A few years ago about this time of year, I was driving down the street, and I was startled by a sign outside one of the big chain pharmacies. The sign said: “We have all your Easter needs.”
Well, I had to check it out. Just think of the possibilities. One stop shopping at its finest. Why, I might even be able to skip church on Easter!
So I went inside the store, and there, indeed, were chocolate bunnies and chocolate eggs and jelly beans, several kinds of Peeps, many sizes and varieties of Easter baskets and stuffed animals of all description. Why they even had bags of Easter grass – you know, the dreaded shredded plastic stuff that clogs your sweeper and keeps turning up in the darndest places months later?
But I quickly learned that the sign out front was wrong. The store did not have all my Easter needs. First and foremost, it lacked any reference whatsoever to my most pressing need at Easter.
Because what I need at Easter, more than anything else, is not something you can find at any store. It’s not something that’s for sale, and it even resists our best efforts at clever packaging and marketing.
What I need at Easter, more than anything else, is a risen Savior. What I need at Easter, more than anything else, is a Jesus who is alive again and promises to raise a;; of us to new life as well.
This salvation that Jesus offers is not for sale, but it does come at a greEat price. It comes at the price of Jesus’ own life.
About nine on Friday morning, they nailed him to a cross to die. In unspeakable agony he hung for six hours, until the accumulated trauma of whipping and beating and other torture broke his great heart, and he breathed his last. Even then, his tormentors jabbed a spear into his chest, just to make sure. And when they were sure, they allowed him to be buried.
It had to be done quickly, because the Sabbath started at sunset. They wrapped the body in a linen shroud, carried it the body into the tomb and placed it on a stone slab.
Only one thing was left to be done. We aren’t specifically told that they did this, but it was a custom of the time, so it’s quite possible that they did. They unwrapped the shroud around his head and then placed a tiny feather, just a little bit of bird fluff, on his upper lip, right under his nostrils. Then they sat back and watched. If the feather moved in the slightest, there was hope that he was still alive.
In the cold silence of the tomb, they waited. Five minutes. Ten. The feather did not move. So they wrapped the shroud back over his head, and they rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and they went away.
On the morning after the Sabbath, bright and early, some of the women who had followed Jesus throughout his ministry return to the tomb. They hope to touch Jesus’ hands and face one last time, to anoint him with spices, to put his body, and their own spirits, at rest.
They discover that the stone has been rolled away from the entrance to the tomb, and the body is gone. Inside sits a young man dressed in white. He tells them: “Don’t be afraid. You’re looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He’s not here. He is risen.”
The women run away in terror, afraid at first to tell anyone what they’ve seen. But they can’t keep this to themselves very long.
Easter is the story of the love of God and the power of God revealed in a feather and a stone.
On Friday afternoon, the Son of God was powerless to move a feather. But on Sunday morning, the power of God rolls the stone away to show Jesus’ triumph over sin and death. On Friday, Jesus was dead. Incapable of the slightest movement. Incapable of moving a feather. But on Sunday morning, he is alive again.
He is alive again, and not merely resuscitated, but resurrected – raised from death in triumph and glory. He is raised in a body that is both similar to his old body and yet radically different – similar in that the marks of death are still there in his hands and his feet, and yet radically different in that he can appear to loved ones and be mistaken for someone else; similar in that he can eat and drink but radically different in that he can pass through locked doors; similar in that he is obviously human but radically different in that he is obviously more than human, at least as we usually understand being human.
The message of Easter is that God allowed Jesus to die on that cross out of love for us and God raised him from that tomb out of love for us – and out of God’s great power and great love, God promises to raise us as well, so that we may live eternally with Jesus in resurrection bodies similar to his.
The message of Easter is that God loves us so much that God became one of us in Christ so that we could encounter God face to face and see the quality of life he intends for us. We spat on him and abused him and killed him, but he refuses to take no for an answer.
