First Sunday after Easter April 2, 1967
In the end of the, sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you. And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word. And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him. Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.
In Christ Jesus, who this day long ago initiated changes that continue on, Fellow Redeemed:
It appeared to be the beginning of just another day—like countless thousands before it. The darkness of night was slowly giving way to the gray of dawn. All was quiet out at Joseph’s tomb. The soldiers were on guard, but by this time perhaps a bit relaxed and drowsy. Then suddenly, in an instance came the great change: “Behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.” The guard: fled to report to their masters what had happened and to be bribed into silence and lying. But the change remained. The earthly guards at the sealed tomb had been replaced by the heavenly messengers at the open tomb. The rolled away stone revealed the cause of all the commotion, for the occupied tomb was empty. Its occupant, shrouded in death clothes, had left his shrouds behind and had sallied forth from the prison house of death. So goes the Easter story.
But is it a story in the sense of a report of events that really never happened? Are the characters for real, or are they all make-believe? Did the evangelists record history or did they record the impressions of their excited imaginations? Is the Easter story myth or historic event? Did these things really happen or did the first Christians just think and believe they happened?
It is obvious that the Easter story reports events that, if they actually occurred, are above and beyond nature. The earthquake at just the right moment and with just the precision and force to topple the circular stone that closed the mouth of the tomb, the heavenly visitors, the sealed tomb revealed to be empty, the re-appearance in life of the One who had died by crucifixion the third day before— these things belong to the realm of the supernatural, above and beyond the every day natural. But is there a supernatural that at times intrudes upon the natural? The modern man shakes his head in disbelief and says “no.” For him the story can only be myth at best or the wild hallucinations of grief-stricken minds. Condescendingly, they grant that the myth has a message for modern man, but that the events reported occurred only in the minds of men, not in the history of human events.
In contrast we of this modern age, who appear to many to be but relics of a bygone age of superstitution when believing the supernatural was in vogue—we believe that the events actually occurred that day long ago, as they are reported by the evangelists. We believe that the changes that occurred that day brought about changes that have continuing force. Let us on this festival day mediate on those changes, for—
The greatest change is this that—
There are those who deny that Jesus died on Good Friday. They claim that He fell into a coma which wore off as He lay in the tomb. Denying His death on Good Friday, of course, also means denying His resurrection on the third day. But we believe the evangelists who report that after He had cried with a loud voice, He yielded up the ghost. We believe, as is reported, that His death was assured by the speer thrust and confirmed by the investigation of Pilate. He died and was buried on Good Friday. We also believe that He arose the third day. We believe that the women actually did meet Him on their way back to Jerusalem, that He talked to them, and that He permitted them to verify His resurrection by grasping His feet. We believe all the individual and group witnesses and eyents which testify and confirm His resurrection. The Easter festival commemorates the great change initiated that day—the crucified Christ became the resurrected and living Christ. So it is that the risen and living Lord can and did introduce Himself in this way: “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore.” Rev. l:l8.
He lives! We believe the words that we love to sing:
He lives, all glory to His name!
He lives, my Jesus, stild the same.
Oh, the sweet joy this sentence gives,
“I know that my Redeemer lives!”
So it is that the change from death to life that day continues on as a blessing for us.
The change initiated Easter morn means that God lives with us in the daily routine of our lives, for He assured us: “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” The modern man is suspicious of a God “up there” or “out there.” He’s looking for a God that he can meet in his daily encounters with his fellowman and amidst the problems of his life. Easter assures us that we have such a God. Though He fills all things in His glory, yet He is pleased to be with us in a most intimate way. He is always knocking at the door of our hearts and lives, seeking entrance. And what would He bring? He would supply the overtones of life, the extra dimension, the ultimate, as it is called. He would assure us that we are more than dust and ashes, that we are children of God—children who have been reconciled with God and have been made capable of becoming reconciled to our fellowman. He would assure us that we can survive the holiness of God because He has clothed us with the gagments of His righteousness. He would assure us day by day that though we falter and fail, misstep and transgress, we have, for His sake, a gracious God whose arms are ever open to receive us. He would assure us that all the aches and pains, the disappointments and frustrations of life will be resolved to the glory of God and our own welfare. He would assure us of a new dimension of depth and breadth and length of our life—that though we are now for His sake the sons of God, we cannot even imagine what lies ahead of us. He would assure us that we can do all things through Him and that nothing in the universe can possibly come between us and the love of God made real in Him. He lives yesterday, today, and tomorrow— with us, under us, above us, for us. We are lifted up and carried along through life by the continuing effects of the change initiated Easter morn.
