Monday, March 21, 2016

The Awe and Wonder of the Resurrection - Easter Sunday Sermon - Luke 24:1-12

Luke 24:1-12
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.' " Then they remembered his words.
When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

Several years ago I was in Haiti doing some work with the church and I met a man who told me about his uncle.

Interesting man this uncle.

According to my Haitian friend, this uncle was a zombie.

“Oh really,” I asked.  “So your uncle died.  He was buried, and one day he popped out of the grave and started walking around.”

“No,” my friend reassured me – there was no walking out of the grave.  Apparently his uncle died.  And before the family could bury him, he came back to life.  He couldn’t talk – all he could do was mumble.  His whole right side was all messed up and he couldn’t use his right arm, and his right leg didn’t work right and he walked with a shuffle.

I asked my friend if perhaps his uncle might have had a stroke.  Sounded like a stroke to me.

My Haitian friend was not very educated and did not know what a stroke was – but he knew what a zombie was and his uncle was a zombie.  And he was afraid of his uncle.

I mean after all, who wouldn’t be afraid of a zombie?

When you die, you are supposed to stay dead.

And zombies are scary!

Today there are zombie movies at the theater.  Last year we were treated with the movie – Abraham Lincolm verses the Zombies.  This year we have had Pride and Prejudice and the Zombies – oh, what would Jane Austin think?

When I was a kid it was Frankenstien’s monster.  And I’m not talking about a fake, pretend Frankenstein, I’m talking the real deal – the one with Boris Karlov.  Every Saturday morning one of the THREE television stations broadcast something called Shock Theater, which always showed these monster movies.  And Frankenstein was the best!  Scared me to death.  This mad scientist put together parts from dead people and brought this dead monster to life and yelled, “its alive, its alive” and late at night….

That monster came to see me….

I saw him and his shadow coming into my room late at night and I yelled out for my family to run and hide – and my Mom wouldn’t let me watch monster movies for a long time after that.

I share these stories because it is instinct for us to be afraid of something that is dead coming back to life.

I knew it watching Boris Karlov walk down the hallway.

My Haitian friend knew it when he misunderstood his uncle’s stroke as having died and then coming back to life as a zombie.

The women who found the empty tomb had that same feeling on the first Easter morning.  They were, in the words of Luke, TERRIFIED!

            Terror, fear, confusion – those are good solid reactions to the Resurrection of Christ, “resurrection” meaning he came to life after being dead.

And buried.

Dead and buried, then suddenly up and walking around.

That is a scary thing.

And in Luke, the women are terrified.

In Matthew’s Gospel, the Roman Guards are witnesses to the resurrection event and in the words of Matthew, “For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.

How else are you going to respond to a dead man walking out of a grave?

Mark’s Gospel ends with the women learning of the Resurrection and that Gospel ends with “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid

Fast forward 2000 years and here we are, Easter Sunday.

Probably no one here is sitting in terror!  There is no fear and trembling!

Your greatest fear today is that I might preach a sermon that is way too long and you might be late for lunch.

So how do we celebrate the resurrection today?

There are Easter Egg Hunts and photo ops for the children – lots of fun.  No fear.  I’m not sure what Easter Eggs and the Easter Bunny has to do with Easter, but they are fun, especially with the children.

We have lost the fear of the resurrection – and I think that is a good thing.  Jesus was not the Frankenstein Monster coming out of the grave.  Jesus is not a zombie.  Jesus is our savior, and he comes out of the tomb, risen from the dead, and the angels were right when they said, fear not.

The problem is – when we lost our fear of the resurrection, we lost something else – our sense of wonder.  Our sense of awe.  Our sense of being amazed.

We have become used to the resurrection – perhaps even bored by it.

The Resurrection was an emotionally powerful moment in history.  At first it was fear – and then it matured into awe and wonder.

But our reaction to it was never meant to mellow into complacency – or boredom.

This was the one day that made all the difference in the world.

Without the Resurrection, Jesus would have become a nearly – or perhaps even a completely – forgotten footnote in history.

But with the resurrection, this became a day that made all the difference in the world.

It was the resurrection that moved the early Christians to go into all the world and make disciples for Jesus.

It was the resurrection that motivated early Christians, especially during the Middle Ages, to create hospitals throughout the world.

It was the resurrection that motivated the church to build universities and schools and to overcome illiteracy.  In the early years of American history, when a Presbyterian Church was established on the frontier, the congregation built the school house first, then the sanctuary, and the pastor was expected to be the elementary school teacher as well as the preacher.

It was the resurrection that even today motivates the creation of written languages for those small tribes of people where illiteracy still continues.

It was the resurrection that challenged the church to question their acceptance of slavery and to support abolition in this nation over a century ago, and that in more recent decades moved many clergy and other Christians to always be at the front of civil rights marches. 

It is the resurrection that continues to challenge us today as we have to let go of prejudices and long held believes as we are moved to accept all people of various life styles and orientations.

It is the resurrection that moves even the most cold hearted soul to become generous and gracious.

Resurrection Day is the day that has made all of the difference in the world.

If you can be open to the moving of the Holy Spirit of God you can realize that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not something we should get used to.  We should always have a sense of awe and wonder about it. 

I mean – a dead man coming back to life?  That is not something that happens every day.

And while it is fine for us not to be frightened of it, as were those first witnesses, we should never be complacent.

We should be so filed with the fire of the Holy Spirit that we should be moved to go out and continue to make a difference in the world.

There is still poverty in the world.  There is still racism.  There is still oppression of people.  There is still injustice.  There are people who are lonely and afraid. 

There are people who need the salvation and redemption of Christ.

Has the resurrection made a difference in your life?  And has your knowledge of the resurrection moved you to make a difference in the lives of others around you?

If the answer to those two questions is “no” then that is something to be afraid of!

My friends, believe in the Resurrection. 

Be awed by it.

Be filled with the wonder of it all.

And by the power of the resurrection and of the Holy Spirit, go out into the world and make a difference.

Copyright 2016. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.