A Sermon from the North Yarmouth Congregational Church
A sermon offered by the Rev. Nancy J. White in the public worship of the First Congregational Church of North Yarmouth, UCC of North Yarmouth, Maine at Easter Worship on Sunday, March 27, 2016. Principal reading John 20:1-18
While it was still dark , Mary went to the tomb, to the place where she had seen them lay Jesus’ tortured dead body after a brutal crucifixion just three days earlier.
He was a most unusual man. When she met him some three years ago, her life had been caught in a web of demons and this man, Jesus of Nazareth brought her out of that to a new life. She followed Jesus supporting his ministry and living life in a new way. This ministry of his was radical – he proclaimed that all people have worth – even people like her, that the oppression of the Jewish people by the imperial Rome and the local religious authorities was wrong. He showed them a new way to live not by the sword and in constant fear but by loving one’s neighbor and even one’s enemy. He practiced mercy and compassion and justice for all. He told his followers to share what they had so none would go without. He loved all, even those whom society shunned and he asked his followers to do the same.
Mary went to the tomb and she did not find his body, it was gone. Confused she asked a man she supposed to be the gardener where the body had been taken. He said her name and she recognized Jesus. He was alive! It was the first Easter.
We celebrate this day with flowers and jubilant song, with Easter outfits which used to be complete with bonnets and patent leather shoes. We have colorful Easter egg hunts and we proclaim that winter is over and that spring comes, that dead fall bulbs bring fresh spring blossoms, that caterpillars transform into butterflies. These are all part of our Easter tradition and I love it all – especially the butterflies…. Symbols of new life.
We have made it thru Holy week. Two weeks ago, we experienced the Easter story through drama, scripture and music with our youth leading the way into Jerusalem. Last Sunday we celebrated Palm Sunday, cheering as Jesus made his triumphal entry on a donkey; we have shared the last supper on Maundy Thursday, we have wept on Friday as we remember the horror of crucifixion. And now we celebrate the resurrection. We knew all that would happen, we knew the script, we’ve heard the story before. So is there anything new? Given the state of our world, maybe we should have a quick review of Jesus and his ministry.
Jesus died on the cross, some believe that was God’s plan all along; some believe he was crucified because he was a political activist. The people were calling him things like Lord and Son of God – all titles reserved for Caesar, the Roman emperor. He was trouble for sure; the occupying forces had enough trouble keeping the people under control – they didn’t need this man, this Jesus, causing unrest, preaching love and justice for all – they just didn’t need it! He said children and women were worthy and loved by God; he said foreigners and people of other races were to be loved as neighbor; he said that God created all people and God loves all people. They didn’t need this – and so they crucified him.
But God’s love would not die on the cross. God’s love was stronger than the political system of the day; love overcame hate and rose again on Easter morning.
As followers of Christ, we believe that Jesus of Nazareth, a Jewish carpenter was born for us and loved us so much that he willingly died for our sake. Jesus the Christ rose on the third day – God’s ultimate victory over death, destruction and oppression. God has won; the imperial powers of the day have lost. The resurrection promises us a new life – death will no longer win – we will live forever with God – life eternal is ours – victory is ours in Jesus the Christ!
The really amazing, ‘big deal’ part of this whole Easter morning thing is that I do not have to wait for death to experience this promised new life. New life can be mine now, here on this earth, in this world. Jesus asked his followers to change their way of living, to love and care for the unlovable, to create a world where no one goes hungry, where all physical and emotional needs are met for all people. He asked his followers to let go of self-centered thinking and living and concentrate on love for all people.
To change our way of living, the symbolism of the empty tomb bringing new life is not lost on us. We all need to let old ways die so that God’s new way of living might flourish. Dare we identify the tombs in our lives? Identify that which prevents us from fully experiencing God’s life of love?
What tomb in your life has you trapped and feeling as if there is no way out?
A broken relationship that needs healing but pride keeps you from making taking the first step? An addiction for which you need help but are unwilling to ask? A job you dread going to every day? a dream unrealized because to go for it would mean leaving what is safe and secure? Are you causing pain for another directly by something you are doing or indirectly by something you are not doing? Do you have all the comforts this world offers and yet still need more to make you happy? As a church are we like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day? Stuck in the old ways with little room for considering these new ways of doing things that Jesus teaches?
This may not be easy. The promise of Easter is not a magic ‘poof’ everything is shiny and new sort of thing. The promise is that no matter where you are on your life’s journey, God knows your pain and understands what you are going through and will be there with you as you make your way from tomb to new life. Jesus modeled for us and asks us to give up all these old ways of life and put on this new way of life. To let the old unloving ways die so that new ways , new life, God’s ways, God’s life might be born in us and in our world. Just as I told the children, Jesus is asking us to let the love of God into our hearts. Focus on God and God’s love for all people and experience the promise of the new life given in Christ’s resurrection – now – God’s kingdom here on earth not only after we die. We can have it all!
In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, God assures us that new life is ours for the asking. As followers of Christ, if we all carry the love of God in our hearts every day and let it influence every aspect of our lives, then not only is new life ours but we also help bring about the promised rule of God’s kingdom here on earth.
That is the promise of Easter!
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!