Sermon for April 16, 2017 Easter Sunday

Sermon for Easter Day, April 16, 2017

St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  Colossians 3:1-4

Sermon Theme:  “So What IS the Meaning of Easter?”

(Sources:  Brokhoff, Series A, Lectionary Preaching Workbook; Emphasis Online Commentary; Emphasis Online Illustrations; original ideas; Online Funny Easter Quotes and Jokes; Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 27, Part 2, Series A; A Little Book of Joy by Matthew C. Harrison)

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Advent.  Christmas.  Lent.  Easter.  Everything leads to Easter.  So what is the meaning of Easter?

A Sunday School teacher once asked her pre-school class about the meaning of Easter.  “Children,” she said, “Do you know why we celebrate Easter?”

A little girl raised her hand.  “Yes, Jenny,” said the teacher.

Jenny said, “Is Easter when we put on costumes and go trick-or-treating?”

“No, Jenny, that’s Halloween.  Does anyone else know?”

A little boy yelled, “It’s when we set off fireworks!”

“No, Danny, that’s Independence Day?  Anyone else?”

A shy little girl in the back said, “Easter is when Jesus died.”

“You’re on the right track, Shawndy,” said the teacher.  “Jesus died on Good Friday, and then what happened next on Easter Sunday?”

“Well,” said the little girl, “He died and got buried, and every Easter he comes out.  And if he sees his shadow, there’s six more weeks of winter.”

Such an outlandish answer makes us chuckle, but, you know, there are many adults who really can’t give you a good answer to that question either.  “What does Easter really mean?” Well, that little, 4-sentence sermon text from Paul’s letter to the Colossians answers the question quite well!  What better time to answer the question than on Easter Sunday!

In general, it means salvation completed, it means reconciliation completed, it means complete joy!  But it’s also important to know what it means to each one of us individually. 

Christians have been buried in their baptismal waters with Christ Jesus.  They have been raised in a spiritual resurrection through Christ.  They are forgiven, filled with the Holy Spirit, and born from above, zealous to do the good works of Christ.

In the waters of your Baptism, YOU, too, were joined to the death and Resurrection of Christ.  Your old, sinful self was crucified with Him.  You were killed and buried in the grave with Jesus.  Then, just as Jesus was raised from the dead, God raised you to new Life.  He forgave your sins, gave you the Holy Spirit, made you His own child, and saved you.  Yes!  All of that He did TO you and FOR you in Holy Baptism.  Resurrection life has already begun in you through your Baptism into Christ.  Jesus is alive in you right now!

Two young men were making fun of the Christian’s idea of the resurrection from the dead, saying it was impossible for them to believe that Jesus rose after the crucifixion.  A pastor lived down the street from them passed by as they were talking.  One of the men called out and in sarcasm asked, “Say, Preacher, tell us why you believe that Jesus rose from the dead!”

“Well, one reason,” the pastor replied, “is that I was talking with Him for about a half an hour just a little while ago.”  One of the proofs of Christ’s Resurrection is His presence in our lives.

For the Apostle Paul, the Resurrection of Christ is the cornerstone, capstone, be-all and end-all of the Christian faith.  To put anything else in its place, — family, friends, social status, even our own health and welfare is to put a damper on our joy in Christ.  To deny the Resurrection leaves us without the joy that resurrection provides for our lives.  To deny the Resurrection and our resurrection leaves us still afraid of death, afraid of God, afraid that we are without hope or help.  Belief in the Resurrection of Christ and our own resurrection brings us great joy!

This is the great joy of Easter.  You see, Easter is not only an event of two thousand years ago.  Easter is for this year.  Easter is for each person, –  a contemporary experience.  This is the meaning of Paul’s short text.  A true Christian is one who has had his own Easter, his own resurrection.  Without it, he experiences Easter only as a church service, a set of new clothes, an Easter flower, or an Easter-egg hunt.  Each Christian has a resurrection to a new life in Christ, as well as a resurrection of the body at the End of Times.

Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice!”  Paul is talking about true joy, not just mere fun.  The Easter bunny is FUN, but the fruition of the Resurrection is pure JOY!

Our Synod President, Dr. Matthew Harrison, has written an uplifting little book entitled, A Little Book of Joy: The Secret of Living a Good News Life in a Bad News World.  One of the motivations for writing this book was something his friend said:  “So many churches, so many pastors and Christians have so little joy today, — these are difficult times.”

As Rev. Harrison began working on his book, he said, “I found joy in the Gospels, I found joy on the lips of Jesus and in the lives of those whom He touched, again and again and again.  I found joy on the lips of Mary and Zechariah, in the womb of Elisabeth, on the lips of angels.  I found joy at the manger.  I found joy at the Resurrection.  I found joy over life, joy in the midst of death, joy in worship.  I found joy in persecution and suffering.  I found Paul’s letters packed with joy and rejoicing.  I found joy in references to faith and hope, and love, I found joy over the simplest gifts of friends, work, family, food, children and marriage.”

On this Easter, the words of Pastor Harrison’s friend keep ringing in my ears, “So many churches, so many pastors and Christians have so LITTLE JOY today, — these are difficult times.”

Are pastors the only people who think about Jesus and talk about Jesus a lot?  A friend of mine felt that pastors were unique in that respect.  He said the people he knows at his work and in the neighborhood usually have on their minds one of three things, — One, what they’re going to do this weekend when they get off work; Two, where they’re going to go this year on vacation; and Three, how much longer they have to work before retirement.”

Those folks at work and in the neighborhood need to hear the words of our sermon text, where Paul says, “If then, you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”

Some of our friends, even Christian friends, may believe that such other-worldly thinking means being unrealistic, impractical, and irrelevant to life, but that’s not necessarily true.  Oh, sure, a few Christian monks live in caves on top of mountains, constantly meditating in a kind of other-worldly swoon.  But there are other ways to “seek the things that are above.”

For example, Ernestina Parravano is an elderly Christian lady who serves as a volunteer in the hospital on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor.  She visits the sick daily while they are in the hospital and continues to stay in touch with them after they are released.  She writes and phones former patients wherever they are all over the globe.

What motivates her to do this?  She replies, “Jesus’ birth gives us hope and strength and drive to do the best we can with all the gifts we’ve received in this world.”  What a truly wonderful way to “seek the things that are above” while living on this earth.  And there are many examples of this sort of thing right here at St. Paul’s, among you.  When you send special cards to shut-ins, when you contribute health kits to world relief, when you work with Samaritan’s Purse, when  you listen to a fellow parishioner who is down in the dumps, and the list goes on and on.

It’s no wonder that your mind is set on thing above.  You have been joined to the death and resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  He lives in you.  When He returns, you will be revealed with Him in glory.   You are changed forever!  That’s right!  You!  Here at St. Paul’s.  No greater joy than that! Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep  your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.