Theologian Anthony Thiselton writes that if the resurrection of Jesus did not happen: “Faith is ineffective, the witnesses are liars, sin retains its destructive and damaging control, and believers who have died are irretrievably lost (NIGTC: The First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 1222). Our lives and our life together depends on Easter. Death is an enemy that is defeated by God through raising people from their graves, and it first begins with Jesus.
Easter Sunday Year C 2013
Isaiah 65.17-25; Psalm
118.1-2, 14-24; 1 Cor. 15.19-26; Luke 24.1-12
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from
the crucified and risen Christ, Jesus our Lord.
I recently read a small
paragraph submitted to the Lutheran Magazine (March 2013 – p. 45) by a couple
grandparents, which reads:
Our [then] 5-year-old grandson,
Jace, is an inquisitive boy determined to get answers. “How did God raise Jesus from the dead?” he
asked his mother. She told him she
didn’t know how our all-powerful God performed Jesus’ [his] resurrection, to
which our grandson said, “Let’s ask [my Sunday school teacher], Miss Karen
(director of Christian Education). If
she doesn’t know, we’ll ask Pastor Brown.
If he doesn’t know, we’ll go to another church.”
Five-year-olds are certainly
inquisitive and often times ask the questions all of us bigger people are
wondering ourselves. Wouldn’t we all
like to know how God raised Jesus from the dead, like a magician revealing how
she performs her magic trick? Yet, maybe
some of us aren’t even at the point of asking how, but rather at the place of
asking, “Did. Did God raise Jesus from
the dead, and if so, what in the world does it have to do with us?”
I bring up the question of
‘did’ because we are left at the end of our reading today from Luke with
perplexed, amazed, and unbelieving people.
In the resurrection story of Luke we do not get to see Jesus alive again
after hearing of his crucifixion and death just two days ago on Good Friday,
and either do the women who first arrive at the tomb at first light that
resurrection morning so long ago.
The women journey to the tomb
where Jesus was laid carrying spices to cleanse and anoint Jesus’ battered
body. They are sad and without hope. When they arrive they are met by two men, who
we can gather are actually angels.
They say, “Why do you look
for the living among the dead? He is not
here, but has risen,” and they remind the women of what Jesus had been telling
them all along. So the women leave the
tomb and share their encounter with the angels with the disciples and their
experience of finding the tomb empty with Jesus no where to be found.
And what happens? No one believes them! I even wonder if they believed
themselves. Scripture tells us that the
disciples thought they were making the whole thing up. They thought the women were delirious and
speaking nonsense. So Peter goes to at
least check out if the tomb is empty, which it is. Upon seeing the empty tomb, Peter is amazed, but
he does not yet believe.
Sometimes it seems like
needing proof in order to believe is embedded in our very nature. All the disciples needed proof that Jesus was
alive, not just doubting Thomas. They
all eventually get to see the resurrected Christ, which we will read about in
the weeks to come, but not today.
What never ceases to amaze me
about all the resurrection stories in our four Gospels is that they have women
as the first witnesses and preachers of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. This might not seem like a big deal, but it
is. In the time of Jesus women were not
even allowed to be witnesses in a courtroom because their testimony was not
considered to be credible or believable just because they were women. (Awesome, I know).
And yet, God chooses these
women, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and the other
women with them, to be the first ones to share the good news. God is always surprising us and working
through the most vulnerable and lowly in society. All have the right to share the story of
God’s power over death in the resurrection of Jesus.
I cannot read this story in
Luke without thinking of a dear person in my life who told me a story about two
years ago. She was visiting the grave of
her son who died less than a year earlier.
No one was with her. The son she
bore and raised lay buried beneath the earth she stood upon. Like any mother who has lost a child, she
stood at his grave lost in grief.
Then something quite
surprising and unexpected happened. She
heard a voice as clearly as I am speaking to you this day:
do you look for the living among the dead?
He is not here, but has been raised.”
She looked around and saw no
one. She didn’t feel as if the voice was
criticizing her for grieving at her son’s grave and she knew her son’s body
still lay beneath the earth. The words,
as mysterious and not provable as they are, came as a proclamation of good news
and still are to this day.
At the beginning of the
sermon I asked, “Did God raise Jesus from the dead.” For us living today there is no way to prove
or disprove whether or not God did or didn’t raise Jesus. If we could, faith would not exist or be
necessary, since “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of
things not seen (Hebrews 11.1).” The
answer to this question lies in our ability to trust in the witness of the
empty tomb, and the words of the angels and also St. Paul when he confidently writes:
“In fact Christ has been raised from the dead (1 Cor. 15.20).”
Secondly I asked, “If Jesus
was raised, what in the world does it have to do with us?” The one word answer is: everything. Paul writes in Romans 6.5: “For if we have
been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him
in a resurrection like his.”
The reason I believe the
words of the mother standing at her son’s grave is because God raised Jesus
from the dead and he promises to do the same for that son and for you and for
me. “If for this life only we have hoped
in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Cor. 15.19),” and not just
us, but the whole of creation.
Theologian Anthony Thiselton
writes that if the resurrection of Jesus did not happen: “Faith is ineffective, the witnesses are
liars, sin retains its destructive and damaging control, and believers who have
died are irretrievably lost (NIGTC: The
First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 1222). Our lives and our life together depends on
Easter. Death is an enemy that is
defeated by God through raising people from their graves, and it first begins
So where are we at this
Easter morning? Are we remembering what
Jesus has told us? Are we thinking this
is an idle tale like the disciples? Are
we inquisitive and hopeful like Peter?
Are we confident and telling the story like the women?
One thing is for certain, if
Jesus had not been raised we would not be here as a faith community worshiping
this morning, nor would we have just had an incredible Easter breakfast! Heart River Lutheran Church would simply not
exist. I’m so thankful to God for
raising Jesus from the dead and for the existence of this congregation. I have to say that I hope it continues to
exist when all of you decide to keep worshiping here even though I am also not able
to answer the question of how God
raised Jesus from the dead other than through love and power.
conclude, I’d like to invite you to consider these words written by Pope
Francis’ in his Easter Vigil homily: "Let the risen Jesus enter your life,
welcome him as a friend, with trust: he is life! If up till now you have kept
him at a distance, step forward. He will receive you with open arms. If you
have been indifferent, take a risk: you won’t be disappointed. If following him
seems difficult, don’t be afraid, trust him, be confident that he is close to
you, he is with you and he will give you the peace you are looking for and the
strength to live as he would have you do."