That change continues to manifest itself in human lives, for—
The Easter story begins with a group of women going out to a grave. Sorrow and grief ruled over them. They carried their spices and ointments; They hurried their steps to beat the ravages of death upon the corpse of their Lord. The stone—oh, that stone—would they be able to move it? Would their love give their weak bodies sufficient strength? But when they arrived, they were confronted with the Easter change announced to them by the heavenly messenger, “Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said, Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” The time for mourning had come to an end; the time for joyous activity had arrived. The angel announced that change when he commissioned the mourners: “Go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead.” They went on the run to bring that message to His disciples. But they were interrupted by the Lord Himself— not to change the angelic commission, but to confirm both the message and the commission: “Go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.”
That change has continued on down through the ages. There is a tragic element in life that cannot be ignored even by the most light-hearted and optimistic. Exploding populations in areas where the food supply cannot keep pace have made death by starvation a threat that hovers over millions Many a young man has already left this country for Vietnam full of the strength and exuberance of youth only to return in the stillness of a casket. Many a child is cut down by disease before it even begins to experience the fullness of life. Many a youth becomes the victim of an accident upon the nation’s highways before the potential of his life has unfolded. There is a tragedy to life that has made and continues to make mourners of each succeeding generation of man.
But down through the ages the Easter miracle has changed a small number of those mourners into messengers of the victory over death. The message is simple: “He is not here: for he is risen. He lives.” “Because I live, ye live also.” “I go to prepare a place for you.” “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” By the grace of God and through the powerful working of the Spirit of God in our hearts that change has been made in us. We too have become witnesses of His resurrection and so messengers of life to a dying world. As such messengers we can help continue another change initiated that day so long ago, namely that—
“They departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy.” That sounds like a paradox, yet so true to the situation! Put yourselves in the place of those women. They came that morning with their thinking, their emotions, and their immediate purpose intertwined with a dead Lord. When they arrived at their destination, they were confronted with a heavenly messenger— an experience that they hever had had before, as we have not. They heard a message that seemed completely impossible and was contrary to all that they had expected—yet, if true, would be the greatest and most meaningful message that they had ever heard. It would give them back in a most unexpected and wonderful way what they had lost—their Lord. So was fear first without a trace of joy, then mingled with joy, and finally replaced with joy. That experience also continues on.
Who can begin to fathom the fears that beset and plague indidividuals as they live their lives day by day? Fear breeds fear—fear for one’s safety, fear of failure, fear of sickness, fear of one’s fellowman, fear of loneliness, fear of crowds, fear of God, fear of guilt, fear of judgment, fear of death, fear of the unknown. The lives of many are twisted and warped by fear. There is a cure—an ancient cure. St. John speaks of it when he writes, “Perfect love casteth out fear.” I John 4:l8. That perfect love was manifested and confirmed over a three day period almost two thousand years ago. God, who is love, emptied Himself of His love in the giving of His Son. Jesus Christ, who is the window through which we perceive the love of God as well as the mediator of that love, gave Himself into death in demonstration and proof of God’s love for man. What was done on Friday was confirmed by the resurrection on Sunday. The mediator of God’s love to man arose and lives. He lives on as the transmitter of God’s continuing love of man and as the generator of man’s love for his fellowman. Such perfect love casts out fear. Such perfect love replaces fear with joy— joy that pervades the spirit, that lifts up the weary, that kindles and rekindles hope.
May that Easter change continue in us and through us in others! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.