April 12, 2009
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
Brothers and sisters in Christ, Good morning! Happy Easter! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed.
There are two simple words that are the topic, the title, and the summary of this morning’s sermon. If you remember these two words, you will have the message of Easter. They symbolize the power of Easter. And the two words are these: He lives! He lives, He lives, salvation to impart. That, my friends, is the good news of Easter.
Let me tell you again what happened. Jesus, the great healer, the great teacher, the One who held so much promise, the One who came to tell people what God is really like, got in trouble with the leadership of the day. Jesus was crucified, and He died. And in so doing, He meant for His death to be a gift for us all, to open the gates of heaven, to take upon Himself all the guilt and mistakes and errors of the world.
And so, the gate was opened. Jesus died, and He lay in the tomb that first day, which was Friday, and the second day, which was Saturday. And on the third day, He rose again! Something miraculous happened. His physical body transformed into a spiritual body that could be seen and could disappear, that could pass through doors and could eat a meal, that could be touched and held. That’s what happened on Easter.
I believe deeply in the literal truth of what the Bible says about Easter Day. I believe that Jesus rose from the dead.
I’ll never forget one Easter morning about thirty years ago when I was the pastor of the Roselle UMC. On that bright beautiful morning, I was talking to the children at the junior sermon. I was telling them the stories of Holy Week, and I asked them this question: When Easter morning came, what happened to Jesus? I’ll never forget the answer one wonderful eight year old girl named Lauren gave. She simply looked me right in the eye and said, “He came alive.”
I was startled by the beauty and simplicity of her answer. What wisdom can come from the lips of our children! “He came alive!”
Mary Magdalen, Jesus’s beloved, the one who loved Him so much, went out to the tomb that morning with tears in her eyes and spices in her hand, to give a gift of fragrance to the body of Jesus, wondering all along how they would roll the stone away. The stone of the tomb was sealed with the seal of Rome, which no one had better break. There were strong soldiers around that tomb, ready to defend that seal. But Mary’s love reached beyond logic. Somehow, in her heart, she knew there would be a way.
When she arrived, she found that the tomb was opened! The soldiers had fallen like dead men, and the body of Jesus was gone. She ran back to tell the others; the others ran to see. They didn’t know what to make of it, but Mary went back to the tomb to weep and weep, and to regret what might have been.
And then she heard a voice. She heard a voice that was so familiar and yet…it couldn’t be. Through the curtain of her tears, she heard someone say, “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”
And she said, “If you’re the gardener, if you’re the one who took the body of my Lord away, tell me where you’ve placed Him, and I will go myself and get Him!”
And then, she heard a word that couldn’t be mistaken, by a voice that belonged only to One. She heard her name. “Mary.” And she turned, and she saw Jesus.
She said, “My teacher!” Mary must have been a strong and impulsive woman. She must have leapt into His arms, because He said, “Oh, Mary, you don’t have to hold me down. It’s okay. I’m not ascending to the Father yet. But, Mary, I have a job for you. Go and tell the others that I’m alive and I’m going to meet them in Jerusalem.” And Mary did; she ran and told the others. And when the other disciples had encountered the Lord, that is what they told the others who had not seen the Lord: He Lives! He Lives!
On this beautiful Easter Day, my friends, I am here to witness to the fact that I believe in the miracle of Easter. I believe just what the Bible says: that on the third day, Jesus rose from the dead. Literally. I believe that as the sun rose on that first Easter Day, a remarkable thing happened to the body of Christ. I believe it was transformed from a physical body into a spiritual body. I believe that the Jesus who had been dead came to life once again.
I believe that the resurrection was a historical fact. But I believe more than that about Easter Sunday. What I believe about Easter is not simply that “He Lived”, but that “He Lives.” I believe that Easter is a present tense celebration. Here is what gives our faith its power and joy – it is not simply remembering God’s mighty acts of the past; it’s not simply looking longingly in the rear view mirror at some wonderful thing that happened ages ago. To celebrate Easter is to celebrate the power and the presence of Christ in your life and my life and our neighbors’ lives here, now, today.
Charles Wesley had it right. He did not write, “Christ the Lord was risen Easter Day, Alleluia.” No. He wrote, “Christ the Lord IS risen TODAY.” That was no mistake. That was no poetic license. That was on purpose. The ancient Christian greeting we exchange is NOT “Christ the Lord WAS risen; He Was risen indeed.” What is it? It is “Christ the Lord IS risen.” And the response? “He IS risen indeed.”
He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today. He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way. He lives! He lives! Salvation to impart. You ask me how I know He lives...
Oh, let me take a moment to answer that question. Pastor, you say, “He lives.” How do you know? What do you mean?
What I mean is that the invisible spiritual presence, intelligence, and energy of the Son of God, that is, Jesus Christ, is alive in the world today. The Holy Spirit and the healing energy of Jesus Christ is alive and with us today. That is what I mean when I say, “He lives.”
And you ask me how I know He lives. Well, let me tell you a story or two. I know He lives because I have seen glimpses of His spirit in the people around me. I see people of our faith doing remarkable and beautiful things and sometimes superhuman things that could only be inspired by the spirit of the living Christ. I see glimpses of Christ in the people around me. I see people doing remarkable, and courageous, and loving, and kind things, the kind of things Christ would do, and I believe they have more power behind them than just themselves. In them I see the power of the risen Christ.
I have known people who have been blessed with the gift of encouragement, who have always seemed to have the kind and gentle word to say. Just being in their presence had a healing power to it. Have you know people like that? If you have, I believe you have seen a glimpse of the risen Christ in them.
I once knew a man who faced a terrible disappointment. The people he had counted on let him down badly. He suffered much. But do you know what? He never struck back. He never tried to “get even”. He went through the storm. And through it all, he held to his faith, and God carried him through. And when the storm was over, and the clouds parted, he came out stronger than ever. That is what the risen Christ can do.
You ask me how I know Christ lives. He lives in that man’s heart. I have seen the power and spirit and energy of the risen Christ in that man’s heart.
You ask me how I know He lives. I have seen Him in the lives of my friends who have battled the devils of addiction. I know people who have hit the very bottom. But when they hit the bottom, they found out that the bottom was solid – and that they were not alone. In that bottomed-out moment, the Savior was with them. And when they turned to that Savior, He told them how much He loved them, how proud He was of them, how much He believed in them. And with His help, they turned their lives around, and one day at a time, started climbing the upward way. Friends, people don’t escape from grips like that by their own power. They do it with the help of a higher power. I call that higher power the Holy Spirit of the risen Lord, Jesus Christ.
You ask me how I know He lives. He lives within their hearts.
You ask me how I know He lives. He lives in the hearts of teenagers I know, teenagers who are not ashamed to say that Jesus is Lord, and go to church, and say a prayer. I see the light of Christ shine in their beautiful eyes, and the grace of the risen Christ shine in their kindness. You ask me how I know He lives. He lives within their hearts, too.
And here is where you and I enter the picture. The Holy Spirit of the risen Christ is available to all of us. We only need to ask. Won’t you invite Him into your life again this Easter? Pray with me, won’t you? Let us pray.
Lord Jesus, You are here with us. You are the risen Christ. You give us joy and You give us power. You give us strength in our weakness; You give us reason to carry on. Come into our hearts now in a new way. Be our strength, our power, our Savior, for we are empowered by Your risen spirit. We give You thanks, in Your holy name, Lord Jesus. Amen.
God loves you, my friend. I do, too. Happy Easter! Amen.
© 2009 Anthony J. Godlefski