Easter Sunday                                                                                                 
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 24:1-8 Sermon
April 16, 2017

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
199 "Jesus Christ Is Risen Today"
198 "He's Risen, He's Risen, Christ Jesus The Lord"
205 "The Day Of Resurrection"
200 "I Know That My Redeemer Lives" 


TEXT:  "But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.  While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel.  And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living amongst the dead?  He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”  And they remembered his words. 

            This morning as you came to church, you came with some expectations.  I doubt if you came in expecting the church to be all decked out in black for Good Friday.  The black drape that hung over the cross in front is gone, the Tenebrae log has been put away for another year, and the purple and black paraments have been stored away in the back of the altar.  Things are exactly as you expect them to be.

            Life is full of expectations.  If you live inLincoln, you expect a lot of traffic, especially on football Saturdays.  If you go over to JD's down on the square, you can expect to find a wide variety of coffees.  You expect spring to follow winter. You came to church this morning expecting to find it all decked out for Easter.  You expect to sing Easter hymns.  And you expect a sermon from the pulpit.  These are things you came here expecting to find.  And indeed you have; there are no surprises.  

            But there are also those times when things aren’t what you would expect.  Maybe you walk into the grocery store to buy something, and you find that it's on sale.  Maybe you get a letter in the mail from theIRS, and it's a check because they owed you some money.  Or maybe there was the occasion you came to church, and a single sentence from a sermon or a particular hymn verse hit you out of nowhere and your eyes began to tear up.

            Easter is one of those things that provided an unexpected surprise for the women at the tomb and the disciples.  But there can be some pleasant surprises for us as well.  So now, for a just a few moments, let’s turn away from the business of everyday life and turn toward the ancient message of Easter. Together, Let’s Turn to Jesus for Resurrection and Life!

            So let's start to dig a bit.  Luke’s account of Easter morning begins, frankly, with exactly what you would expect: “On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.” It all seems very normal and unexceptional. All we read about here are close friends, a grave, and basic human dignity.

            These women had not been just casual friends, but very close and dear friends of Jesus.  They actively supported him and his ministry. They would have supplied him with various incidentals, like food and clothing.  And they stood by Jesus at the foot of the cross when so many others had deserted him. Their loyalty and their love for Jesus were displayed in their lives. And they would demonstrate their loyalty and love also in his death.

            So where were these faithful women going?  They were going to a tomb in a cemetery.  Do you like cemeteries?  Not many people do.  People do their best to manicure them and make them look pleasing.  So we talk about how pretty the flowers are, how nicely mown the grass is, and how beautiful the gravestones are.  But deep down we know that we can’t spruce up death with pretty flowers and a well-manicured lawn.

            Jesus’ tomb was a brand-new one, given to him by a rich man named Joseph of Arimathea.  But even that fancy tomb could not compensate for the fact that Jesus’ battered, lifeless body lay inside on a cold stone slab. What a dreadful end Jesus had endured.  What a dreadful place to see him in.

            These faithful women would make the best of it.  They would go to that dreadful tomb to lovingly tend to his body.  Jesus had received a quick burial on Good Friday.  There was no time to finish taking care of his body according to the Jewish custom.  On Saturday evening, after the Sabbath day rest was over, the women gathered the burial spices, which included myrrh and aloes. They would lovingly clean Jesus’ bloody body, gently sprinkle his body with the spices, snuggly wrap his body with clean linen, tenderly place a burial cloth on his face, and let Jesus rest in peace. Then they would return to a life that was going to be horribly different without Jesus!

            All of this is completely what we would expect. There was nothing out of the ordinary here.  We picture a dead man, a grave, and a group of mourners wanting to say a final, fitting farewell.  If Luke ended his account here, we would have no reason to celebrate Easter.  This morning would be nothing more than a huge waste of time.  If the account ended here, then our dreams for heaven would be completely gone and all we would have to look forward to is a six foot hole in the ground.

            But then something happened that the women didn’t expect: “They found the stone rolled away from the tomb.” They returned to the tomb at the crack of dawn.  When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away.  Who could possibly have beaten them out here this early?  And besides, who would have opened the grave?  What about the Roman guards?  They had been keeping watch to make sure that none of Jesus’ disciples came in the middle of the night, carted off the body, and then claimed that Jesus was alive. Where were they?  Roman legionnaires were tough as nails.  They didn’t run away from their duty, even if it meant death for them.  What in the world was going on here!?

            The women stepped into the tomb. When they did, they experienced one very big surprise.  They experienced the very first Easter:

            When they entered the tomb, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus that they were expecting.  While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them as Luke records in our text for today: “Why do you look for the living amongst the dead?  He is not here; he has risen!  Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’”

            Instead of linen grave clothes, they saw what seemed to be men dressed in dazzling light!  Instead of a cold body stiff with rigor mortis, they saw angelic messengers.  The rocky slab where Jesus’ lifeless body lay became in effect the first Easter pulpit.  Instead of the silence of a tomb and the stillness of death, they listened to the very first Easter sermon short, sweet, and to the point.  This sermon, which has been preached again and again and again, has literally changed the history of the world: “He is not here; he has risen!”  The lifeless body of Jesus that had been beaten and battered, poked and prodded, whipped and crucified is no longer dead.  Jesus lives!

            You've heard me say many times that Jesus physically and literally rose from the dead.  I couldn't stand here in this pulpit if I didn't firmly believe that.  We couldn't say the Apostles' or Nicene or Athanasian creeds if we didn't believe that.  

            But those words are not my words.  The Angels said it. And even more than that, Jesus himself said it!  “Remember how he told you!” the angels said.  

