From Grave to Glory

Christ is Risen! We each can now face the future with the assurance that Jesus Christ is in fact alive and well to guide us, to heal us, and to give us hope for tomorrow. What a great promise, what a great gift!

My brothers and sisters in Christ, we gather this early Easter morning to celebrate the risen Christ. And in response to this eternal joy we boldly proclaim: "The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!"

We know that this is a special day, a day to rise early, a day to greet the new day sun, a day to put on our best clothes, a day to plan a special meal, a day to come to church with the whole family, a day to sing glad hymns.

Easter and Spring, a season we associate with new beginnings, renewal, and hope. Easter celebrates God's unconditional love for each and every person, even in the midst of our sins and failures.

And during this Easter season we are reminded of God's promise of mercy, salvation, second chances, and the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord. This is a gift we know about through our reading and understanding of the Gospel.

But the people we encounter at the tomb in today's Gospel reading didn't know that. The story was just unfolding, the truth was being revealed.

They weren't having spring time thoughts about flowers sprouting from the sleeping earth, caterpillars turning into butterflies, little bunnies hopping around, or thoughts of eggshells cracking open with baby chicks. That's because they were still in the middle of the story, the Easter Story as we know it today.

Mary Magdalene was the first one at the tomb that Sunday morning, according to the Gospel. It was dark when she arrived. But she didn't come to check to see if Jesus' body was still there. She came, we can surmise, to grieve.

She probably wasn't sleeping well that night before, and was probably filled with emotions of sadness, anger, and uncertainty. Isn't this how we feel when we've lost someone very close to us. We are restless, sad, and full of grief. And if you have lost a loved one, you know first hand what Mary must have been feeling like, as she walked down that path to Jesus grave.

The whole world as she knew it and accepted had come crashing down around her. After all she had centered all her hope, trust, and love in Jesus Christ, and now he had been cruelly executed.

She could have gone anywhere that morning, but she decided she needed to walk down the path to the tomb where Jesus was buried.

When she arrived at the place where Jesus was laid, she found that the stone that sealed the tomb had been rolled away. Running to two of her friends, she said, "They've taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they've laid him."

Now Peter and "the other disciple" enter the story. Most people think that the other disciple referred to is John, and I tend to agree with that.

So Peter and John ran to the tomb. They saw the linens, and apparently had some notion about what had gone on, but all they did, at least according to John's Gospel, was go back home.

We still don't know a great deal about what their thoughts were, except that John, at least, "saw and believed."

Now Peter and John seem to have "cameo roles" in the story. It tells us so much more about Mary Magdalene than about these two disciples.

But after Peter and John had gone home, Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. She still thought that someone had taken away the body, and she didn't know where to find it. No wonder when the angels appeared they asked, "Woman, why are you crying?"

She was asked the same question by Jesus just minutes later, when at first she didn't recognize him and took him to be the gardener.

Mary didn't recognize Jesus; the very one she was looking for, why is this? Perhaps it's because her mind was fixed on finding a dead body. Not until Jesus spoke to her, called her by name, did she know him.

At last she had found her Lord. She had walked down the path to the tomb with grief in her heart, but her weeping had turned into joy when she recognized the glory of the Lord.

And now here we are, nearly 2,000 years later. We come this morning to celebrate the Resurrection. We too could have gone somewhere else this morning, but we find ourselves drawn here to this place. And, yes, we are dressed up and we are singing those joyful hymns, and most likely we'll have a good meal later on today.

But really, aren't we like Mary Magdalene in many ways? Don't we, too, carry around a lifetime of grief in our souls?

Perhaps it's the loss of a loved one that causes us grief. Perhaps it's the frustrations and disappointments we have suffered in our lives.

Perhaps it's the weight of our own sins, the bad choices we've made. Perhaps we bear the wounds of pain inflicted by others. Or, perhaps physical ailments weigh us down.

Yes, we believe that Christ is risen. We know we have cause for great joy this Easter Day. But the grief is there too, lurking in the shadow of our hearts.

In a newspaper article I read sometime ago it was talking about how the media and the retail industry were hoping in the future to turn Easter into another Christmas.

In other words make Easter all about buying gifts and candy. Again infecting with a cancer the true meaning of a holy day. Offering all of us a way to relieve ourselves from the heavy souls we may carry.

The path being offered by these folks is the road to the local stuff_mart. They proclaim that the way to rid ourselves of all the things that weigh us down, those things that burden us, is to gorge ourselves on more stuff and to get more toys.

But the truth is, over time, after buying and playing, we become very disappointed and disillusioned as we hit a dead end, or worse yet we go so far that we fall off a cliff into a deep, dark abyss.

And we return again to feeling a sense of emptiness and abandonment. And we realize that having things doesn't heal the hurting soul. You can't buy happiness, joy, peace, and love despite what others want us to believe.

But, like Mary, we have a Friend who understands our circumstances, a Friend who lived among us and knows what it's like to live in this world, a Friend who was willing to die for us, a Friend who now calls each of us by name.

Today, we celebrate the Resurrection of our Friend Jesus. And as we do, we can put down our grief at his feet, and when he calls our name, we can answer, "Rabbouni! (ra_boo_ni) which means Teacher!"

And we can follow him from the grave to glory. A path that's not free of potholes or obstacles, but a path that does lead us to wholeness, joy, peace, and eternal life. All the things you can't buy, but all the things our souls so desperately need.

And as our story continues look at what Mary did next. Following the Lord's command, she went to the disciples and said: "I have seen the Lord." And she told them everything that Jesus had said to her.

We who gather in this place also see the Lord today. Do we recognize him? Can we hear him calling us by name? Do we follow his voice, or do we ignore him preferring instead the alluring call of the television commercial or magazine ads.

We all have a choice of which path we'll take. The path that leads right to the local stuff_mart. Or a path, which leads us from the grave to glory with Jesus Christ our friend and savior. This path doesn't require us to buy anything or to physically do anything. This path requires us to place our whole trust and faith in Jesus, dismissing the distractions of all the stuff of this world.

Once again this is not an easy task, and to accomplish it we need to get to know our friend Jesus better. He's made known to us as we read and study the Holy Scriptures, as we share in the Lord's Supper, and by enjoying the presence of our brothers and sisters in Christ as we worship and fellowship together.

And, like Mary, we are called to share the Good News of God in Jesus Christ with everyone we meet, knowing that eternal life begins now for all who believe. It's not something that happens after we die.

Now that Christ has been resurrected, we are also being resurrected. This is the message of Easter hope that we proclaim today. You see, Easter was not just something that happened to Jesus. It's a shaking and transformation of the whole world. It's something that happens to each and every one of us who believe.

And as Easter people we are commissioned to create beauty out of ugliness, to bring order out of chaos, to bring hope out of despair, to bring peace out of violence, and to bring love where there is hatred.

Just as the risen Christ came back and transformed skeptics to believers, so Christ can change us. We can be new. We can start over. We can have life, abundant life, by the power of the risen Christ.

I pray that you experience Christ today in a way that you never have before, and that you will go in peace and tell the world that Jesus lives. Christ Jesus lives today!

Let us pray. Lord Jesus Christ, on this day you were raised from the dead, death was defeated, and we saw the full triumph of God.

Help us to live in the light of that triumph, in expectant hope of the resurrection, in confidence that death and sin shall be defeated and God's way will be the world's way.

Lift us up from grave to glory so that we might experience the hope of salvation in this world today. Fill now our hearts with the assurance of eternal life. In the name of the risen Christ we pray.


Read other messages by Pastor Wade