The message of Easter is that Jesus died for us and was resurrected for us and lives today. That’s right. He’s still alive today. We do not serve a dead historical figure. We serve a risen Savior.
No tomb can hold him. Death can’t keep him down. He is alive today, and his live Spirit is loose in the world, and all we have to do is trust in his living presence, and we, too, can be transformed, remade in his image, born anew as the vital and loving human beings God created all of us to be.
Jesus calls us to rise with him. Jesus calls us to throw off our burial shrouds and rise from the tombs of sin and death where we are captive. Jesus calls us to throw off the illusions of this world and see reality clearly for the first time.
Jesus calls us to throw off our illusions of power and self reliance and self centeredness and see that the center of reality is the great loving heart of God, and all of creation beats in sync with that love, and all we have to do to live abundantly is get our hearts in sync with that beat.
Yet our hearts are entombed by sin. At the door of our hearts is a great stone that we are not strong enough to roll away. We’re dead, and there’s nothing we can do about it. When it comes to saving ourselves, we can’t move a feather.
But God can save us. God can roll away the stone that blocks the door of our hearts, and God can raise us to new life, to eternal life, life of such quality that it starts at this very moment and extends throughout all eternity. God can roll the stone away from our tombs and raise us, too, so that we, too, can be alive, truly alive. Just like Jesus.
That is our personal stake in the Easter story. The Resurrection is not simply a good yarn about something that happened a long time ago in a faraway place. It’s the story of what happens in us and to us today, as well. Simply stated, we participate in Jesus’ death, and because we participate in his death, we also participate in his Resurrection.
In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul tells us that when we are baptized into Christ, we also are baptized into his death. Therefore we are buried with him, and just as he is raised from the dead, so we also may walk with him in the newness of life (Romans 6:3-11).
The Resurrection of Jesus is God’s promise that death no longer has dominion over us. The Resurrection is God’s promise that, just as Jesus was resurrected, so we also will be.
God would not allow Jesus’ death to be the final answer, and God will not allow our deaths to be the final answer either. God will raise us, just as God raised Jesus, and all because of Jesus and because of God’s great love for us most fully revealed in Jesus.
Jesus himself tells us: “This is the will of my Father, that all who trust in the Son may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day” (John 6.40).
The Resurrection is proof that God has the power to raise the dead to new life. It is proof that God has the power not only to raise Jesus from the dead but that God has the power to raise us from the dead as well. It is proof that God has the power not only to raise us to eternal life but to transform us from the living dead to the truly living.
The first change that God works is one of relation. On the cross, Jesus takes our sin upon himself. By bearing the pain of our sin, he removes all barriers to right relation between us and God.
This change in relation produces a change of condition. When we are put in right relation with God, we are raised from living death and empowered for new life – empowered for life eternal, for life that not only goes on forever but starts right now, at the very moment we accept it, and keeps getting better, as moment by moment we are transformed into the very image of Christ, into the very likeness of the one who lived and died and was raised for us.
That is the significance of the Resurrection. God became human in Christ to show us how to live. God died in Christ to make that life possible. God lives in Christ to make that life a reality for each of us.
It is Easter morning, and Jesus is alive. And we can live with him, in love and in peace and in wholeness, in right relation with God and neighbor, if we place our trust in him.
God rolled the stone away from the tomb to show us that God has rolled away all the barriers between us and abundant life. All we have to do is trust, and we, too, will be raised to new life, in this and the next.
That’s the message of Easter. That’s what we celebrate today.
Christ is risen! Hallelujah! Praise God!
A personal postscript: If my math and memory are correct, this is the 25th Easter morning on which I have preached about the Resurrection of Jesus. You don’t keep telling a story like this unless you not only believe it rationally but you also trust it existentially and experientially. Deep down inside, you know that it is true, and that truth and your trust in it changes everything. It is so with me, and I pray that it is so also with you.
This message was delivered April 4, 2021, at Edgerton United Methodist Church in Edgerton, Kansas.