday. Thank you for all the cards, and prayers, and expressions of sympathy. They mean a lot. So I hope you won’t mind if this Easter sermon has a bit more of a personal flavor.

There are few greater losses in life than the loss of a parent. It is my privilege as a pastor to walk with many of you through such losses in your lives. I work to bring a message of comfort and hope to you at these times in your lives. This week I experience first hand how that message works for me. Especially since my grief coincides with the week that we call Holy, I ask myself, “How does this message play for me?”

It is a message of comfort and hope. First, the comfort part. If you’ve been to a funeral here at Prince of Peace, or are aware of my approach to ministry, you know that I talk a lot about how much the basic shape of my faith has changed in my own life. It’s no different with the comfort I think the Easter message brings. I grew up thinking more in terms of “going to heaven when you die” as the ultimate comfort and hope — and that Easter somehow assures the promise of going to heaven when we die.

But we’re rediscovering in recent years that that’s not really what resurrection is about — at least, not centrally. Resurrection is about what happens after we go to heaven when we die. God’s ultimate project — for which that first Easter morning is but the first day — is to renew and complete the whole Creation. It’s a long process — hopefully faster than the 13 billion years of creation that came before Easter, but certainly not something that’s going to happen overnight. Two thousand years passing now since that first day shouldn’t get us down. God works in long timelines. And the comfort comes from Jesus being the first raised and ascended as God’s promise that none of us will miss out on the glorious ending. None of us will miss out on the completion of the Creation project — that wonderful day when there will finally be no more death and suffering. Jesus’ new resurrection body is the promise that some day all of us will have resurrection bodies, too, bodies that will not die or suffer. Bodies that will be well-suited to enjoy the fulfillment of God’s creating power of life.

Jesus is also ascended into heaven as not only the promise that we do somehow ‘go to heaven’ when our earthly bodies die. But also that God in Jesus is now present with us in more powerful, life-transforming ways than before. Our theme through this Easter season is “Tethered.” Yes, tethered. Even though Jesus died, rose, and ascended, he now is able to live in us and we in him. A month from now we’ll hear Jesus’ words about the vine and branches — how it is that we stay connected spiritually, how the power of Jesus’ love and life dwells in us.

And that means that, even though loved ones die, because they now dwell in Jesus and Jesus dwells in us, our loved ones dwell with us still. Since my Mom died four years ago, and now with my Dad’s passing, they can be present with me in ways that they couldn’t before. They are forgiven and whole, living in Jesus. And Jesus is living in me, so Mom and Dad are with me in ways that give me great comfort. The Easter message brings comfort at a time of loss! It brings the promise that our loved ones are present with us in powerful ways because, since that first Easter Day, God in Jesus is present with us in more powerful ways.

And the Easter message brings hope, too. To me it brings hope in the form of a gracious challenge. A challenge because New Creation has barely begun, and you and I are called as disciples of Jesus to take part in New Creation. Gracious because Jesus, and all our departed loved ones with him, is tethered to us in order to give us strength and courage and guidance. Easter brings a gracious challenge to help bring about New Creation! Easter means that there is meaningful work for all of us to do, work that can give our lives purpose and hope.

How does that work? Well, it works a bit differently for each of us, based on both our differing gifts and also our differing circumstances in life. A meaningful part for me, in being my father’s son, for example, is his battling alcoholism through much of his life. But then, through the Twelve Step spiritual program of Alcoholic’s Anonymous, he found the Easter power of transformation to become sober — more than the last 20 years of his life. It was something he could then pass on to others by staying in the program — the 13th step of helping others. I’m proud of my Dad’s sobriety, and it is a circumstance in my life for me to help tell that story to give hope to others.

But my gifts and circumstances have taken me other directions, too, into other passions that give my life purpose and hope. You can see them represented in the top pieces in today’s Peace Proclamations [our parish announcements page]: resisting and healing racism and helping to bring greater economic justice to our common life. These are big things that effect us all. I hope you will consider joining us for these events [in the Peace Proclamations]. We are all called to battle the powers of sin and death. But I feel called to help provide leadership to our joint efforts in working with God to help renew Creation by battling the powers of racism and poverty as they impede our renewal as human beings. And it’s not my Dad’s presence that helps me quite as much as someone like our friend Art Hoekstra, who died a couple years ago, and who spent his life battling poverty and racism. In Jesus Christ, he and other saints are tethered to me to strengthen me for the continuing work of bringing justice and peace to this world.

In fact, the Civil Rights movement is a good microcosm for the work of New Creation launched at Easter. Those who’ve battled racism all their lives know that they probably won’t see the end of racism before their deaths. But that the movement continues on through others gives hope. That’s the way of Easter for all our battles with the powers of sin and death. We most likely won’t see the final victory before our earthly bodies give out. But the resurrection is the promise that the work continues and will be complete some glorious day — a day when we then receive resurrection bodies to revel in the victory of life and love over the powers of sin and death.

So what are your gifts? What are the circumstances of your life? What are you passionate about that you might join with God and your fellow disciples to help bring about New Creation? Is it to take better care of God’s good Creation and all of God’s wondrous creatures? Is it to create and support art that enhances our environment and praises the beauty of God’s world? Is it to bring healing to those in need of it? Or all the things that lead to healthy living, like recreation and food? Is it helping to serve others in humble and life-enhancing ways? Is it nurturing children and helping to raise them into the meaningful work of God’s New Creation? And who are the saints who’ve gone before you that are tethered to you and strengthen you?

Whatever your gifts and passions, “Christ is risen!” means there’s work to do. That first Easter was just the beginning of the Good News. God works in long timelines, because God works through the power of love and freedom, not force and coercion. So you and I are called to be the continuing of Good News in the world.

None of the Gospel writers makes this point quite like Mark, and so it is the point we want to end with and emphasize today. Back in January we watched a video of Lutheran superstar preacher Nadia Bolz-Weber elaborate on the first verse of Mark’s Gospel: “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, Son of God.” But here at the end of Mark’s Gospel we’re completely left hanging. “Christ is risen! He’s not here!” proclaims the young man at the empty tomb. But the women run away afraid, not telling anyone. That’s it! That’s the strange ending of Mark’s Gospel. Why? Precisely, I think, because it’s not the ending. It’s the beginning. And you and I as Easter people are called to be the continuing of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Let’s let Pastor Nadia finish the point:

play video from 6:23 (1)

Alleluia! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed! Alleluia! And that means there’s work to do. You and I are called to be the continuing Good News of the Easter victory. Amen

Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Prince of Peace Lutheran,
Portage, MI, April 5, 2015

1. Nadia Bolz-Weber, Animate Bible adult education series on the Gospels. Her main points can be summarized: If we go back and look at those first few verses of Mark, we see that it truly is, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). It’s not the whole story. It’s not even most of the story, because it doesn’t stop there. The stories of Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John have done its work in people for centuries — to right now here in this place where you’ve gathered…. Mark was right. Hearing is only the beginning of the Good News. His declaration of the Good News was meant to elicit a response. Those who have heard the story become part of the story. We are agents of the continuation of the Good News of Jesus Christ the Son of God.

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