I realize that Easter is over, but here’s the Easter sunrise sermon I preached at 6:30 AM last Sunday. The setting for our community sunrise service is spectacular — the Owen’s Farm. The high hill where we stand faces east, and looks out over a magnificent valley where horses run across the pasture, the view stretches for miles. Of course, this message is good anytime of year, and I hope it encourages you, too!
You Are Not Alone!
1After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
2There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
5The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
8So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
On this Easter Sunday morning, we stand amazed with the women who see the angel at the empty tomb. The angel announces to them, “He is risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee.”
Often we think of the death and resurrection of Jesus as a past event. “He was crucified, dead, and buried” is how the Creed says it. And it goes on,
The third day He arose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
But between Jesus rising and his ascension, some wonderful things happen. He goes before them, just as he has always done, showing the way. He goes before them to lead them, to guide them, to encourage them. Just as God’s presence in the Exodus went before Israel in the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, Jesus goes before his disciples, too.
And on this Easter morning, Jesus still goes before us. If Easter is about new life, God’s new kingdom, a new beginning for all of creation, then Jesus still goes before those of us who celebrate his rising 2000 years later.
- Jesus goes before us in good times. At the wedding in Cana of Galilee, his first public miracle, Jesus rejoiced with a bride and groom, and showed that God saves the best for last.
- Jesus goes before us in lean times. When thousands gathered to hear him preach, staying long past the dinner hour, Jesus fed them. Jesus feeding of the 5,000 and the 4,000 tells us that in God’s economy there is always enough and to spare.
- Jesus goes before us in sickness. He knew what it was to touch those thought to be broken and outcast by disease and illness. He made lepers whole, opened blind eyes, healed with only a word. Jesus goes before us in our sickness and pain, offering the touch of his hand, the encouragement of his presence in the midst of our physical limitation.
- Jesus goes before us in conflict. He knew what it was like to be rejected by his own townspeople, but religious leaders. He did not come for the purpose of creating conflict, but his presence was a threat to the systems of greed, corruption, and dead religiosity.
- Jesus goes before us in doubt. He welcomed Thomas with his doubts, and assured him of his place in God’s kingdom. He was patient with disciples who did not understand, fled in fear, and acted as though three years with Jesus had never happened.
- Jesus goes before us when friends fail us. He knew what it was like, not only to be attacked by enemies, but to be abandoned by friends. All the disciples fled, except Peter, and he denied he knew Jesus.
- Jesus goes before us in sorrow and death. He wept for Lazarus at his grave, then raised him to life. He mourned for a city that would not listen, wept tears of grief at his impending death, cried out in agony from the cross, and suffered in silence before his accusers.
- Jesus goes before us to heaven. His death and resurrection breaks the hold of physical death on this world and ushers in the age of the inbreaking kingdom of God. He goes to prepare a place for us, and if he goes, he will come again and receive us unto himself, that where he is we may be also.
- Jesus goes before us into hell. The Apostles Creed says, He descended into hell. Jurgen Moltmann, renown theologian from Germany, says that because we have a Savior who descends into hell, there is hope.
But Jesus does not just go before us, he invites us to meet him in Galilee. Galilee, where it all started. Where Jesus called fishermen and tax collectors, where he taught beside the sea, and where he would meet his disciples again for breakfast on the beach.
Galilee is a place of memories, but also a place of ministry. Galilee is where the world was given a glimpse of the kingdom of God, a new kingdom established by love, empowered by the Spirit, and including all who follow the King.
Galilee, where Jesus lives a life of love before those who come to love him; where he puts before the world God’s great plan to make all things new.
Bennett Cerf, writer and social commentator, told this story one year at Easter:
A little girl was orphaned when her family was tragically lost. She was placed in a foster home, where unfortunately the couple who was charged with her care was more interested in the check they got, than in the little girl. While they provided for her basic needs, the atmosphere in that house was cold and impersonal, and the little girl was left for hours on end alone in her attic room.
With little to do and no friends, the little girl soon spotted a squirrel in the tree that rose up by the window in her room. Each day she would greet her new friend, and managed to sneak small pieces of bread and fruit from the table to him.
One day, the woman of the house heard the little girl talking. Thinking someone must be in her room, she burst through the door, only to find the little girl at the open window, talking to the squirrel who was perched on a nearby tree limb.
Furious, the woman slammed down the window, and ordered the little girl never to do that again. She left the room and waited on the stair for what she knew would be an angry outburst from the child. Instead, nothing happened.
Peeping through the crack in the door, the woman saw the little girl bent over her desk, writing carefully in large block letters. She watched as the little girl finished her writing, folded the note tightly several times, and them pulled on her coat.
The woman hid in the hall as the little girl made her way from her room, down the stairs, and out the backdoor of the house. Quickly she pulled herself up on a low-hanging limb, and pushed the folded note into a fork on the tree. Then, she came back inside, and went to her room.
The woman had watched the little girl carefully. When her husband got home, she told him the story, and badgered him until he got the step ladder and retrieved the note from the tree branch.
The woman opened the note and to her amazement, read what the little girl had written:
“Whoever finds this, I love you.”
And that’s what God has done. Sent Jesus, filled with God’s love, sent him ahead of every difficulty we might have in life, sent him into a world that did not receive him, turned on him, and killed him. Sent him to say, “Whoever finds this, I love you.”