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Sermon: Luke 24:1-12
Easter 1 – April 21, 2019 – Rev. Steven J. Radunzel

In a former congregation I knew a couple who had been born and raised in Asia. They told me that when they were in former land they celebrated Easter by going to the cemetery to sing joyful hymns that praised Jesus for his resurrection from the dead.

At first that custom may sound a little strange to us, but when you think about it a little more you realize what a wonderful and appropriate custom it is. It first of all declares what an astounding miracle Jesus’ resurrection is. Singing Easter hymns in the cemetery is a very courageous and defiant statement, defiant of death and hell. It proclaims that where there once was sin and death there is now forgiveness, hope, and eternal life.

Praising Jesus for his resurrection in a cemetery also reminds us very clearly of the first Easter, the day that Jesus rose from the dead. The women came to the cemetery to complete the burial process of Jesus. But instead of finding Jesus’ body they were met by angels who asked them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” There was no longer any point in looking for Jesus in the grave, in the cemetery. He had risen from the dead.

On this Easter Sunday we’re going to conclude our Lenten devotional series on the Ironies of the Passion. And the unexpected truth, the irony, that gives us so much joy and eternal hope today is that from a cemetery comes the most powerful and life-giving message in the history of the world: “He is not here; he has risen!”

We consider that ironic truth

THE LIVING AMONG THE DEAD?

The other day I was reminded of another irony involving Jesus’ passion. I was in a store that was selling chocolate crosses for Easter. It brought back a childhood memory. When I was growing up in my home congregation the Sunday school staff gave each Sunday school student a chocolate cross as an Easter gift and treat.

As I looked at those crosses on the shelf I couldn’t help but wonder what Jesus would think of these chocolate crosses. At the time that Jesus endured the horror of Roman crucifixion there was no way that anyone would have imagined that one day little children would eat crosses made out of chocolate, or, for that matter, that anyone would wear a cross as a necklace or other jewelry.

I have a feeling that Jesus wouldn’t mind. A cross is the most prominent feature in our church. We do wear jewelry in the form of a cross. The sign of the cross is on our hymnals and Bibles. We make the sign of the cross in our worship service. And yes, sometimes little children eat chocolate crosses.
And clearly no one means any disrespect, nor does anyone take lightly what the cross originally meant, that it was a means of execution. As a matter of fact the cross is a sign of victory for us. We rejoice in the cross. It’s a sign of forgiveness and salvation for us.

But 2000 years ago on a Friday we call Good Friday the cross was not a sign of victory. It wasn’t used as a piece of jewelry. The cross terrified people. It meant certain death. A person’s hands and feet were literally nailed to the wood, and they would hang there until exhaustion, their awkward position, and the weight of their body put so much pressure on their lungs that they would slowly die of asphyxiation, as well as the loss of blood and infection.

I don’t know how long crucifixion was practiced or how extensive a practice it was in the Roman Empire and other nations, but there had to be thousands of unfortunate people who endured crucifixion. But there was only one of those crucifixions that had the kind of significance that Jesus’ did.

The death of a savior had been foretold from the very beginning, just after Adam and Eve sinned against God. God said that a human descendant of Eve would be born who would crush the head of the serpent. He would destroy the power of the devil. But in the process he would have to die himself. He would pay the wages of sin, he would atone for sin, for Adam and Eve’s sin and for our sins and for the sins of everyone, of the whole world.

King David foretold Jesus’ death 1000 years before Jesus was born: “Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet.” Seven hundred years before Jesus Isaiah prophesied Jesus’ death and the reason for it: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

Jesus foretold his own crucifixion: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” And the Apostle Paul summarizes it this way: “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.”

On the Sunday morning after Jesus death Mary Magdalene and the other women who had followed Jesus and the disciples so faithfully didn’t really understand any of this. They just knew that Jesus, whom they loved so much, in whom they had so much hope, had been suddenly and violently crucified on Friday. Their grief was excruciating. And to add insult to injury they had not even been able to give Jesus a proper and complete burial on Friday afternoon because at sunset the Sabbath came and they had to discontinue that work.

Early on Sunday, after the Sabbath, they made their way to the cemetery, to Jesus’ grave, with spices to complete the burial process. When they got there the big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb had been rolled away. Jesus’ body wasn’t inside. And two angels stood by them and asked, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!”
Would you have believed what the angels said? Would you have believed that Jesus had risen from the dead? Do you believe right now that Jesus on that day in a cemetery rose bodily from the dead and now lives forever?

The women didn’t know what to think. They were frightened, even a little confused. When they told the disciples what the angels had said, even the disciples didn’t believe it. It wasn’t until Jesus actually appeared alive to Mary Magdalene and then to the disciples that they actually believed this most amazing miracle that Jesus had risen from the dead.

But Jesus has not appeared to any of us. So how can we possibly believe anything so utterly unbelievable that Jesus rose from the dead? The Apostle Paul understood the difficulty that human reason has with the resurrection of the dead. He had a whole congregation of Christians in the city of Corinth who had begun to doubt that there would be a general resurrection of all the dead one day. And as a result many of them didn’t believe that Jesus had really risen either.

In the 15th chapter of his 1st letter to the Corinthians, what serves as our second reading today, he actually gives us a list of people who saw Jesus after he had risen from the dead. He appeared to the women and the disciples a number of time. He even appeared to a group of five hundred believers at once. And Paul makes the point that many of those eyewitnesses were still alive. His implication to the Corinthians was if you have doubts about Jesus’ resurrection then go ask some of those living eyewitnesses for the proof.

We have the testimony of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul and others written down on the pages of the New Testament. To imagine that they were all lying or hallucinating is, in fact, more unbelievable. Believe the most amazing and most powerful truth in the history of the world. Jesus, the Son of God, rose bodily from the grave.

And because Jesus has risen from the dead then we can be sure that the whole message of the Bible is true. Jesus really is the Son of God. He really did crush the head of the serpent and destroy the power of the devil. He atoned for our sins. We are forgiven. We are justified, declared not guilty of sin. And one day Jesus is going to come back again and raise all people. Believers will rise with imperishable bodies that will live and reign with Christ forever. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

The living among the dead. How ironic that this message of eternal life began in a cemetery. “He is not here; he has risen!” We shouldn’t be surprised. From the beginning God used the unexpected, the ironic, to save us from our sins. That’s God’s perfect wisdom. That’s God demonstrating his defiance of sin, death, and Satan. A Savior descended from the woman, Eve, who sinned first by listening to Satan. A Savior from sin descended from generations of sinners. The most precious message in history recorded on scrolls that dried up and became brittle, on skins of animals, on papyrus, preserved for us to this day after two thousand years, after three thousand years from Moses and the prophets. The most precious message in history recorded on those scrolls by sinful men inspired by God. The most precious message in history entrusted in our hands, God depending on us to tell the next generation and every generation until Jesus comes again.

But the whole ironic plan worked. It worked because it was God’s plan. No human being could have planned it or dreamt it up or carried it out. All the ironies of the Jesus’ passion, the unexpected and unlikely twists and turns, the message of eternal life coming from, of all places, a cemetery, are all proof that Jesus really has risen from the dead, that he is the Son of God, and that our sins are all forgiven.

So some day when you’re walking through a cemetery don’t be afraid to sing the words, “I know that my Redeemer lives.” And go buy one of those chocolate crosses and eat it in defiance of crucifixion and death – because he has risen. He has risen, indeed! Amen.