Sermons

"Because He Lives!": Sermon for Easter Sunday, Year A

"Because He Lives!": Sermon for Easter Sunday, Year A

Apr 16, 2017

Passage:John 20:1-18

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Robert Pace

Series: Easter

Category: Love, Hope, Post-Resurrection

Keywords: easter, hope, love, resurrection, testify

Summary:

Mary Magdalene, Peter, and the other disciple found Jesus tomb empty in the darkness. We, too, often find ourselves in darkness. But, like Mary, we discover that the hope of the resurrection is that we can leave behind the darkness of fear, anger, anxiety, selfishness, and shame with the love of relationship in Christ.

Detail:

In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Early on a Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene sees an empty tomb--the tomb where Jesus had been laid three days before after his crucifixion and death on the cross.

"They have taken my Lord!," she tells Peter and the other disciple.

When they all race back in the darkness, the empty tomb still greets them.

They are distraught.

Their misery and hopelessness in this situation is palpable.

How can there be a way out of this situation?

Here at St. Andrew's, we had the great privilege and blessing of kicking off this Holy Week with a visit from our Bishop Scott Mayer and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry.

One of the key aspects of Bishop Curry's message to us was that as participants in the "Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement," we are called to be "witnesses" and to "testify."

But exactly are we called to be witnesses of?

What IS our testimony?

I imagine that all of us are a bit like Mary Magdalene and Peter and the other disciple and find ourselves in the darkness from time to time. We hit that place of fear and hopelessness, anxiety and concern. We're not sure what comes next. We don't know how the next chapter's going to read or where the next bend in the road is going to turn. We don't quite feel worthy of being a "witness." We feel overwhelmed by the pressures and darkness of the world.

And truth be told, there are definitely problems in this world--from international and diplomatic threats, to concerns for the well-being of refugees, to the overwhelming needs of the poor, to all-too-many personal concerns that we all have. And whoever we are, we all feel that "my outlook" on these issues shapes the world.

But when we are stuck, my outlook can also keep me in a place of darkness. My way of looking at things can hold me in a state of fear and anger and suspicion and shame and selfishness and hopelessness.

What makes us stuck? What puts us in darkness?

I think we can get to the point where we feel alone. We can feel the pressure of the world around us and wonder if there is a way forward.

So what moves us out of that darkness?

Mary wept outside that tomb. And then Mary encounters messengers from God. Then she sees Jesus but does not recognize him. Only when he calls her name, does she know it's him.

There's power in the relationship.

So, the love of God was present with Mary Magdalene before she knew who it was she was talking to. She just didn't recognize it. She was still in the dark.

But when Jesus calls her name--and in uttering her name lets her know she is special in the eyes of God--she comes into the light. She is enlightened. She knows him. 

That power is the power of love.

Jesus changes the darkness of Mary's distress into the light of joy and hope.

This is the same for you and me.

When we are stuck in the darkness of despair or worry or fear or shame or anxiety, we can be released through the power of love in relationship.

It's been nearly two years for me since my father died. He was a powerful and wonderful influence in my life.

In addition to being a man of strong faith, he was a wonderful singer. And back in 1986, he joined with a pianist and recorded nearly twenty hymns. Some are most traditional (Jerusalem), and some more reflective of the mid- to late-20th Century.

Ever since my dad's death, I enjoy occasionally popping in the CD of these hymns as I'm driving around. I especially enjoy this practice when I am a bit low... When I need to know that I am loved and that God is with me. I hear dad singing to me all these hymns I remember him singing throughout my life.

But it's not just that. I join in the singing. Time ceases. I participate in singing again with everyone, past and present, who has ever sung these hymns with me in any church I've been a part of. I feel their presence. These relationships continue and I know that God is with me and that I am loved.

There is one track on this CD that always particularly "gets" me when I listen to it. Part of the reason is because my brother, Dolph, sings along with Dad on this hymn.

Dolph's full name is Harvey Rudolph Pace III, but he would strongly prefer if you did not call him "Harvey" or "Rudolph," so stick with Dolph. He currently lives with my mother in Louisiana. You see, Dolph has Down's Syndrome, a chromosomal condition, that causes cognitive and physical disability.

The track that Dolph sings with Dad is called "Because He Lives," a hymn originally written and performed by evangelists Bill and Gloria Gaither in the 1970s.

On that track, you've got Dad's smooth tenor voice to start it. But then Dolph's booming, enthusiastic, excited voice joins in.

They begin: "God sent his son... they called him Jesus...He came to love...heal and forgive." The piano is steady and they continue: "He lived and died to buy my pardon." But then Dolph emphatically voices over Dad: "An empty grave is there to prove my savior lives."

Then they begin the chorus, with Dolph losing all abandon joyously singing out: "Because he lives, I can face tomorrow!... Because he lives, All fear is gone!" Then Dolph adds emphasis: "Because I know...oh ...oh ... he holds the future....And life is worth the living, Just because he lives." [1]

What is our testimony?

How are we to be witnesses?

Jesus tells Mary Magdalene to go tell the others he has risen and will ascend. Mary announces to the disciples: "I have seen the Lord."

Because he lives, we CAN face tomorrow. Because he lives all fear IS gone.

We are called to be the vessels of that message to a hurting world. We are called to love one another and help bring about that love IN one another.

What is our testimony?

Christ is risen! The Resurrection brings the power of God's love into the darkness.

WE bring that love into the darkness. We do that by being there for one another when we are hurting. We do that by celebrating with one another in times of joy. GOD IS LOVE, and we abide in that love.

That ... is... our... testimony.

Alleluia, Christ is Risen!

The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia!

Amen.

 

[1] http://www.hymnary.org/text/god_sent_his_son_they_called_him_jesus