3/31/02, Easter, A
Have Seen the Lord!
lthough I was reared in a parsonage where my Dad was always going off to bury folks I don't recall it being such a major concern. Death was simply a part of life and the assumption was that the dead in Christ will live on in heaven. It is wonderful that Christian families can deal so easily with the terror that strikes fear in the hearts of most people. The jokes must have enabled us to see death through resurrection eyes.
One old story dealt with the fellow who came to see the preacher about conducting his brother's funeral and asking him to refer to his brother as, "A saint of God." The preacher knew that the deceased was one of the most notorious moonshiners in the county, so he said that he could not make that reference. But the brother insisted, "It would mean so much to our mother if she could hear my brother called a saint at his funeral. In fact, I'll give the church one-hundred thousand dollars if you will just call him a saint. The preacher thought a minute and said, "I can do it, but I'll need the cash money up front." Later at the funeral the preacher related many of the terrible deeds of the deceased, even referring to how he would intentionally run over peoples dogs and cut folks laundry line down off the line, and poison his moonshine in order to get even with his enemies. And then the preacher said, "He was the sorriest man in these parts, but compared to his brother-he was a saint!"
Folk stories like that had a way of taking away most of the fear of death, and also pointed the way to how we could find eternal life. Such was also the nature of the many ancient myths about various gods dying and later coming back to life. These folk legends jokes may have been God's way to prepare our hearts to receive the true story about His Son dying for our sins and later being raised as an example of our escape from the death angel.
Our Christian belief in the resurrection rests on the central doctrine of the resurrection of Christ, which the apostles understood as a connection to the resurrection of believers. All four Gospels contain the stories of Christ's resurrection and point to the potential for a redeemed new life in this life and beyond.
All orthodox denominations believe that our souls go on to be with God in heaven at the moment of the Christian's death. However, our souls will not be reunited with our bodies until the General Resurrection on the Last Day, ushered in by the sound of a trumpet. As to the character of the resurrected body, little is explicitly taught in the Bible, except that it shall be like Christ's resurrected body.
John the Beloved, Jesus' closest friend, believed because he saw the empty tomb. He had been the only man that remained loyal to Jesus at the foot of the Cross. Today's text was written by one who actually saw these extraordinary events first hand. The other Apostles were martyred but John lived to an old age and died a natural death on the Isle of Patmos. He never forgot his experiences on that first Easter morning.
Mary Magdalene believed in Jesus' resurrection because she talked to him in the garden on that first Easter morning. Later she went to the other disciples and proclaimed, "I Have Seen the Lord!" She had been a sinful woman, a prostitute, before she had a life changing experience upon hear Jesus' message of forgiveness. It is a wonderful testimony to the power of conversion that the first person to actually see the resurrected Christ was this formerly sinful person. Over the centuries Saint Mary Magdalene has been a role model for millions seeking redemption.
Peter, who had denied knowing Jesus during the trial and crucifixion, came to believe in the resurrection because he too saw the empty tomb. Although John had run faster and arrived at the tomb first, he hesitated at the entrance as the "Big Fisherman" ran right into the tomb and found it empty. Later he talked to Jesus many times. In fact, history records that none of those thousands who actually saw the resurrected Jesus ever recanted, even though many were tortured and promised a pardon if they would say it was not true. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ provided the emotional explosion that was needed to propel the first believers forth into the world with the life altering Easter miracle.
As direct heirs of this gospel we have put our trust in the Easter story because our omniscient God has breathed it into our hearts. We have an inward assurance of being heaven bound. Jesus continues to live in our hearts and continually works His miracles. We believe that our God can do anything. Easter is the essential miracle that makes all other miracles seem possible. As we embrace the inexplicable wonder of Easter we can go on to believe that He can truly fulfill all of His fantastic promises. Believing has turned our lives into a parade of miracles.
Easter Christians are the most positive force on earth. In the face of strife and pestilence and anything else that threatens to undo us we remain hopeful because we know the rest of the story.
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor