Easter Sunday A

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The Resurrection of Our Lord, Year A

In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!
Think for a moment about the last time you heard someone say “what difference does it make?” If you’re anything like me, when someone says that to you, they’re likely trying to downplay some wrong they’ve done, or they’re attempting to distract you or divert the conversation in a different direction…whatever their motive, they want to change the subject. My experience with this has been that this doesn’t happen around a pleasant conversation. This phrase has even been taken over by politicians who use it for similar reasons.
But let’s use it today for a pleasant reason. The resurrection of Jesus the Christ: what difference does it make? If a non-Christian asked you that question, how would you answer? Does Christ’s resurrection make a difference to you as a Christian? Does Jesus being raised from the dead make a difference to us as a church? Does the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth make a difference to the world today?
A few years ago, my family went to a Christian music festival called Winter Jam. One of the musicians shared her newest song, in which the refrain was “the Cross has the final word.” It was a pretty song, and she was a fine musician with a lovely voice. But it made me laugh. I nudged my friend Joe sitting next to me and said “do you want me to ruin this song for you?” He laughed and said “sure.” So I told him: the cross doesn’t have the final word. If it did, we wouldn’t be Christians. The cross is immensely important to our understanding of what Christ has done for us. But it doesn’t have the final word. The EMPTY TOMB is what has the final word!
The cross reminds us of why we need a savior. The empty tomb reminds us of the power of our savior - power even over death itself. The angel points to the empty tomb and tells the women: “He’s not here, for he is risen, as he said.” So the empty tomb tells them - and us - that Jesus is true to His Word. He keeps his promises, and he does what he says he’s going to do… just like His Father.
And that means that Jesus is who He says He is. Not who we want Him to be. He’s not a good luck charm we can pull out of our pocket and rub his belly and get what we want from him. He’s not a pushover of a divine being who loves us blindly so we can keep living our lives however we want and do what we want just because “Jesus loves me.” Jesus is the Son of God who loves us despite our sins and disobedience…and He loves us enough that He’s not going to leave us that way.
The world around us tries from every angle imaginable to convince us that we don’t need God, and that we don’t need a savior. They’ll tell us that the collective knowledge of humanity has grown so much that we don’t need old-fashioned things like religion anymore. They’ll tell us that God was created by man to explain things we didn’t understand…but now we *do* understand all of those things, so we don’t need a crutch like God anymore. And so, God has been slowly being removed from our society over the last 70 years or so.
It began by removing prayer from our schools. Some of you grew up saying the pledge of allegiance followed by the Lord’s Prayer... in public school! That was gone by the time I started kindergarten. Then they started going to work on Sunday. It used to be that you couldn’t really do anything on Sunday but go to church. Now, well… the businesses that are closed on Sunday are considered strange, or even radical, because they do so based on the Christian values of their founders. Little by little, God has been inched out of the public eye until we arrive at today. How are we doing with God being pushed out of view?
How do we measure that? World peace? We’re facing war with our two most capable and deadly opponents: China and Russia. Nuclear weapons have been credibly threatened to be used for the first time since World War II. Domestic tranquility? Our country is more divided than it’s ever been. Some of you who lived through the turbulent Civil Rights movement tell me that it’s noticeably worse today than it was even then. Recently a Christian woman was turned down for an adoption because she refused to sign a form saying that she would support gender transition surgery for her adopted child, if the child requested it. The Christian woman was refused adoption on the sole basis of her Christian values.
We are even losing our grip on what is truth. The world is trying to tell us that men can be women and women can be men. Of course, if that isn’t enough, we’re also told that there are more than 2 genders, and each of the growing numbers of those genders (some say there are more than 100 now) - each one comes with it’s own unique sets of pronouns, most of which are words none of us have ever seen before.
I’m looking around at the world, and frankly, I’m not seeing how a society that rejects God has anything better. Nothing is better. One prime example: suicide is now the second leading cause of death for ages 15-19 in the last 5 years, and the trend is getting worse. Large numbers of our youth are now so hopeless looking at the world run by Godless science, that they think life isn’t even worth living.
What difference does Christ’s resurrection make? I think a darned good indicator of that is what life looks like without him. The last 3 years have been some of the most difficult times our society has ever faced. But I can’t help but observe that those of us who believe in Jesus Christ haven’t been quite as, well, miserable as everyone else. And I have to conclude that must because we have hope. And that hope has its source directly in the Resurrection of Christ. The pandemic was awful, and it caused a lot of suffering and death. It was truly deadly for 10s of thousands of people. Some in my own family and circles of friends. But the Christians I interacted with had hope. We knew then as we know now that death is not the end. God has promised something beyond death, and we got a preview of that in the resurrection of His Son. We *know* that death doesn’t get the last word.
We see the cross and are reminded of our sinfulness. We remember what Christ suffered on our behalf. But he did so willingly. He did that because He knew that we needed him to. We could not have paid that price ourselves…so He did. And with his “it is finished” our sins were buried with him, and our slate wiped clean. What difference does that make? That means that our sins have been forgiven. When we confess our sins and trespasses, God will not hold them against us. When we come to His Table to receive the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, we receive God’s forgiveness in that meal, reminding us of his bodily suffering for our sake, and the price he paid so that our sins *would* be forgiven… and they are! In this meal, which we will share today, we can taste that very forgiveness.
When our consciences weigh us down, when we feel guilty for things we have done or not done, we can bring them to God in confession and let them go. They are no longer our burden; our savior has taken them from us. When they come back (as they sometimes do), then we can know that is the Old Enemy - that Wicked Foe - trying to drive a wedge between us and God. His attempt to defeat our faith. That battle has already been decided. He’s already lost. Our conscience has been unburdened and our standing with God has been restored - all because of the empty tomb. That’s the difference that Christ resurrection means to us. And that is good news indeed.
Christ’s resurrection has made a difference on a much larger scale as well. As we look at the seasons of the church year, starting with Advent, we see that “The church year is a representation of the life of Christ in a yearly pattern with two principal centers: one is the Christmas event and the other is the Easter event, which consists of the death, resurrection, ascension, sending of the Spirit, and the return of Christ. Both of these centers are elaborations of Sunday, the earliest Christian festival… Sunday is the weekly commemoration of the resurrection, the ‘eighth day’ of the week marking the beginning of the new creation. It is, therefore, always a day of celebration, even in Lent.” (Pfaetticher, Manual on the Liturgy, pg 21)
Each week, when we have our weekly worship service on Sunday, it serves as a reminder of Christ’s resurrection on Sunday - the first day of the new week. Our entire faith is built on Christ’s resurrection. It is the event upon which our hope is placed. It gives us a reason to look beyond death. And when we don’t have to fear death, well… then nothing’s really very scary, is it?
For us to know that Christ has been raised from the dead is the very evidence we need to know that God keeps his promises… as He always does. As Jesus said to the women at the tomb: “Do not be afraid.” There’s nothing to fear. But then he gave them a command: go and tell. The world doesn’t want to hear this good news. Go and tell it anyway. Tell the world that death could not hold the Son of God. Death is not the end of the story. God has promised us so, and we take comfort and peace in that. (Two more things sadly lacking in the world!) But this comfort and peace is available to all who are willing to accept it. So let’s start by telling them:
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!
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