April 14, 2009

Easter Day Sermon

On a friday evening 2000 years ago on a hill near Jerusalem a man said three words that should have had no impact on the course of human history.  According to John's Gospel, Jesus breathed his last breath on Friday and said, "it is finished."  For all intents and purposes, it was finished.  Jesus of Nazareth the one so many had followed as a great teacher, a miraculous healer, and the anointed one of God was dead.  The revolution that it seemed like he would usher in was over.  It was finished.
    We may not speak with such certainty, but often life is lived with the assumption that it is finished; that evil has won.  As they stood on the banks of the Red Sea, watching the army of Pharaoh approach rapidly, the people of Israel cried out with terror to Moses, "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?"  Is it finished, Moses?  Are we finished?  Is the release from bondage that you promised already over?
    There are many times in our lives where the question, "is it finished" comes creeping in.  A less than favorable diagnosis.  The announcement of layoffs.  A spouse leaving.  A loved one dying.  The devil will, over and over again, use the events of our lives to convince us that it is finished, that evil has won, and the kingdom of God is no longer worth pursuing.
    This is where the story begins this morning.  Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome begin their week cleaning up after the events of last week because, for them, it seemed as though there was no future, the time for hope was over.  As soon as the sun had set on the Sabbath the women went about buying and preparing the spices and oils that they would need to anoint the body of their friend and Rabbi; work that should have been done when he was placed in the tomb, but the with sun setting rapidly and there was no time.  Early, very early Sunday morning these three women set out from their homes, spices in hand, to finish the work that needed to be done.
    The main problem, as they saw it, was how they might get the very large stone out of the way so that they could get to the body.  It was, as Mark tells us, the sole focus of their attention.  The walked and talked and wondered, "who will roll this stone away?"  With their hope snuffed out, all these women wanted to know was, who will roll the stone away so that we can finish our task and get back to living life.
    So they walked, and they talked, and they wondered, "who will roll this stone away?"
    And then they stopped talking, and they looked up, and the stone, the great symbol of their hopelessness had already been rolled away.  As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man where Jesus had once been laid to rest, and they were scared.
    "Don't be afraid," he said to the three women, "You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has risen!  He is not here!"
    And with those words Mary, Mary, and Salome became the first to know that it was, in fact, not finished.  There is more to the story.  Evil has not won.  Jesus is alive.
    The full weight of this story lies in the very large stone that had once blocked the door of Jesus' tomb.  When the women came upon the tomb, the stone had already been rolled back.  God is in the business of rolling stones away; he is all about giving new life; he says when it is finished, and the story is not over.
    With the rolling back of one stone, death has been defeated and life will never be the same.  Because that stone was rolled away, life can be lived with hope rather than despair.  For even when the diagnosis is death, even when it seems as though the worst possible ending is certain, even when we think we know that it is finished - it is not.  God longs to restore his creation to the fullness he intended for it.  He offers hope when things look grim.  He offers peace when life is in turmoil.  He offers love when hurt abounds.  And he offers it all to you, this morning, in the form of one very large stone having been rolled away.
       All he asks is that you walk with him, that you join him as the story continues to unfold.  "Go, tell the disciples, and Peter, that he will meet you in Galilee," the young man tells the women.  Jesus has risen, and the work continues, and he'd like for you to join him.  Al it requires is a belief that the stone has been rolled away and the motivation to meet him in Galilee.
    The trembling Israelites on the shore of the Red Sea had to step our in faith with a wall of water on their left and on their right.  In order to be freed from slavery they had to walk where it made no sense to walk.  So too, we must step out in faith and walk in the way of the kingdom, the way of self-sacrifice, the way of love, the way of compassion.
    On a friday evening 2000 years ago on a hill outside of Jerusalem a man said three words that forever changed the world.  It was finished, and yet it had only just begun.
    The tomb is empty.  The kingdom of God has prevailed.  Join in the celebration.  Let's get going, the king is alive  Amen.

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