Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
It is hard to capture the mystery and beauty of an Easter morning in a single phrase. There are, of course, the words of the great poets and artists. Martin Luther once wrote, “Our Lord has written the promise of the resurrection not in books alone but in every leaf of springtime.” Saint Francis of Assisi, said, “Proclaim the gospel at all times and in all places. And if necessary -use words.” The spiritual mentor of my youth Alvin Rogness identified the pastoral struggle of finding just the right phrases. He wrote, “I have never enjoyed preaching the Easter sermon. It always seemed to me that the theme had become too big for words, and probably belonged only in the soaring setting of an oratorio.” There is, however, one verse in this morning’s gospel which I believe captures the wonder of this day. It may not be the verse that you suspect, but it is a verse that is filled with wonder and possibilities. “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to the Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”
Throughout the season of Lent, we have meditated on Jesus teaching his disciples how to pray and the treasure we have been given in the Lord’s Prayer. And now on Easter morning we hear the good news of the assurance that we can come to God in prayer and trust that our petitions will be heard. As Martin Luther wrote, “Amen, Amen” which means, “Yes, yes, it is going to come about just like this.” Yes, “For thine in the kingdom, and the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.” For no one is this phrase more poignant, than the disciple Peter.
On that fateful Friday afternoon after the Son of Man had died, when Peter had denied Jesus three times and run away, Joseph of Arimathea requested of Pontius Pilate the body of Jesus. Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and laid it in the tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the Mother of Joses saw where the body was laid. Jesus was dead, and the Sabbath was near, the women would not disturb his body.
Neither the women, the disciples, the Jewish council, the Roman governor, nor even Peter, however, had counted on God’s surprise and mystery. God had sent his son Jesus on a journey, to be sure- and this journey included death, but that was not the end. On the third day, God raised him from the dead. God burst open the grave, and sent Jesus out again to invade and capture the hearts and wills of his followers. You see, Jesus did not suffer and die to teach a lesson- how to be brave, or how to be loyal to your convictions. Jesus suffered and died and rose again to overcome the enemy Satan, and to redeem the world. He was sent into the world to restore that which had been lost- and that is good news for you and me.
It was no wonder that the women who went to the tomb early on the first day of the week “went out and fled from the tomb.” It was no wonder that “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Gazing upon the mystery of the resurrection, gazing upon the stone that had been rolled away, gazing upon the empty tomb, they knew why they were silent. The power of death had been destroyed! And they knew then that there was nothing in all creation that could separate them from the love of God- not even the final word of death.
For many people today , however, the resurrection is anything but exciting. Jesus’ rising from the dead is nothing more than the commemoration of a victory long ago. Easter is remembered in the same way that historians recall the battles of Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and Napoleon Bonaparte- except with better music. It is portrayed in tedious words that lack both surprise and mystery. For some, it is hard to imagine the terror and amazement that had seized the women at the tomb, that they said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. Frankly, they sound a lot like a number of Lutherans I know.
Perhaps when evening comes, you too will brush aside this day as your annual sojourn to the church to mark the return of spring and the promise of some “beloved heavenly home waiting for you.” Well, if that is true, then you are to be pitied as much as the poor pastor who said, “We certainly believe in the resurrection at our church. If you doubt it, just visit us at the close of our worship service and watch our congregation spring back to life.”
No, my friends, consider again the beautiful and poignant verse the heavenly messenger told the women at the tomb; it is a word of promise for you as well. “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to the Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” How that message must have cheered Peter’s heart when he received it. He must have been tortured living with the memory of his disloyalty and denial, and suddenly there came a special message just for him. That, my friends, is the nature and mystery of the love of our Lord Jesus.
That is your good news for Easter as well. It I a word of hope and forgiveness– wherever you may be on your faith journey. Our Lord Jesus wants you to know that he will meet you. Our resurrected Lord is far less concerned with the wrong that you have done, than the remorse that you are undergoing. He is far less concerned with your sins, than with your forgiveness. He is far less concerned about your doubts, than your desire. He is far less concerned with his own death, than the promise of an abundant life for you.
You see, the story of Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t end with the women filled with terror and amazement. There is more. Jesus offers the possibility to begin life again with a new vision and purpose. Nothing, save the mystery of the resurrection, could have changed these sad and despairing men and women into a people radiant with joy and flaming with courage. That is our Savior’s gift for you this day. Jesus will send you forth, as he did his first disciples with a new vision and calling. No mystery of divine love has so enchanted men and women throughout the centuries as has Jesus’ resurrection. Whole civilizations have been changed because Jesus’ followers dared to follow his way of love and service. They have clung to the Risen Christ, and he has clung to them. And together they have reshaped the hopes of the world.
Finally Jesus offers the victory over death and the promise of a place in his everlasting kingdom, where death has no sting. It is a time and place where you will gather together with all those who have been faithful to the mystery of the resurrection. It is a place where there will be no more death, nor sorrow, nor tears. Even now this risen Lord is preparing the way for you. “For thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.”
My friends, this is the simple message of Easter, but it makes all the difference. “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to the Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” Amen.