Friday, April 17, 2015

Greetings! (Matthew 28:1-11) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A pastor writes:  “A friend of mine named John had a number of responsibilities in his job, including traveling to small rural communities to conduct funerals, where they didn't have churches.  He would go out with an undertaker and they would drive together in the hearse. One time, they were on their way back from a funeral and my friend was feeling tired.   He decided  to take a nap and went to lie down in the back of the hearse.

The undertaker pulled into a service station to gas up. The attendant started filling up the tank and was kind of freaked out, because a body was stretched out in the back.  While he was filling the tank, my friend woke up, opened his eyes, knocked on the window and waved at the attendant.  John said he never saw anybody jump so high and run so fast in his whole life.”  

Yes, when you abruptly see life, when you're expecting death, it shakes you up.   So it was on that first Easter.  On the third day, everything changed.  The disciples, the women and crowds thought they were going to see death, but instead they saw life!   And that shook people up.  History records that Jesus' followers, were shattered, disillusioned, and heartsick at seeing Jesus crucified, but suddenly they were motivated to witness to others with a newfound passion, power and purpose, because they had seen life, when they were expecting death.   We rejoice with Christians around the world today in remembering the astounding shock of Jesus' resurrection.

Two women went to the tomb to anoint Jesus' body with oil and spices as was the Jewish custom.  The women encounter an angel who says to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary – “Do not be afraid; He is not here, He has risen; Come and see; Go quickly and tell the disciples.”  Jesus the Risen lord appears to the women as they were leaving the tomb and says - “Greetings.”   Our Risen Lord says greetings to you, to us, this morning as well.

The resurrection of Jesus is the foundation of the Christian faith, it's the linchpin of Christian hope, its the historical basis for the celebration of Easter.   Easter is a light in the darkness of this world.  For if you and I are merely earthbound creatures, with no promise of tomorrow; if aging, suffering, pain and death are all we have to look forward to, then nothing but darkness and sadness awaits us.   We read in I Corinthians: “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.  If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”  

But Easter announces a radically different word; the tomb was empty, God rolled away the stone, and God rolls away stones and opens tombs today.  The stone was not rolled back so Jesus could get out, but so others could get in, and see for themselves that Jesus had risen from the dead.   Because of the power of faith in Christ, as a pastor I have personally seen lives saved from tombs of despair, from tombs of grief, from tombs of shattered relationships, from tombs of meaninglessness and hopelessness.  

Dr. Bernard Thompson, Yale University staff to persons with drug and alcohol addiction issues writes:  “Really, the only widespread dramatic instances of remission, are to be seen among those whose will is redirected through a religious experience.”  Singer Natalie Cole who struggled for years with a drug problem said:  “Most importantly, I thank my Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, for his unfailing grace and mercy in my life.  He gave me the victory.

The power that brought Jesus back to life, is available to us, to bring our spiritually dead selves back to life.  Easter announces that there is no grave deep enough, no stone heavy enough, no evil strong enough to keep Christ in the tomb and to keep us from the Risen Lord.   The world says evil is stronger than good, hate is stronger than love and death is stronger than life.  Christianity says no, not so!  Why?  Because on Easter Jesus the Risen Lord said- “Greetings.”

Easter declares there is hope for tomorrow, not hopelessness; there is life for tomorrow, not annihilation, not obliteration, not death.  Easter dares to proclaim this message, even in light of the global threat we face from radical extremist Muslim violence, killing and persecution. 

Easter points to the promise of a renewed creation, a new earth.  Easter points to an afterlife, a life to come, a life that awaits us, an eternal life beyond this earthly life.  Eternal life awaits those who surrender their lives, who trust, who believe in Him.  Scripture promises:  “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”   Life begins when we discover this truth for ourselves and act upon it.

I give thanks to God for the life and ministry of Rev. Robert Schuller, founder and pastor of the former mega-church, the Crystal Cathedral in Southern CA, who died April 2, at the age of 88.  He brought the Christian hope to millions of people around the world for over 50 years.  He wrote:  “I happen to focus on the secular world.  I'm not interested in talking to people who have religion.  I'm trying to talk to people who turn God off.”  He was famous for such catchwords as:  “Inch by inch anything's a cinch,” “God's care will carry you, so you can carry others,” “Selfishness turns life into a burden, Unselfishness turns burdens into life;” “When faced with a mountain I will not quit, I will keep on striving until I climb over, find a pass through, tunnel underneath, or simply stay and turn the mountain into a gold mine, with God's help.”  Rev. Schuller is now living the hope he preached during his ministry; he has begun his new life in heaven with his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and the communion of saints.

In light of the hostility in our world, we are constantly faced with our own mortality.  It is not a subject we spend a lot of time contemplating.   Easter declares God's victory over death.  The resurrection shows that even the seemingly indomitable power of death is inferior to the will and power of God.  Easter announces that Jesus' resurrection opens the future and assures us of a future. 

Listen to the testimony from the apostle Paul in I Corinthians; this is the core of our Easter faith: “I would remind you, brothers and sisters of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you, unless you have come to believe in vain.  I handed on to you, what I in turn had received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, then to the twelve, then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died, then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me.”   

As you look out at our world today I ask you two questions – do you have hope for the future and what is the basis for your hope?  Christians around the world are not in worship today saying: "The stock market has risen. It has risen indeed." They have not gathered to say, "The dollar has risen.  It has risen indeed." Or "Google has risen. It has risen indeed."   The hope that has ignited the hearts, stirred the souls, and uplifted human beings across every continent and culture for two millennia is: "Christ is risen. He is risen indeed."

Easter confirms that Jesus alone, and no one else, is the Son of God, so let us take to heart these great promises of our Lord:  “There are many rooms in my Father’s house, I am going there to prepare a place for you, I would not tell you this if it were not so, and I will come back and take you to myself, so that you will be where I am.”  Jesus says: “Because I live, you shall live also.”  Jesus says: “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, even though they die, shall live.”  

Yes, we celebrate Easter because on the third day, Jesus said, “Greetings!”  Alleluia.  Amen.

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