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Luke 24_1-12

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TITLE:   Easter Christians in a Good Friday World    SCRIPTURE:   Luke 24:1-12 

The first Easter was a great surprise. The women did not go to the tomb to experience the resurrection.  They went to the tomb to anoint Jesus' body.  When they arrived at the tomb, they found the stone rolled away and the body gone. 

Luke says that they were "perplexed" about this.  They did not know what to think.  They had come expecting to find one thing only to find the opposite.  When they found the body missing, they did not assume resurrection.  They did not leap to the conclusion that Jesus was alive.  They were not overjoyed.  They were perplexed!

Then "two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them."  Here again, the women were confused.  Luke says that they were terrified!  They were not ready for Easter.  They were still Good Friday Christians, prepared to embalm the body but not to celebrate the resurrection.

But the men in dazzling clothes said,

Why do you look for the living among 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 handed over to sinners,  and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.

Finally the women were surprised, and went to tell the other disciples.  The others did not believe them.  The women's words "seemed to them an idle tale."  But one disciple, Peter, got caught up in their excitement and ran to see for himself.  He saw the empty tomb with his own eyes, and went home amazed at these strange events.

Don't you wish that you could be surprised this Easter!  Wouldn't it be wonderful to be amazed again! 

Easter doesn't surprise us any more, and that's too bad!  We know that Easter is coming.  We see it approaching on our calendars; we plan for it.  It does not surprise us.  Not only do we know it is coming, we know what it means and what to expect.  We know the songs that we will sing and the sermon that we will hear.  Last Easter blends in with the Easter before.  Easter has lost its surprise!

Perhaps that is why we hide Easter eggs!  We want to surprise our children at Easter!  We want them to experience the joy of discovery of Easter!  We want them to have fun and to celebrate!  Their joy and surprise helps us to be joyful and surprised once again.

The egg, of course, is a symbol of the resurrection.  An egg is a little tomb, isn't it!  Not all eggs hold life inside them, but some do.  When an egg holds life inside, it packages a miracle.  The chick is trapped inside, just as Jesus' was trapped inside the tomb.  But then, at the right time, the chick emerges from the egg, full of life and promise –– just as Jesus, at the right time, emerged from the tomb, full of life and promise.  And so Christians have celebrated Easter with decorated eggs for centuries.  I am glad that we hide eggs for our children.  I am glad that they can rediscover the joy and surprise of Easter.

But perhaps we also can recover the surprise of Easter.  We live in a world that calls us to believe in self and science.  We must swim against the stream to believe in God and faith.  We find it particularly difficult to believe in resurrection.  Resurrection seems such a peculiar idea.  As I was preparing this sermon, I saw a sermon title on a sign at another church.  The title was "What If You Don't Believe in the Resurrection?" I know the pastor of that church –– and I am happy to know that he does believe in the resurrection.

Now and then I see an article in a magazine about scholars who are debunking Jesus –– or debunking the resurrection.  When I see that, I think, "One of these days, Jesus will debunk the scholars."

Some time ago, I read an article from Newsweek (April 8, 1996) that quoted a professor at Vanderbilt Divinity School who said that the resurrection is "an empty formula".  It told of a "Biblical scholar" at DePaul University who claimed that Jesus' body was eaten by dogs.

How can we believe in the resurrection in an age of unbelief?  It is not easy!  But perhaps the difficulty of that can prepare us to recover the surprise of Easter.  Perhaps we can break through the routine of Easter and rediscover what the women felt when they found the empty tomb.

As I was preparing this sermon, I heard something that I found very provocative.  A woman whose name is Laura said:

    Let us live as Easter Christians in a Good Friday world!

Isn't that good!  To really appreciate Laura's remark, you need to know that she battles serious illness every day.  She doesn't have an easy life.  She clearly lives in a Good Friday world, but she is an Easter Christian whose Easter faith helps her to transcend the difficulties of her Good Friday life. 

