An Easter Sermon: The Missing Link

Good Friday is the day when we hear the first half of this story, where we mourn the death of Christ – and claim him as one of our own. And now, on Easter, we hear the rest of the story, the Divine did not relinquish its claim on Jesus either, but instead raised him from the dead. He is the missing link: we and God both claim him for our own. God has saved us through Christ, just as Jesus told Nicodemus so long ago. Jesus binds us together as members of the Body of Christ, and as children of God. The resurrection is a living reality. But, unless we come to know Christ in the depths of our hearts, unless we take the risk of claiming Christ for our own, the resurrection will never be a living reality for us.

La Descente de Croix - Rubens (1617)
La Descente de Croix – Rubens (1617)

On Easter, we celebrate the heart of our faith, the story of Christ’s death and resurrection. Why is it so important? How does this narrative bridge the gulf between Human Sin and Divine Grace? And, why does this Act of God from two Millennia ago matter to us today?

Let us pray…

Lord God, we lift up this morning’s message.  May it touch our hearts, may it speak clearly to our souls.  We know that your Word and your love have bridged the huge chasm that separates us from you, and affirmed that all of us are your beloved children. Speak to us now, Lord.  Help us to know you in the ways you have wanted us to know you since the beginning. Amen.

Three years ago, I visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the place at the heart of the events of Easter. As you enter that Church, to your right and up a flight of stairs, is the shrine of the Crucifixion. To the left, what would be behind me and deeper into the church, is the Shrine of the Tomb. So, on one side is the place where our Sin brought about the death of our Savior; and on the other is the spot where he was resurrected by the Grace of God.

Man’s Sin sent Jesus to his death, and God’s Grace brought him back, but what ties the two together?

The answer is in front of you, unavoidable as you enter the Church: the Stone of Unction.

It is a simple stone, unadorned, surrounded by a few lamps, and just long and wide enough for a body. On the wall behind it is a modern mural that depicts the event that took place at this spot, where Joseph of Arimathea and the Pharisee named Nicodemus laid Jesus’ body after taking it down from the Cross.

“Unction” means “anointing,” and it is here on this stone that they washed Jesus’ body, anointed it with oil, and prepared it for burial.

Why is this important? Why did the designers of this Church orient it such that this spot is right in front of you as you enter the church? And, why is the building laid out such that you must pass by it a second time as you go from Calvary to the Tomb? In other words, why does it matter?

Let’s start by imagining what would have happened if Joseph and Nicodemus had not taken Jesus ‘ body down from the Cross.

Continue reading “An Easter Sermon: The Missing Link”

Letting Go

Dad and son on bike with training wheelsSermon: “Letting Go”
Delivered at ARK Community Church, Dalton MA
Easter, April 20 2014.

Scripture readings:
Acts 10:34-43 (from “The Message”)
John 20:1-18 
 (from “The Message”)

As you know, I often speak of the many ways God holds on to us, and how we are called to claim Jesus for our own, and called to hold on to Christ and to God’s love. But, Easter is not about holding on!

Let us pray… 

Lord, on this Easter morning, we celebrate your victory over death, and with it your promise of new life in our own futures. Open the scriptures before us, and enable me to clearly communicate what you intend for us to receive here today.  May your gospel live within each and every one of us, driving all despair and fear from our hearts.

We rejoice in this opportunity for new revelations and a deeper understanding of your call to walk before you, spreading your gospel to all nations. We ask that your Word live and work through us to amaze and transform not only our own lives, but the lives of all whom we encounter.  Help us to embody your teachings, and to live them, in all that we do, think, speak, and are.  

In Jesus Name, Amen.

It’s Easter. At the start of our reading from John this morning, Mary Magdalene is alone in the predawn light, weeping before the empty tomb. The mortal remains of the man she loves are missing. Although she doesn’t know it yet, Jesus has been set free from the bonds of death.

As I said earlier, Easter is not about holding on. John makes this clear by telling us that once Mary realizes who is standing before her, Jesus says, “Do not cling to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.”

It seems that holding on to Jesus frustrates the plan of God! Jesus the man is again alive, just like Lazarus; but the transformation of the man into the Christ is not yet complete. Jesus is still in the process of as he puts it, of “ascending to my God and your God.

Mary is given a role in this when he says, “Go to my brothers and tell them….” Her mission involves leaving him behind and carrying his message to all who believe. Her task is to let go, to forever turn away from the man she loves.

I imagine this was very hard for Mary. He was lost, and now he’s found. He was dead, but is alive again. Her arms ache to hold on to the man she loves, the man she’d given up as forever lost. What would happen when she turned her back to leave? Would she ever see him again? She must have asked herself whether her heart could bear losing him again. Turning away was a big risk.

Continue reading “Letting Go”