St. John's Episcopal Church


Sermon for April 16, 2017

Easter Sunday

The Rev. Carol Hancock                                 

St. John's, Centreville
Easter Day A
John 20:1-18
April 16, 2017
     God of new beginnings, meet us where we are in our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
     Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
     On this Easter Day, the most important day of the Christian year, we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ from the dead, to forgive us of our sins and to open the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
     In all of our gospel accounts, no one actually witnesses the resurrection. In the four gospels, the details differ, but all say that the tomb where Jesus is buried is empty. In the gospel of John that we have just read, it is Mary Magdalene who first discovers that the stone has been rolled away and the tomb is empty. Mary Magdalene - Mary with the bad reputation, Mary the sinner, Mary who anoints Jesus with expensive perfume - she is the first one who finds the tomb is empty, who first sees the resurrected Jesus and talks with him. Jesus appears to Mary first, not Peter or the beloved disciple who had been to the tomb just moments earlier.
     Throughout the season of Easter, we will read the accounts the Jesus' post-resurrection appearances - when he appeared to two men on the road to Emmaus, when he appeared to the disciples in the upper room and broke bread with them, when he appeared to the disciples when they were fishing.
     The resurrection of Jesus Christ cannot be proven by scientific fact. It can only be believed by faith - faith in a God who loves us so much that God sends his only Son into this world to save us from sin and death; faith in a God who reveals God's love for us and presence with us every day, if we will only open our eyes and see it.
     Jesus died for us because of his love for us and to take away the sins of the world, something that only the Son of God could do. French writer Henri Barbusse tells of a conversation overheard in a dugout full of wounded men during World War l. One of them, who knows he only has a few moments left to live, says to another man, "Listen, Joe, you have led a bad life. Everywhere you are wanted by the police. But there are no convictions against me. My name is clear, so, here, take my wallet, take my papers, my identity, my good name, my life - and quickly hand me your papers that I may carry all your crimes away with me in death."
     Jesus does the same thing for us. He takes away our sins and gives us new life. Because we are sinful people, we need our sins forgiven and wiped away every day - sometimes several times a day. And then we can start again - with a new life, a clean slate - a chance to get it right - to live as God would have us to live - to be the people that God created us to be. That is a life long venture and we will fall short time and time again. But because of Jesus, we have hope - hope to try again and again and again.
     And that is what our faith is all about - hope; hope in and through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But Jesus never said, If you believe and have faith in me, you will never be sick or suffer or die a tragic death. What Jesus said was that when suffering and illness and tragedies happen in our lives, that God will be there with us, to walk with us through the pain and suffering. Because God knows about suffering. God watched God's only Son be betrayed by a friend and die an agonizing death. But through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God gives us the strength we need to work through the suffering and the trials and tribulations of life. As Jesus overcame death on the cross, he has overcome the power of death for us. And that is where our hope lies.
     As Paul so eloquently states in the Book of Romans, "Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life nor angels nor rulers nor things present nor things to come nor powers nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
     So what does the resurrection mean to us? What does it mean to be an Easter people? It means that God will always love us, no matter what; that God is always with us to give us strength and guidance, no matter what; that God will forgive us our sins and welcome us home with open arms when our earthly lives are over.
     The resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us new life. What will we do with it? Will we seize this opportunity - an opportunity to let go of past hurts and grudges, a time to welcome Christ into your life, a time to let go of the burdens you have been carrying and put them into God's hands, a time to see God at work in the world around us, a time to see God's love in everyday events.
     The resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us an opportunity to change our lives - to live into the love that God has for each and every one of us. No one is outside the bounds of God's one is outside the bounds of God's love.
     In an Easter letter before his death in 1994, Bishop Klaus Hemmerle of Germany wrote: "I wish each of us Easter eyes, able to perceive in death, life; in guilt, forgiveness; in separation, unity; in wounds, glory; in the human, God; and in God, the human."
     It is through the lens of the resurrection that we can see the kind of world that God wants us to have, and the kind of life God wants us to live - filled with peace and joy. Easter happens every day as God shows us new ways to live, new opportunities to help others, new ways to be the people God wants us to be.
     The resurrection of Jesus gives us new hope and new life. We are not guaranteed an easy or pain free life. But the living God, the resurrected Christ, is with us, to walk with us through pain and suffering. Through Jesus resurrection, death has no power over us as God has promised us eternal life. We are free of the bondage of sin and death. And in that lies our faith and hope.
     Alleluia! Christ has risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!  Amen.

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