Easter, Year C, 4/11/04

“He Lives Within My Heart”
John 20: 1-18

aster, our annual celebration of Jesus' resurrection, is a reminder of the reality of our Redeemer's continuing presence in our hearts. The Good News is not only that he was resurrected, but also that he has come alive in our lives.

Most of us were taught as young children that Jesus was resurrected; however, the story about Jesus' coming back to life after being crucified was unbelievable news to his friends, family and followers. They had never heard of such a thing. The disciples were dumbfounded and bedazzled, even though they saw the tomb empty. Their first reaction was that the Romans must have indulged in one last indignity by stealing Jesus' body.

Although Jesus had foretold that it was necessary for him to be crucified, but that he would live again after death, the disciples had not comprehended it. It was not so much that they were disbelieving what Jesus was saying, they just could not conceive that such a thing could happen. Still today, adults who hear about the resurrection for the very first time usually need some time to think it all through before they can believe this unbelievable story. Children, however, hearing the story from a parent or Sunday School teacher, will believe it right away. Until the disciples had some time to think deeply they had a difficult time believing it. It's OK to doubt; even the Apostles doubted. Their doubts brought them to faith.

When sorrow comes it is natural to doubt, to swing emotionally from moments of full faith in Christ's Resurrection to moments of doubt. In tough times we need to pray and hold on tight to our faith. I often turn to John Wesley's unshakable faith as a guide. He used to say that. “My Methodists know how to die.” Indeed, the last profession of faith that the Methodist was supposed to make was a clear confession of their assurance of heaven waiting. When “Father John,” as he was lovingly called, was on his deathbed his friends informed him of his immanent demise and he responded by making a final profession. He struggled for four days, waking at intervals from a coma. He repeated several sets of dying words. One was a hymn line, “I the chief of sinners am. But Jesus died for me.” He would rally at times and sing hymns. He once asked for pen and ink, but could not write. Finally his nurse, Miss Ritchie, asked, “What shall I say?” His reply was, “Nothing but the best of all, God is with us.” Thus, Wesley died with the assurance from the Holy Spirit in his heart and on his lips, which he had preached about for so many years. There was no kicking and screaming, no pleas for mercy or additional time. Wesley died bearing an Easter faith.

However, the disciples had not been pre-conditioned to expect the resurrection, and it wasn't until after seeing the empty tomb that they could fathom it. Two met the resurrected Lord on the Road to Emmaus on Easter Sunday night as they were walking home defeated and dejected. Other Apostles had a surprise visit by him in the Upper Room on the first night of Easter. Only then did these Apostles finally understand the Christian means of achieving immortality. However, once they grasped the affirmation that they would live forever they never let go. History records that not one recanted and that they all died with a Christian witness on their lips.

Still today we often have a hard time believing that Jesus was resurrected. We live in a secular culture, for the most part, where we are taught to doubt. We have to be gentle with modern day folks as we take them by the hand and gently lead them to the point where they can choose to believe.

Our text says that John the Beloved Apostle believed that Jesus was alive again when he saw that the tomb was empty. He was the closest to Jesus and when he saw the empty grave clothes, all that Jesus had taught him suddenly made sense, and he believed. He was the very first one to believer, just before Mary Magdalene who was waiting her turn outside the tomb, in the garden.

My favorite resurrection story is that of Mary Magdalene's gradual recognition of Jesus in the garden tomb just after sunrise on that first Easter morning. She too never expected his bodily resurrection, but she was thrilled to see him alive. She was the first to see Jesus in his resurrected body. At first, she did not recognize him, mistaking him for the gardener, However, when he spoke her name, “Mary,” She recognized his voice. Mary Magdalene went on to be a leader in the founding of the Church. She was a strong leader because of her strong and unwavering faith.

Looking back on the events in the establishment and growth of the early church we can see that if it were not for the continuing presence of Jesus in the hearts and lives of the early believers that the little band would have disbanded. They were about ready to quit and go home when Mary Magdalene came running to Peter and John with the news that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb.

The Spirit of Jesus coming into the hearts of the early church caused the greatest movement of history. Sure, there have been some bumpy roads in the development and ministry of the world wide Church, but Christianity remains the Hope of the World. “He Lives within our hearts!”

Because Jesus is alive and lives within our souls we have been able to raise our voices and sing with great gusto: “Christ the Lord is Risen Today, Alleluia!” Like Mary Magdalene on that first Easter Sunrise, we have come to the garden alone, but we have left knowing Jesus alive in our hearts, and living through our lives and deeds.

I have a dear friend who was just a little bit confused by Trinitarian imagery. He had heard a preacher say that whenever we speak of God or Jesus in the present tense we should always use the name Holy Spirit. Sure enough, if he were ever called on to pray in Sunday School, he would pray to the Holy Spirit, by the Holy Spirit and in the name of the Holy Spirit. Actually, the seminary way to pray is to address God, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus. But if we are in a hurry, or forget the formula, or just feel like doing it differently, it is fine to direct our prayer to either or all three. The prayer will go through for the three are all the same.

I relish the idea that the Living Lord is living in my heart! Isn't it exciting to think of the Risen Savior as living in us? As so we sing what has come to be the favorite Easter Hymn, “He Lives.” It was written by a minister in response to a young person asking, “Why should I worship a dead man?” “But Jesus lives!” said Alfred Ackley. And his words have been sung continually since 1933, and we'll hopefully this song in Glory. “He Lives,” number 310 in our hymnal.

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor
Easter, Year C, 4/11/04