Happy Easter! The texts for this 2017’s Easter sermon are Matthew 28:1-10 and Acts 10:34-43. You can also read this year’s Maundy Thursday and Good Friday sermons.

Christ is Risen.
He is risen indeed.

Christ is Risen!
He is risen indeed!

I’ve learned this year that Easter is a challenging day for a pastor to give a sermon, because really, we just said the entire message: Christ is risen!

We know the story. Some of us know it better than others, but we all are familiar with the general outline. We know all about Jesus getting betrayed, arrested, put on trial, and then crucified.

And we know the good news of Easter. On the third day, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary go to the tomb to anoint Jesus, to prepare his body for burial after they ran out of time before the Sabbath.

Instead of finding the body, though, they run into an angel who tells them Jesus has risen. He’s alive!

We know the story. And we know what it means: because Jesus lives, we too shall live. We’re forgiven! We too are set free from the tomb!

I had the privilege of preaching at a funeral yesterday for Stanley Roose over at St. John’s in Vilmar, and I talked about how because of Easter, we know we have hope, and we know Jesus has defeated death. That’s all true.

And so that must mean that now we live in a world where Jesus is alive, and we know we won’t die, and there’s no more suffering, and there’s no more hate, and there’s no more pain, because our sins are forgiven and that means everything’s perfect now, right? Right?

Except, that’s not true at all.

Just look around. There’s plenty of suffering. There are millions of people literally starving right now, in places like Northern Nigeria, and Somalia, and Yemen, and South Sudan.

There are people suffering in places like North Korea, and Iran. There are people here in our own country who live in fear, who don’t know where their next meal will come from, who feel abandoned. There are broken relationships, there are people abusing children, there are people living without hope.

It might be Easter, but I’m not going to stand here and tell you everything is all better. And you wouldn’t believe me if I did.

But I don’t think that’s what this story is actually saying. Matthew is not saying Easter changes the reality of pain and suffering in the world.

Look how Matthew describes the women leaving the tomb. They go quickly, with fear and great joy, running to tell the disciples the good news. All week, I’ve been thinking about this combination of fear and joy. Those emotions don’t usually go together.

Now, the joy part makes sense. We’re pretty good at the joy of Easter. Look how we celebrate, with festive meals and jelly beans and chocolate. Lots of sugar! Even if the women don’t understand everything it means, they know Jesus is alive and that’s good news!

But why do they leave with fear? What are they afraid of?

When the women come to the tomb, the first thing the angel says to them is “Do not be afraid.” A little later, when Jesus himself meets them on the way, he also says to them, “Do not be afraid.” That’s important, because there’s plenty of reason to be afraid.

For the women and the disciples, their leader has just been killed. The authorities are probably looking for them as well, trying to stamp out this rebellion.

For us today, just look around. On a global scale, just this weekend, it looked like we were as close to nuclear war as we’ve been in decades. Locally, we have neighbors still working to recover from the flood, worried about the river rising again this year. Maybe you’re worried about a job, or a parent’s health, or about your children.

No one tells you not to be afraid unless there’s a reason to fear.

Matthew starts his Easter story with an earthquake, which is appropriate, because what the women find at the tomb rocks their entire world. If there’s one thing you should be able to rely on, it’s dead people staying dead. We know everyone’s story eventually ends in death.

Of course that’s sad, but there’s a sort of comfort in it. Even though we don’t like to think about it, we know what to expect. Dead means dead.

But the angel announces something different. Jesus didn’t stay dead. If someone dead can come back to life, then all bets are off. No wonder they’re afraid! Resurrection changes everything.

And this goes beyond just them getting to see their friend again. This is a cosmic event. Heaven and earth are colliding. It’s good news, the best news they could imagine, but no wonder they’re afraid.

I don’t know if we have that same sense of joy and fear as we celebrate today, perhaps because the story is so familiar to us. But perhaps we should, because Easter changes everything for us too.

Easter changes our perspective, the way we look at life. (See this column from Karoline Lewis at Luther Seminary for more on this idea.) Easter says death doesn’t get the last word, that the suffering we see around the world is not all there is.

Easter gives us hope, because if Jesus is alive, then we know he really is God, like he claimed to be. Lots of people have claimed to be God throughout history. In Jesus’ time, there were others who claimed to be the messiah, who claimed to heal people. Lots of people are hailed as saviors, even today with politicians and celebrities. But all of them eventually die, and all of them stay dead.

By coming back to life, Jesus proves he is the Son of God. He proves death has been defeated; the grave could not hold him. He turns the cross, a horrible instrument of torture and death, into a symbol of life, the scene of God’s triumph.

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary leave from the tomb to go tell the others the good news Jesus is alive, the good news that they have new hope.

They’re carrying the message that this really is God’s world. God hasn’t looked at the state of our sinful, fallen world and given up on it; God has come to experience it and redeem it.

As we heard Peter say in the reading from Acts, those disciples go on to spread throughout the world the message that God is at work, forgiving, healing, and working against the suffering we see.

You and I are on the same mission as the disciples. Easter allows us to see the world with new eyes, to see God at work, bringing good out of awful situations. We get to bring this Easter hope to the world, to people who desperately need to hear this good news.

God has come to be with us, experiencing human life with all its pain and sorrow, even dying for us. Despite all the evidence that death should be the end of the story, Easter shows us hope. The tomb is empty and death is defeated.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Easter Sermon 2017 – Fear and Great Joy
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