Saturday, April 7, 2012

Mark 16:1 - 8 -- The Quiet Strength of Christ's Resurrection

Grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come,
            We Christians live in the world and by faith in God’s Word at the same time. We’ll say something about both in the next few minutes but first God’s message to us and to all people.
            As Mark tells the story, the quietness of Christ’s resurrection is very impressive. There were no cameras or fanfares, no dignitaries, no limousines to bring the Savior and his entourage back to the center of town. The fact is that no one but the Lord actually saw the resurrection or his emergence from the tomb. The angels the women met – Luke mentions two – rolled back the stone. By his marvelous power, the Risen Christ passed through the boulder before the angels moved it. It is by the same power that the Lord is present with us in the sacrament this morning. Though we don’t see him, the Risen Lord is everywhere at once, a part of everything. His presence is quiet. We take hold of him by faith.
            It’s appropriate that the resurrection be quiet.  Christ does not depend on flashy displays to make himself known. He is confident and secure. He offers his confidence to everyone who believes in him. It’s right that a God who brings rest to an anxious world should begin his return from the grave in a modest way..
            The quietness of the resurrection is fitting as well because of the events that came before it – public humiliation and a bloody crucifixion. The Lord knows that the evil that caused his death, though defeated, is still active. His enemies are busy. We, too, don’t celebrate with extravagant displays. But we do rejoice, because even though the troubles of the world don’t go away, we have God’s promise that for believers the outcome of troubles will be glorious. The resurrection power that worked for Christ will also transform us. the art of Christian living includes quiet rejoicing in the midst of a world that can be puzzling and frantic.
            Then, too, Jesus has a different understanding of life that doesn’t invite ordinary human clamor.  For us, life is activity, achievement, bustling about. We like to hold on to things that are fading, and the tighter our grip the more life we think we have. But for Christ, life is compassion, forgiveness, letting go, living for others. Life in Christ is never-ending contact with the Creator, the source. God sustains this life. He supports it. “I was pushed back and about to fall,” our introit Psalmist wrote, “but the Lord helped me.” The more we understand the kind of life Christ brings, the less we crave worldly life. We don’t escape the earth just yet, not do we try to. We trust that the Risen Lord is carrying us. Our souls respond to the words of the Psalm-writer. “I will give you thanks, for you answer me. You have become my salvation.”  Not fireworks, but the kind of joy that lasts.   
            Now for the world around us. A few years ago, just before Easter, 39 members of a cult in California took their own lives. These lost souls thought they could pass through the gates of heaven to paradise on Sirius, the dog star, the brightest star in the sky. They were waiting for a spaceship to come to get them and when it did not, they fell into despair and took the situation into their own hands. Everybody knows that life has its miserable side. Some folks can’t endure and let their daydreams run away with them. Human nature under pressure can give way to almost any folly. The past 100 years have proved this again and again. People have performed unspeakable cruelties in their quest for better lives.
            The conditions of life challenge Christians just as they do cult members, but they do not crush us because our Lord strengthens us to cling by faith to resurrection life. Christ and not our own efforts will bring us to the next world when he is ready. Meanwhile, he gives us through his Word all the strength and understanding we need to endure.
            Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians partly to settle a dispute in the congregation. Nobody denied that the resurrection took place. Some, though, didn’t believe that they, too, would rise from the dead. People in the first century were more attuned to the supernatural than we are, and so the resurrection was easy for them to accept. Plenty of folks today ask how they can believe in the resurrection as well as what it might mean for them. Both are very good questions.
            The answer to the first question is easy to express. The church believes in Christ’s resurrection because the Bible tells us about it. God’s word has the power to build faith. The Holy Spirit works through words printed on a page to bring us to faith. God’s Word doesn’t lie. It cannot fail. Isaiah said that God’s Word never leaves him without producing fruit. What’s more, God never works without his Word. It’s only through his Word that he lets himself be known and taken hold of. The cult members had no command from the Bible to take their own lives. The Bible tells us to be on the side of life, not against it. “Thou shalt not kill.” The cult people acted on a stupid guess because they trusted the ravings of a false prophet. They took matters into their own hands and created a disaster.