            Certainly there are those who either doubt, or flat out don't believe in the physical and actual resurrection of Jesus.  Whether or not this is the case, it doesn't change the fact that Easter truly, literally happened.  We don't turn to the abyss of doubt or disbelief.  Instead, we turn in joy to Jesus who is the resurrection and the life!

            Now I'm going to take a look at the other side of things, sort of the proverbial devil’s advocate for just a bit.  Let’s say Jesus didn’t rise from the dead.  Let’s say the Roman guards were all cowards, the women were all delusional, and the angels were purely mythical. But let's not stop there.  Let’s go all the way and say that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were just making stuff up. What are we left with?

            1. We are left with our sin.  The Apostle Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15, verse 17:  “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”  If Jesus has not been raised, then when Jesus said, “It is finished” on the cross, then he wouldn't be talking about our salvation; no, he would have been finished.  A dead saviour is a dead deception or a buried dream.  No, if Jesus is still dead, then we’ve got a huge problem that’s three letters long: S-I-N! And deep down inside of us, every single one of us knows that the words the Apostle Paul writes in Romans chapter 6 verse 23:  “the wages of sin is death.”

            2. If Jesus is still dead, then we have no real hope when we take our own personal trip to the funeral home one day!  The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians chapter 15: “If the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.”  If Christ has not been raised, then there's no hope past the doors of the mortuary (okay, a "dead end" if you were expecting a pun).  Then too there is always that nagging knowledge found in our consciences and in the Bible.  Granted that hell is an unpopular topic for people, and they just don't want to think about it.  But if Christ has not been raised, then the thought of eternity can only be a scary proposition.

            3. Finally, if Christ is still dead, then we have no real hope in this life either. The Apostle Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15 verse 14:, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”  If Jesus is still in his grave, then this sermon is silly and worthless, your trust in Christ is childish, and your faith is foolish.  If Christ has not been raised, then you might as well just walk out of here, go home and play a good game of Trivial Pursuit, because that’s what your life is if Christ is dead.

            But Jesus has been raised from the dead.  He has really, physically, and truly been raised from the dead!  The crucified one lives again!  God stakes his entire reputation upon these historical, unshakeable Easter facts!  

            The Evangelist Luke is no liar. The women weren’t delusional; far from it in fact. They were astonished!  The angels are no myth.  They are the Almighty’s messengers, proclaiming the greatest truth of all time.  God proclaims his Easter truth to us so that we can have a rock-solid foundation upon which to build our life.

            Just think of it!  Our sin, through Christ, stands forgiven.  Death has been overcome!  Satan has been defeated.  The life we have in Christ will last forever.  Maybe Easter isn't exactly what we expect, but it is exactly what we need!

            What do you need?  You desperately need God’s forgiveness.  I desperately need God's forgiveness.  Everybody does!  Jesus died on the cross to pay sin’s shocking price tag. On the cross, Jesus said that his work of saving us from our sins was finished.

            Easter is the proof that Jesus’ work really works for us! The Apostle Paul writes in Romans chapter 4 verse 25: He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”  Easter is our Lord’s declaration to us that our sin has been forgiven. Turn to Jesus for his forgiveness!  He died and rose again to forgive every sin for every sinner.

            What do we need?  We need help with death!  Just this past Friday, I conducted a funeral service.  I can't even begin to count the number of funerals I've had.  When people are facing their last hour, they need help, and that's when we turn to God's Word and the hope that Christ gives. 

            But it goes further than that.  Those who gather to mourn somebody's passing need that message just as much.  The grave is a reality for everybody; it feels dismal and foreboding.  But looks and feelings can be deceiving.  Death and the grave is not our grand finale.  Because Jesus lives again, we can be absolutely sure that our graves will not be the final word.  Our living Lord will one day raise us up from our graves, just as he himself did. In Jesus, who himself is the resurrection and the life, we will live even though we die.  Turn to Jesus!  His resurrection ensures our resurrection!

            What do you need?  We all need hope in life.  There is a great deal of unrest in our country.  People inSyriaare getting eaten alive with chemical bombs.  Al Queda and ISIS continue to threaten. And things in our own lives aren't always nice and tidy.  We pray about our problems when we go to sleep.  When we wake up, they are often still there.  There are plenty of times when it feels as if God is floating somewhere in outer space while our problems feel as close as the noses on our faces.

            And where is our hope?  Our hope for daily life and eternal life isn’t placed in a dead guy somewhere in theMiddle East.  No!  Christ is alive, which means that we have all kinds of hope to bring us through this life.  The living Lord is with you and me every single second of our earthly life until he takes us into eternal life.  Turn to Jesus!  His life is your life!

            So what are you expecting to receive from your celebration of Easter?  When you walked in here this morning, you expected certain things, and I hope you haven't been disappointed. I have talked about the reality of Jesus’ resurrection.  

            I hope that the forgiveness of sins and victory over death are important to you.  For those who don't really care about the hope this brings, then worship is nothing but a sham and a meaningless ritual.  And the only Easter hope such a person has is perhaps a chocolate bunny, marshmallow peeps, Cadbury creme eggs, and a ham dinner, with a nap afterwards.

            But Christ walked out of his tomb, and he did so truly, bodily, powerfully.  We have every reason to worship him as often as we can!  And the best we can hope for today is full forgiveness for all of our sins, complete removal of all our guilt, God’s truth to drive out our doubts, joy as we live for Jesus now, the hope of eternal life in heaven, and the assurance of your own bodily resurrection when the last trumpet sounds.

            Chocolate bunnies and marshmallow peeps might taste good now, but there is no hope or future in such things.  That's why I pray that our Lord Jesus keeps you in a living Easter faith, which is a faith that continually turns to Jesus for resurrection and life. Yes, turn to Jesus; always Jesus; only Jesus.   He is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Hallelujah!