By Fr. Justin Clemente. A sermon delivered to the People of New Creation April 17, 2022, Resurrection of the Lord Sunday.
Seven Stanzas at Easter
I begin where I always do with my most favorite Easter poem by John Updike. Here’s four of the Seven Stanzas at Easter:
Make no mistake: if he rose at all
It was as His body;
If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule reknit,
The amino acids rekindle,
The Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
Each soft spring recurrent;
It was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
It was as His flesh; ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes
The same valved heart
That-pierced-died, withered, paused, and then regathered
Out of enduring Might
New strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
Credulity of earlier ages:
Let us walk through the door.
The women, and Peter, came to the tomb looking for death and finding life. They were invited to walk through the door of Jesus’ Resurrection. And that’s my prayer for you this morning, too. I invite you to turn in the Pew Bible to page 884 as we look at Luke 24:1-12.
The women (and the Apostles) expected to find a dead man. So do we. (vs. 1-6, 11)
The first thing we need to see is that the women (and the apostles) expected to find a dead man. The women went to complete the burial of a rabbi they respected, followed, loved, and supported.
And look at the Apostles: when the women come to them, what do they think? Look at verse 11 – they treat their words as nonsense (literally, as delirious!) Scholar Leon Morris says here, “The apostles were not men poised on the brink of belief and needing only the shadow of an excuse before launching forth into a proclamation of resurrection. They were utterly skeptical.” (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Luke, pg. 335)
Everybody involved that first Easter morning was a skeptic. They all expected to find a corpse. And so do we. We expect death to win. We expect that hope will be dashed. We expect the tomb to be sealed, just like it always is.
They remembered the truth of his words (vs. 5-8).
They did not expect what came next. And here’s what I want you to get this morning: the turning point in this passage comes, not so much in what they see (because they never actually see Jesus in this passage!), as in what they hear. It is the Word of God, spoken through the angels, that recalls them to Jesus’ promise. From verse 5:
“Why do you seek the living [one] 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 delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words…
They are beginning to hear with faith. They are beginning to understand the Cross and the Resurrection as God’s way of salvation for us! Look at the divine “must” here. It signified that Jesus had to die and be raised. He had to be your substitute. Friends the quickest way to devalue the Resurrection is to devalue the Cross of Christ. The Resurrection without the Cross is meaningless. The Cross without the Resurrection is hopeless. They go together. And we should note well: Jesus still bears the marks of his Cross even in his risen body.
“And they remembered his words.” Some of us (all of us, actually!) need to be recalled by the word of God this morning, too. For, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:8)
Some of you will love this illustration, others will find it incredibly corny. And if you do, you can just take solace in the fact that they don’t give many illustrations in my sermons!
In our house, we’re Star Wars fans (six of us, anyways) and there was a scene in the The Force Awakens that I did find particularly moving. You might remember the scene. Han Solo has just reclaimed the Millennium Falcon and finds Rey and Finn hiding onboard. They quickly realize who he is and begin to pepper him with questions. This new “Star Wars” generation is so disconnected from the events of the original trilogy that they’re not even sure Luke Skywalker is a real person. Han’s response nails it: “I knew Luke. The crazy thing is it’s all true. … All of it.”
Today, you can go on YouTube and find people who make a religion out of the jedi. You can find people who spend hours and hours dissecting Star Wars canon. There is actually an entire nationwide order of Stormtroopers that you can join. All this for a movie made up in the 1970s.
Now let me quickly bring it back. In this scene, I am reminded of St. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
May the word of God recall you to what is true this morning. We cannot make too much of Jesus’ Resurrection, but we can make too little of it. We can come, lay a wreath by the empty tomb, and get on with the rest of the 51 weeks in our next year. But if Jesus is risen, then he Lord of those weeks, too.
Look, there is no other way around it – the resurrection is either the most shattering, devastating, miraculous, meaningful, historical event to ever happen, or it’s not worth our time. Now personally, in response to those who want to somehow honor Jesus and yet keep him in the grave, what I find to be more unbelievable than anything, is that that should be true – that he should be dead – and yet we’re still talking about it 2000 years later. No one commands the hearts of more people on planet earth today or throughout history than Jesus, and it’s because He is risen!
Let me paraphrase the angels words to the women in verse 5 when he says, “why do you seek the living [one] among the dead?” He could have just as easily said, “You can drop your spices. You won’t be needing them. For you are to become witnesses of the risen Lord.” They had to rebuked so that they continue to follow Jesus. Perhaps need to hear that afresh this morning. You mustn’t come to pay tribute to a dead messiah or founder, but instead to worship a living Lord.
Peter walked through the door, and so should we! (v. 12)
I want to end by looking at Peter’s reaction. Again, we’re told that the Apostles disbelieved the women at first. But something in Peter stirs. The last time we met Peter he fled after denying Jesus to his face. Luke 24:61 says, “The Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.’And he went out and wept bitterly.”
But here, he begins to believe, even if doesn’t understand it all. He begins to truly walk through the door we heard of in the poem. He sees the empty tomb and the empty linens and marvels at “what had happened.” Luke 24:34 tell us that Jesus will very shortly personally appear to Peter and restore him.
I find great encouragement in the last words of our passage. It “had happened.” Think of the comfort of the Resurrection. This morning it is done. The work is simply done.
If you have walked away from Jesus, the work is still done. His forgiveness is still extended to you as it was to Peter.
If you are a sufferer this morning, it is done! The Resurrection is done! And that means it’s yours to claim by grace through faith in Christ.
If you are planting a church, everything that needs to be done for the church’s mission is actually done. Alleluia!
If you are seeking to faithfully raise a family in the faith, in one sense everything that needs to done is done.
Linen cloths were, at Jesus’ birth, once a sign of the new thing God was doing. And they are here a sign again, only this time they are empty! Jesus will not return to the tomb. It is done. The news of the Resurrection is the thing in the New Testament that sets people witnessing and running. Because God did it. It’s his work and our Gospel.
Wherever you began this morning, may you, like the women, like Peter, be recalled by his words and walk through the door. Amen.