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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Sermon: Dead or Alive (Easter)

by Interim Pastor Hollie Holt-Woehl
Easter Sunday
Luke 24:1-12

Jesus was dead to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. Many people were there to witness his death and his death was confirmed by the Roman guards standing watch. They would not have let a criminal down from the cross had not life been certainly without a doubt removed from him.

Jesus was dead as a doornail. Mind you I don’t know what is particularly dead about a doornail. But there was no doubt that Jesus was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come from the story that I am going to relate. (The above adapted from Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol)

On the first day of the week at early dawn Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and other women came to the tomb of Jesus taking the spices that they had prepared before the Sabbath. They were going to carry out the last offices of love for the dead and to embalm Jesus’ body with their spices. The dead body of Jesus had been wrapped in linen cloth but they had not had the time to put the spices and ointments on it before the Sabbath day.

They had come to prepare the dead body but when they got to the tomb they found the stone rolled away and the body gone. They were perplexed. Dead bodies do not simply disappear. Someone has to move them. In this world there are established rules as to what can happen and how, in this world dead bodies do to simply disappear. The tomb was empty, there has to be a body. The women were perplexed.

Suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them, they say to them “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” The short answer to that is, because Jesus was dead. But the men in dazzling white clothes mean that Jesus wasn’t dead any more, he may have once been dead, but is no longer. “He is not here, but has risen,” they say. Then they call the women to remember, “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again” (Luke 24:5-7).

And the women remembered, in their joy and excitement they rush back to the eleven male disciples and others to tell them. “But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11). However Peter, the one who denied Jesus three times, heard hope in their message and he needed hope right now after he denied Jesus. Peter ran to the tomb. He saw the linen cloths by themselves and went home. He was amazed at what had happened and began to ponder what this meant.

Jesus is alive. God moved against death. Death is a formidable power, which wants to take control, but God will not let it happen. Death as an active force cannot withstand the authority of God.

Death is a hostile power that threatens to undo our lives. That is what Jesus knows between Friday and Sunday. Jesus is being undone by the power of death, and the world is being undone with him. But God did not give us over to the power of death, because God had kept us for the prospect of life.

What a day—Easter Day—life day—new day—beginning day. This is the day of God’s power for life, and therefore our day of singing and gratitude. On this day, we as people of God are at a beginning, not an ending.

Now as we think about what God has done for us in Christ Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit, and as we rejoice in Jesus’ victory over death, I wonder…

Do we want a Jesus who is dead or alive?

You may say, “Now there’s a stupid question! Of course we want a Jesus who is alive! What do you think we are doing in church every Sunday?”

But maybe the question isn’t as stupid as it first sounds. After all take a look at the disciples on that first Easter morning. They didn’t exactly welcome the news. “The words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11). Wouldn’t you think, if we were in their sandals, it would seem an idle tale to us too?

Do we want a Jesus who is dead or alive?

Do we prefer a Jesus who is kept in the tomb, sealed away from our lives and lifestyles. I think for some church is just that… a tomb where we keep alive the memory of a dead Jesus of long ago…a place we bring our children thinking that a dead good person will be a good role model to keep our kids off drugs…a Jesus who is enshrined in our buildings…remembered in our liturgies…and entombed in an altar where we visit him on Sunday and pay our respects.

The last thing some people want is for Jesus to get out of the church and get into our time, our money, our mouths, our work, our homes, our personal lives, our pleasures, and our “freedom.” The last thing they want is for the church to roll away the stone in front of the building so that Jesus gets “out there” into our world, into our politics, into our businesses, into our lives.

Do we want to hear the “good news” of Easter—do we really want a Jesus who is alive? Some may prefer to welcome spring and the Easter bunny than a Jesus who is alive.

But whatever we want or don’t want, Jesus IS living. He IS among us. And this ought to unnerve and perplex us as much as it did his disciples. Jesus is living and active, and we cannot control him.

You speak Jesus name, in cursing or praying, and he hears you. You go and sit in your favorite chair, and Jesus is there. You go to sleep but he is ever watchful. You go to work and Jesus is there too. You may be wherever you may be and Jesus is there with you. You may try to stay away from where you think he is, but you cannot stay away from Jesus. You lock the doors and all avenues of approach into your heart, but Jesus comes through locked doors. You do what you can to do kill his influence in your life, but you cannot kill him. You may try to ignore Jesus, but he doesn’t go away.

Jesus Christ is alive! In the midst of us every day! He is Easter. And to know Jesus by faith is to know resurrection and life.

Yes, we need a Jesus who is alive. For on our own we are dead, deader than a doornail, dead in sin, dead in our past, dead in addiction, dead in relationships, and dead in our jobs. But Jesus is alive. He is alive to give us new life, new relationships, and new hope for the future. And with that news we can boldly joint the litany of the ages:

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!)
Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!)
Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!)

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