Because He Lives

Sermon Title: Because He Lives

Good News Statement: Easter Has The Power To Change Us

Preached: Sunday, April 17, 2022 at Dogwood Prairie and Seed Chapel UMC

Pastor Daniel G. Skelton, M.Div.

 

Scripture (NRSV): Luke 24: 1-8 Today’s scripture reading comes from the Gospel of Luke chapter twenty-four verses one thru eight. Listen to these hopeful words of Luke…

The Resurrection of Jesus

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.

 

This is the Word of God for the People of God; And all God’s people said, “Thanks be to God.”

 

 

Introduction:

In the words of Charles Wesley, “Christ the Lord is risen today…! Earth and heaven in chorus say…! Raise your joys and triumphs high…! Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply…! Love’s redeeming work is done…! Fought the fight, the battle won…! Death in vain forbids him rise…! Christ has opened paradise…! Hail the Resurrection, Alleluia!” Today, Christ has risen!

In 1739, Charles Wesley penned these words as a reminder to all of us that nothing can conquer the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through Christ’s resurrection we experience the work of his redeeming love, we embody the victory that leaves an empty tomb, and we embrace the grace which has saved our souls. The resurrection of Christ allows us to soar where Christ needs us, to be made like him and to rise from our own tombs, and to better know the power and love of his everlasting life that greets us with triumphal singing and triumphal praise. The resurrection of Christ is our alleluia to victory won: it is our start to new beginnings! Ultimately, Christ’s resurrection provides for us the opportunity to remember, to live into, to accept, that because He lives we can face tomorrow.

The act of remembering in certain hymns extends beyond the simple task of recalling one’s birthday, one’s anniversary, items from a grocery list, or whether or not you remembered to shut the garage door. To remember, according to hymnologists, is to bring the past into the present. This kind of remembering is known as anamnesis. Anamnesis is a Greek word that means to have a living memory with much more depth and meaning. Anamnesis is what brings the Easter Story to life: we relive the crucifixion of Christ as if we were there walking with him, sitting in the courtyard with Peter, and listening to the revolting crowd shouting “Crucify Him. Crucify Him. Crucify Him.” We find ourselves standing before Christ as he looks down from the cross and says, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” As Jesus breathed his last breath and said, “It is finished,” we find ourselves filled with fear as darkness came over the earth and the ground beneath the cross shook as the curtain was torn from top to bottom. And today, we find ourselves remembering, rather reliving the resurrection of Christ. We are bringing the past into the present so that we can boldly claim that “Christ the Lord is risen today!” Christ the Lord is Risen today! And because the stone has been rolled away, because the tomb is now empty, and because he lives we can face tomorrow. There is power in the Resurrection of Easter. There is power in the resurrections of Christ.

Opening Prayer:

            Let us Pray…Risen Savior, because you have chosen to be resurrected we can begin to live, we can begin to remember what you need us to do, and we can begin to face tomorrow with love and grace. Because you live, our fear is gone. I pray that my words fall to the ground as your words settle in the hearts of all those before me. In your risen name we pray, Amen

 

Body:

Over the past six weeks, we have been exploring the final words of Jesus from the cross. We learned from him to pray for those who wrong us: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” We saw that, even in his agony, Jesus was reaching out “to seek…and save the lost” (Luke 19:10) as he prayed for the criminal next to him, who simply sought to be remembered, “Today, you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). We heard Jesus ask John to take care of his mother and his mother to take care of John like he asks us to care of those in our own life. We also heard Jesus’ anguish and his feelings of abandonment when he prayed, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). These words remind us that even in our darkest of moments—when nothing seems to go right—God will never abandon us: He is always present even though we may not be able to see Him. In his cry “I thirst” (John 19:28), we saw the thirst of a real, dying human being. From his thirst, Jesus promised that we will never go thirsty if we believe in him to be the source of living water. Lastly, we witnessed his shout of victory, “It is finished” (John 19:30), as he completed his earthly mission of offering us forgiveness. Then, we stopped to pray with him as he prayed, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

These are the final words of Jesus from the cross. These words give us hope and courage. These are words to live by. But though they were the final words before his death, there is more to experience from Christ. The Resurrection follows these words!

Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross and hastily buried or laid in a borrowed out tomb. The disciples went into hiding. The Gospel accounts differ in some details regarding what happened next, but they all record that Mary Magdalene came to the tomb ready to properly anoint Jesus’ body for burial. Luke begins the telling of the resurrection by noting, “But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body” (Luke 24:1-3). Mary Magdalene is probably accompanied by Mary, the wife of Clopas, and quite possibly Mary, the mother of Jesus when they realize the body of Christ is missing.

While the women stand there perplexed and in wonderment trying to figure out 1) who rolled the stone away from the entrance of the tomb and 2) where the body of Jesus could have disappeared to, “two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them and said, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again’” (Luke 24:5-7). Still probably trying to figure out who opened the tomb, attempting to point figures as someone for disturbing the dead, the women remembered Jesus’ words, “and returning form the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest” (Luke 24:9). What I love about this account of the resurrection is the realization that although the women have been told by Jesus, himself, that he will rise from the dead, it doesn’t register with them that what he told them actually happened. It’s as if they forgot about his whole ministry: his healing, his casting out of demons, his recovering of sight to the blind, and his bringing Lazarus back to life. At this moment, the women were stunned by the power of Jesus’ words and actions that they forgot about his truth, they forgot about his way, and they forgot about his life mission to seek and save the lost. How many of us would be like the women standing before the empty tomb—perplexed, forgetful, and quite possibly afraid?