We spend much of our lives in a Good Friday world, don't we!  Good Friday was a day of death –– of dashed hopes –– of crushed beliefs.  Good Friday was a day when everything went wrong.  On Good Friday, nobody said, "Thank God it's Friday."  On Good Friday, nobody gave thanks for anything. 

Haven't you had days like that?  Haven't you had days when you felt overwhelmed?  Haven't you had days when you felt as if you had been hit once too often –– that you were hanging on the ropes?  Haven't you had days when you were ready to give up?  Those are Good Friday days!  But Laura says:

    Let us live as Easter Christians in a Good Friday world!

What does that mean?

It means that we can live as hopeful Christians in a hopeless world!  Just read your newspaper.  How much good news do you see?  News stories focus on wars and rumors of wars –– on government gone amuck –– on racial conflict –– on drugs and violence.  One look at your newspaper will convince you that we live in a Good Friday world.  But Easter is God's promise that he is always with us, ready to roll back the stone from the door of the tomb, so that we can live hopefully in a hopeless world.  As Laura says:

 

    Let us live as Easter Christians in a Good Friday world!

That means that we need not fear for God is near.  At the end of his life, Moses spoke to his people.  They had experienced much trouble, and their enemies loomed large on the horizon.  But Moses said to them:

    Be strong and bold; have no fear…, because it is the LORD your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)

When Laura says,

 

    Let us live as Easter Christians in a Good Friday world!

she is telling us that we have no need to fear, even in the midst of our worst Good Fridays –– because it is our Lord who is with us –– and he will neither fail us nor forsake us.

    Let us live as Easter Christians in a Good Friday world!

I have a friend who lives in a Good Friday world.  His name is Roy.  Roy is a minister. A couple of years ago, I was stunned to hear that Roy's son had been killed.  I called Roy and grieved with him.  I was further stunned when he told me that his son had committed suicide.  Nobody had seen any signs of depression.  There had been no warning, but now the son was dead by his own hand.  I cannot imagine a more terrible Good Friday.  I can assure you that Roy would have died a thousand times to save his son, but he never had the chance. 

Sometime later, I heard a story about Roy that I would like to share with you this Easter.  Roy told the story as a part of a memorial service that he was conducting.

While visiting their son's grave, Roy and his wife, Nancy, had seen a woman kneeling before two gravestones.  She prayed aloud –– almost like a conversation. Every time they visited the cemetery, this same woman was there –– praying aloud.

One day Roy approached her.  He introduced his wife and himself and said, "I don't want to intrude, but I have noticed that you have been here every time we have visited." She said:

    Oh, I know who you are. I read about your son in the newspaper. I come here all the time. You see, my husband and son are buried here. I spend time with the Lord, and, in a sense, with them, too.

         

I don't want ever to forget them or them to forget me. I know they are with    the Lord. I read there in the Bible, in First Corinthians, that "as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive." Doesn't it say that? And I believe that to be true. When I see them, my Lord, my husband, and my son, we sure won't be strangers.

As they walked away, Nancy said to her preacher-husband, "I'm sorry, honey, but that's the best sermon I have ever heard."

You see, that woman lived in a Good Friday world.  Any woman who goes to the cemetery to visit her child lives in a Good Friday world.  For her, every day is Good Friday, and she can never say, "Thank God it's Friday!" 

But she allowed God to break through her grief, and he comforted her with his Holy Spirit.  And so she was living as an Easter Christian in her Good Friday world. 

Because she had invited God into her Good Friday world, she had been able to give an Easter word to Roy and Nancy, who were also struggling to live as Easter Christians in a Good Friday world.  She was able to live as an Easter Christian, because she believed that death is not the end.  She looked forward to the day when she would again share the love of her husband and son. She looked forward to the stone being rolled away one more time.

This Easter, I hope that you are not living in a Good Friday world.  I hope that your world is an Easter world –– full of joy.  But life is not always like that.  My prayer for you this Easter is that, whether your circumstances be good or ill, God will plant in your heart the memory of the open tomb and the hope of the open tomb –– and that he will help you to live as an Easter Christian –– full of hope –– full of promise –– and full of joy.

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