Easter Joy

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” So Peter and the other disciple started toward the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb, crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated, where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying?” Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which

means Teacher). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

 Easter Sunday is God’s welcome home! That welcome motivates us to direct our lives toward God. The welcome comes with the resurrection of Jesus. It redeems our past, stabilizes our present, and secures our future in the kingdom of God. It turns fear into faith and despair into hope. There is no better news than the news of the resurrection of Christ that we celebrate on Easter because it becomes a personalized welcome for each one of us.

 Do you remember a significant moment of welcome in your life? In 1880, John Todd was orphaned when he was six-years-old, and he remembers the welcome into his new home. When his parents passed away he was sent to live with an aunt. This aunt became his parents. Her love surrounded him his whole life and even through college at Yale. As she grew near death she was filled with anxiety about what was coming next. She wrote him a letter describing her fear, and he wrote these words back:

It is now 35 years since I, a little boy of six, was left alone in the world. I have never forgotten the day when I made the long journey to your house in North Killingworth. I still recall my disappointment when, instead of coming for me yourself, you sent your hired man, Caesar, to fetch me. And I can still remember my tears and anxiety, as perched high on your horse and clinging tightly to Caesar, I started out for my new home. As we rode along and night fell, I became more afraid. “Do you think she’ll go to bed before I get there?” I asked Caesar anxiously.

”Oh, no,” he answered reassuringly. “She will be sure to stay up for you. When we get out of these woods, you will see her candle shining in the window.” Presently, we did ride into a clearing, and there, sure enough, was your candle. I remember you were waiting at the door … that you put your arm around me … that you lifted me down from the horse … there was a fire on your hearth … and a warm supper on your stove … After supper, you took me up to bed, heard my prayers, and then sat beside me until I dropped asleep.

You undoubtedly realize why I am recalling these things. Some day soon God may send for you, to take you to a new home. Don’t fear the summons … the strange journey … or the messenger of death … At the end of the road, you will

find love and a welcome waiting for you … you will be as safe there as you are here … you will be in God’s love and care … Surely God can be trusted to be as kind to you as you were years ago to me.

As we remember the resurrection today, we realize its hope for our lives and how practical its application can be. It is not an old theological doctrine that we read once a year. It is the real life day to day living that is now filled with the power of the risen Christ.

The Apostle Paul describes this fact in 1 Corinthians 15, a chapter in the Bible dedicated to the resurrection. The resurrection is described in the first few verses, but the rest of the chapter provides its joyful application.

Paul refers to the supernatural power that comes with the resurrection and how it inspires our lives. At one point he even writes, “If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

When we do not have a sense of the power of the resurrection, we may live lives of “quiet desperation.” We may not be able to truly pinpoint what we are living for. Life may become moving from one stage to the next without the reality of God’s purpose in the larger context of life. When someone asks, “What are you living for?” what kind of answer do we give?

A psychologist asked that question and 94% of the respondents answered with a milestone in life- something very momentary, temporary, and transient. If we had a certain milestone that we were living for, we would not enjoy passing that moment and then realizing that we do not have an answer for “What next?” The resurrection reminds us to set our sights on the ultimate goal- fellowship with God in the kingdom of heaven.

The faithful disciples grasped the need to latch onto this goal after they experienced the ups and downs of Easter week. As we moved through Lent we celebrated how Jesus moved toward and finally conquered death, but we do not

have to experience something that drastic in our own lives in order to understand the need to set a new goal. We can seek the kingdom without having an experience of despair, although many times coming out of those experiences is what makes us see clearer. We can identify parts of our lives that need to be redeemed and set into an eternal context. When God becomes involved in setting these parts in perspective, we can be assured that we will receive resurrection strength. We can manage the stress and restore the joy to our lives that had been taken by unbelievable circumstances, just as the disciples did.

The faithful disciples were in great pain as they grieved the loss of Jesus, but they learned a new lesson on Easter morning. They learned that pain does not have the final say in life. Renoir would teach this lesson to his students as they watched him paint. His arthritis was so severe that they had to shift him around as he painted, especially the final twenty years of his life. Finally, Matisse asked him, “Why do you do this to yourself? Why do you go on?” Renoir answered, “The pain passes, but the beauty remains.”

The gospel accounts of Mary and the disciples encountering the empty tomb of Jesus show that they left the tomb to look for him. Many times we live our lives stuck in front of the empty tomb. We do not realize that we are free to receive the welcome of Easter power. Many tourists to Vietnam tour the Royal Tombs. The docents lead people around all day with their light, and in the evenings they put out their lights. Then they retire to bed- in the tombs! They spend their days and nights in the tombs.

Jesus was raised from the tomb and calls us to follow him out into the light. We should embrace this welcome to come out and live anew.

Ephesians 1:19-20 says: “How incredibly great is his power to help those who believe him, the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead.” Yes, we have access to that same resurrection power that raised Christ. It is the power of positive thinking? No. Is it the power of believing in ourselves? No. The Apostle Paul wrote that his is a different type of power. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the Power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Rom. 15:13)

We can abound in hope through the power of God that we are heading toward God’s kingdom. God calls us to strive to live worthy of this calling. As we try to climb the ladder of success we may become tempted to set aside our ethics in order to get ahead and serve a selfish ambition. On Easter God’s welcome addresses this temptation with the stark reality that we are children of God. Remember that, you are a child of God. Do not stoop to be a king or queen of this world.

Being welcomed as a child of God means more than securing our own resurrection. It also brings a great mandate to our lives. The master cellist Pablo Casals once told a student who had played a piece perfectly: “You are playing the notes but not the music.” The Easter music means that we are called to live as Jesus lived, with lives dedicated to serving others.

We must bravely address human problems that others feel can be ignored. We must reach out to those who have fallen. We must bind up the broken-hearted with news of healing and hope. We must open our hearts to extravagant acts of generosity for the kingdom of God. We must denounce the idols of self and materialism that prevent us from being the child of God we are called to be.

 The Easter welcome contains great joy. Give your life to Jesus Christ, and he will turn it around. Give your heart to him, and he will fill it with his presence. Give your burdens to him, and he will bear them for you. Confess your sins to him, and he will forgive you, absolutely and completely. Give him your sorrow, your fear, your broken dreams, your worries, and he will replace them with joy, peace, love, and fulfillment. These are bold promises to make, but I make them without hesitation, because I know that you can rely on the promises of Jesus.

God has left a light for you in the window, it is the light of Christ, the light of the world, Rejoice, he is waiting for you, he will welcome you home. Amen.