Easter 2021 Sermon

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John 20:19-20

Most of you probably don’t know it, but I have some scars. I have two small scars on my wrist. I got them when I was young. I was running through the house to go out and play. I hit the latch on the storm door, but it didn’t open. My hand slipped off the latch and went crashing through the glass. The broken glass sliced my wrist. I was bleeding. But some bandages and pressure stopped the bleeding and the wounds healed. The scars are evidence of what happened that day.

Most of you probably have some scars. Maybe from a fall off your bike; maybe from a surgery or an accident. Whatever caused the wound is passed, the wound is healed. The scar is evidence of what happened. It is also evidence that you are still here to talk about it.

On Easter evening, many disciples gathered together. They knew it was risky because they didn’t know what the Jewish leaders were up to. They were being blamed for the disappearance of Jesus’ body. The governor’s seal on the tomb had been broken. Was there a warrant out for their arrest for disturbing a grave? But despite the risk, they had to meet. They had to share their news. The women told about seeing angels who told them that Jesus was alive. Later Jesus himself appeared to these women on the road, and to Mary Magdalene outside the tomb. Peter and John had gone to look at the tomb. They verified that the body of Jesus was not there, but there was clear evidence that his body had not been moved or stolen. The grave clothes were still there and the napkin that had been over his face was neatly folded and set off to the side. As they were talking about all the different things that people had seen, two more disciples burst into the room breathless. They had run all the way from Emmaus. They told everyone about how they had met a stranger on the road who had walked with them and had taken them through many of the Old Testament prophecies and shown them how they had been perfectly fulfilled by Jesus. Then, when he broke bread with them, they realized that this stranger was Jesus, and he disappeared!

Imagine the excitement they brought to that room. I imagine there were people talking and asking questions all at the same time. It must have been chaotic. Until, suddenly, without warning, Jesus stood among them. No one heard a knock. No one opened the door. No one saw how he entered the room, he just suddenly appeared.

At first, they were terrified. They thought it was some kind of apparition. But then Jesus spoke. He greeted them with the words, peace be with you. They recognized his voice, but was it really him? Could it really be Jesus? He showed them his hands and side. He showed them his scars, the scars from the nails that had pierced his hands, the scar from the spear that had pierced his side to prove that he was dead so that Nicodemus and Joseph could take his body down from the cross, wrap it in strips of cloth with spices, and lay it in the tomb. Those scars were evidence that this was the same Jesus they had seen on the cross. Those scars were evidence, just like our scars are, that he had been wounded, but he was alive. The wounds had healed. There was no doubt, the voice, the scars just in the right places—this was Jesus. He was alive, risen from the dead, just as he said!

The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

What filled them with joy? In that moment the thing that gave them joy was probably the fact that Jesus was there with them again. It must have felt like old times, like it was when they sat with him and listened to his teaching on the mount, or along the lake, or at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Those were happy times. But Jesus wasn’t going to stay visibly with them for long. It wasn’t going to be like old times. They would have to learn that their reason for rejoicing was much deeper than just seeing Jesus in person.

As Jesus appeared to them off and on over the next 40 days, he continued to teach them about the kingdom of God. He continued to remind them what it meant that he had risen from the dead just as he said. It was that deeper meaning that would give them true and lasting joy.

By God’s grace they have passed that deeper meaning on to us so that we today can have true and lasting joy.

Peter says, Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade– kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.

Because Jesus died and rose again, we can be sure that we have an inheritance. All the riches and glory of heaven are ours. Whatever we face on earth, whatever causes us grief or pain, even a year of COVID restrictions, is light and momentary compared to the glory that is ours in Jesus. The fact that Jesus died and rose again proves that he is who he claimed to be. It proves that he did what he came to do. He has redeemed us. Now he is preparing a place for us. In the future we will get to see those scars too, when he comes again in glory, only unlike the disciples on the first Easter, Jesus will not appear, disappear, then reappear again, he will be with us permanently.

The apostle Paul learned the deeper meaning of the resurrection. We heard it in our second reading this morning. In Adam all die. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit God kept his word, when you eat of it you will die. He kept his word because he didn’t want humans to live under the curse of sin forever. Death puts an end to sin. But God also determined that death would not last forever. Jesus’ scars prove it. He died, but he didn’t stay in the grave. He rose again. He is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep, of all who have died, from Adam and Eve until the end of time.

By calling Jesus the first fruit Paul is thinking about what giving our first fruits is all about. We give to God the first part of the harvest, off the top of the paycheck, showing that we trust that the rest of the harvest will follow, that he will provide for us through whatever is left. God has raised Jesus as the first fruit of the resurrection which means that we can trust that all the rest of the dead will be raised as he was.

  For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.

Encourage each other, comfort one another with these words. We need comfort and encouragement in our world today. I wonder how different the response to the pandemic would have been if more people had taken comfort in these words. Everyone was so frightened by the unknown. What might this pandemic do? But they seemed to forget that everyone is mortal, and that people die every day from traffic accidents, from cancer, from the regular flu. Sooner or later something is going to kill you, that’s a certainty many don’t want to face in our world today. Yes, if we know something is dangerous, we should do all we can to warn people and to avoid it. But the fear of uncertainty goes away when you see the scars of Jesus, when you realize that because he died and rose again this life isn’t all there is. Because he stood before his disciples with his resurrected body, we will one day stand before him in our resurrected body, a body that is no longer subject to any sickness or disease, to pain or death. That certainty does affect the way that you live your life each day.

We need comfort and encouragement in our world today as we see and hear the tension between people, whether it’s based on politics or race, or whatever it might be. Did you notice anything mentioned in Paul’s words about politics or race? The Bible is very clear that there is only one race, the human race. Jesus died for the human race, for everyone. When Jesus comes again in glory he will raise all the dead, the whole human race, regardless of color or political affiliation. Like the disciples, we will rejoice when we see the Lord. Nothing will be more important than standing in his presence and living with him, and people from every tribe, nation and language, for all eternity.

We all have scars from living in this sin-cursed world. Even Jesus had scars. He has chosen to keep them. They remind us that in this world we will have trouble, but we can take heart because Jesus has overcome the world. They remind us that no matter how messed up this world gets, he is always there for us. They remind us that he really did die and rise body and soul from the grave. Because he did, we have a certain hope, a living hope that keeps us going until we get to see his nail-scarred hands for ourselves. They assure us that because he lives, we too will live.

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