Easter 2018: So What?

John 20: 1-18 

Christ is Risen! (Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!)

He is risen indeed, alleluia…

And so we gather together today to celebrate The Resurrection of our Lord… Easter Sunday. The day that Jesus rose from the grave following his crucifixion, leaving behind an empty tomb.

In the life of the Church, it is our “Good News” day, we could say.  The day that draws to a close the season of Lent, through which we have journeyed to the foot of the cross reflecting along the way on our sins against God and neighbor with repentant hearts… that acknowledges the forgiveness given to us through the suffering of Jesus’ crucifixion and his death on the cross on the night of Good Friday… that promises us the gift of eternal life with Christ through Him being raised.

The day, whose promise, concludes just about every sermon preached from every pulpit across time and space, including those preached from where I stand at this very moment… that nothing, not even death itself, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus…

My question for your reflection today is; So what?
So what?

Why is it that you here today? What does this Easter promise of forgiveness and new life given some two thousand years ago, mean for us as we sit here this morning? What does it mean for you and for me?

It’s no new news that organized religion across the United States is in a state of decline. According to a nationwide study done in 2017 by one evangelical polling firm, just 38% of Americans are active churchgoers (those who attend services weekly)… 43% are un-churched (those who haven’t attended church in the past 6 months not including a wedding or funeral), and the remaining, those labeled as de-churched, have nothing to do with religion at all.

Another, in measuring church attendance specifically among members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (that would be us), records 35% attend at least once a week, 50% once or twice a month to a few times per year, 14% seldom or never and 1% don’t know.  Not sure how you don’t know, but nonetheless you get my point…

Bringing it even closer to home, here at St. James, as recorded on the ELCA’s website, we have a total of 1,181 baptized members and an average weekly attendance of 340… Now, I am far from a mathematician, but if our weekly attendance consisted only of members, which of course it doesn’t, based on these numbers, we would have an average weekly attendance of only 29% of those who consider themselves to be members of this family of faith…

What does Easter mean for you?

As we move into our Gospel text for today, John records the events of that first Easter morning… We read that it was early on the first day of the week, thought by most biblical scholars to have been at some point early Sunday morning before sunrise. Mary Magdalene, a follower of Jesus, makes her way to the tomb where Jesus was laid following his crucifixion, only to find that the stone covering the entrance had been removed… Jesus’ body no where to be found…

As we would expect, Mary is overwhelmed with emotion. Uncertain about where the body is and who could have possibly taken it, she runs to Peter and the other unnamed disciple, described as the one whom Jesus loved, to tell them about her discovery. As the three arrive back at the tomb, they find it as Mary had described. The rock removed, Jesus’ body no where to be found, nothing but strips of linen and his burial cloth scattered on the ground…

In seeing it for themselves, we’re told the unnamed disciple “immediately believed”, and then along with Peter, the two leave Mary alone at the tomb. So she sits, and she weeps… and then, through the water that fills her eyes, two angels appear… and then, so to, does the risen Jesus himself.

As we read John’s rendition of our Easter story, we follow the thread of Mary Magdalene’s grief woven throughout… grief that, while it is certainly grounded in the events of Jesus’ crucifixion and his death on the cross just days prior, comes in response to not knowing where Jesus is.

In verse 2 of today’s Gospel, after finding the empty tomb, we read that Mary’s gut reaction is to run to Peter and the other disciple, screaming along the way, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

And then, as she is left alone just 8 verses later, as she is visited by the angels, she weeps, speaking through her tears, “They have taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they have put him.”

It isn’t till she sees the risen Jesus for herself, that her fears subside and her cries of apprehension and anxiety turn to tears of relief and thanksgiving…

What does Easter mean for you?

What does it mean… that God would send God’s only begotten Son to be born to a human mother, amongst a broken world, to live amongst a people broken by sin, to suffer unimaginable torment and be hung upon a cross to die… that he would be raised from the dead three days later… for you?

That through such, you would be forgiven… totally and completely forgiven, regardless of what you have done or left undone… and given the gift of eternal life with Him?

So what?

For those of you who know anything about me, I don’t have to convince you when I say that I have spent more time reflecting on this Easter promise of forgiveness and new life more in this past year than ever before. When you have repeated conversations with your three-year about her mommy being in heaven, reflections one cannot escape…

Let me tell you… I understand fully, the fears and anxieties that bring Mary to her knees in tears in her search for The Crucified One, unsure of… where… He… is…

But too… big but… you better believe that I understand the relief that Mary feels as she meets The Risen One face to face outside of the tomb as well…

The Easter promise is that of forgiveness and grace at its best… It is that of knowing the things you have done against God and neighbor for which, you, in no way shape or form deserve forgiveness for, yet are given it anyways… It is the promise that through this forgiveness you are given new life in the here and now, and in the Kingdom to come when your time in this world has come to an end…

The promise that you are entirely known and loved by God not just in your best moments, but in your worst as well… That allows you, like Mary Magdalene, to say with confidence, “I have seen the Lord!

For Christ is Risen! Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!

On this Easter, our “Good News day”, may you truly experience the goodness of its’ promise… May you embrace the gift of forgiveness and new life already given to you freely through Jesus’ death on the cross and his rising from the tomb…

May you experience the Risen Christ, when you are consumed with sadness and fear, brought to your knees in tears, and may it release you from whatever it is that weighs you down and lead you to share your experience with others, that they too, would see the Lord for themselves…

For Christ is risen, He is risen indeed… News that truly is, Good. And let all God’s people say, Amen.  

~Pr Andrew Geib

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