            When Christians hear about such tragedies we’re naturally concerned but not alarmed, because God’s Word breaks through distress of every kind and strengthens us and makes us grateful for our faith. We pay attention to the message from God that the world needs to hear. His Word builds believers. It assures us that despite appearances, God is in control. Jesus’ resurrection demonstrates God’s ability to bring good out of evil.
            Again, relying on God’s Word, we ask the second question, what does the resurrection mean for us? Paul says that Christ is the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. First-fruits is an agricultural term that refers to offerings to God in thanks for a plentiful harvest. Jesus is the first-fruits of eternal life. We believers are the plentiful harvest that will follow later.
            In other words, the resurrection applies to us because Jesus established a connection between ourselves and him. The Lord himself calls us his sisters and brothers. This is not our own doing but a gift from him. We couldn’t possibly earn such a high standing on our own. We depend on God's grace and his generous heart. it often happens, however, that folks don't stick with him by faith.
            You will remember that even his disciples ran away from him during his ordeal. Peter denied him three times. The Risen Lord might have called them traitors or deserters. Instead, he went out to them and from his loving heart he made them his brothers and sisters. He pardoned their lack of faith and gave them a better, permanent relationship with him.
            By calling himself our brother, Christ claims us as very dear to him. He gives us love and honor. A Christian who lived a long time ago said that if Christ is our brother, what do we lack? We have common possessions with him, one father, and an inheritance that won't grow less when it is divided.
            The sovereign Lord has authority over heaven and earth. He is the master of truth, power, wisdom, and righteousness. As someone put it, he governs and rules everything: hunger and thirst, good fortune and bad, even death and life, and yet he claims us as his sisters and brothers. He shares his abundance with you and me. “I come that you may have life and have it to the full,” he said. What’s more, we share in all his possessions, not just a part: righteousness, wisdom, strength. We become rulers by faith. Hunger will not afflict us, sins will not weigh us down, we will not fear death and the devil. While we do not live in palaces, we will not be in want.
            The resurrected Lord offers freedom from worry and fear; he makes us confident, both for our present lives and the life to come. Many folks are burdened with heavy cares. We ask big questions. Will things work out for us? Will the weight of our sins crush us? The answer from God is that our brother who lived for us and died on our behalf and rose again claims us for eternal life. Everything will go well for the sisters and brothers of our Lord, who demonstrated in the quiet of the first Easter morning that he was the power to turn the worst evil into good, that he has defeated even the coldness of the grave.
            If the ups and downs of life bring us grief, if the jangle of the world wears us down, if guilt troubles us, we remember that God became just like us. Or brother was subject to the same difficulties as we; he was tempted as we are; he knows what it means to be jostled about. Like us, he knew what it means to depend on God. Though sinless, he took all our sins upon him and died on the cross. Then in the quiet of the first Easter morning, he rose from the dead. His resurrection confirms the promises he made during his ministry. It proves that the Heavenly Father accepted his death as payment for all of humanity’s sins, a sign to us that a time is coming when storms will pass and fogs will lift and we will see God face to face. Our brother will share his rest with us in ways that our limited minds now only vaguely imagine. If turbulence shakes us, we remember the great difference between our present circumstances and the life to come. Christ shares his victory over death with us. His Father is our Heavenly Father. His God is our God. Nothing stands between us and him. The Son of God, who is God himself, is our brother.
            Many things occupy us – raising families, making money, the state of our health, the welfare of others, troubles in the news. Jesus assures us that he will provide for our needs. We may safely turn our concerns over to him. The resurrected Lord will end our anxieties as he did those of the women who went to the tomb and will also do for the rest of the world so long as we pay attention.
            God wants the joy of Easter to brighten all our hearts. He sends the Risen Lord to bring us an abundance of life and spiritual good health. The resurrection took place quietly, as we said, but news of Christ’s return to life has spread throughout the world. The power of the resurrection spreads and grows. It will never wear out. May it keep you and me safe into eternity. AMEN.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. AMEN.                              

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