On many accounts, Jesus tells us to not be afraid, but yet we still are. We forget the power and promise of his words. We go into hiding, like the disciples. While growing up, I distinctly remember hearing a story about my brother, Thomas, who had an unusual nightmare. Usually every summer up until the age of ten, my mom’s side of the family would all go to a cabin in Wisconsin. Kids would be stuffed into two rooms while the adults got their own room. One night, several of us woke up to my brother pacing around in the closet with the doors open shouting, “I can’t get out, I can’t get out.” He was sleepwalking. We woke him up, and told him that everything is okay. But even after hearing that everything is okay, he was still scared of falling asleep. The idea of Jesus being resurrected may have at first seemed frightening to the women, but as they learned to remember the comforting words of Christ, they began to realize that everything was going to be okay. That Christ is with them again.

The resurrection of Christ may seem scary at first because we may not be ready for it, but it is because of the resurrection, the comfort of love and forgiveness, that our fear is removed and we begin to face tomorrow knowing that Christ is present in our life. Because he lives, we can face tomorrow. Because he lives we learn to trust him more. Because he lives we can better cherish the words of C. Austin Miles, “He speaks, and the sound of his voice is so sweet the birds hush their singing, and the melody that he gave to me within my heart is ringing. And he walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own; and the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known” (“In The Garden”). The resurrection of Jesus didn’t change the circumstances of those first disciples: they still experienced fear and uncertainty along with joy and excitement. But it did change their perspective on their circumstances. It took those defeated and disillusioned disciples and gave them hope and joy and peace. That’s what’s Easter still does for us today. Easter reminds us that everything is going to be okay.

Jesus’ resurrection does not remove us from our present circumstances. But it does change how we see them. We face adversity, illness, and tragedy knowing that with God they will never have the final word. We believe that death has been defeated through Jesus’ resurrection! We believe that there is more after the cross! We believe that the empty tomb is just the beginning of what is to come! We believe the resurrection is a sign of victory, a sign of hope, and a sign of love and salvation! We believe that Christ can never be defeated! We believe we can face tomorrow because there is victory in the resurrection.

In 1971 Gloria and William J. Gaither put this victory into words in their hymn titled “Because He Lives.” The hymn begins, “God sent his Son, they called him Jesus, he came to love, heal, and forgive; he lived and died to buy my pardon, an empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives.” Verse one is a proclamation, is a promise that Christ’s resurrection proves that our Savior lives, that your Savior lives: he lives yesterday, today, tomorrow, and always. Because our Savior lives, we are loved, healed, and forgiven.

Verse two says, “How sweet to hold, a new born baby, and feel the pride and joy Jesus gives; but greater still the calm assurance, this child can face uncertain days because he lives.” By the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we can face uncertain times, we can face fear, and we can face troubled waters because He will give us a calm assurance that will give our spirits strength, determination, motivation, and renewal to face tomorrow. There is joy in the resurrection of Christ!

And verse three, “And then one day I’ll cross the river, I’ll fight life’s final war with pain; and then as death gives way to victory, I’ll see lights of glory and I’ll know he reigns.” Within the resurrection, we gain a triumphal victory, we experience lights of glory, and we shout words of praise because he reigns. Gloria and William Gaither, through their song, have provided us with an Easter anthem, words of praise and adoration that reassures the victory and power of Christ’s resurrection in our life. Not only does this song provide us with a sense of victory—that we can overcome all of life’s final wars—but it provides us with hope. According to Dr. Jerome Groopman, who holds a chair in medicine at Harvard, notes in his book The Anatomy of Hope, “Hope gives us the courage to confront our circumstances and capacity to surmount them. For all my patients, hope, true hope, had proved as important as any medication I might prescribe or any procedure I might perform” (24 Hours That Changed The World, Hamilton, 130).

The resurrection is our hope: a hope that gives us courage, a hope that gives us strength, a hope that gives us love, forgiveness, and salvation. Hope is the sense, according to Hamilton, “that things will work out, that despite difficult circumstances and painful situations that might lead to despair; something good is around the corner.” It is something we cannot live without. This hope is the hope in which is needed to face tomorrow. The resurrection is our hope to keep living in Christ.

Conclusion:

What I love most about the hymn “Because He Lives” is the chorus. The hymn ends with these words: “Because he lives, I can face tomorrow; because he lives, all fear is gone; because I know he holds the future, and life is worth the living just because he lives.” Because he lives, you can face tomorrow. Because he lives, your fears, worries, anxieties, and moments of stress can be washed away. Because he lives, you experience love every day, receive forgiveness every day, and are given salvation every day. Because he lives, the “the worst thing is never the last thing” (Fredrick Buechner). Because he lives, your heart is never empty but full of grace. Because he lives, your spirit is nourished by his word. Because he lives, because his resurrection took place and the tomb is now empty, life is worth the living! Death could not hold him. Christ lives today! He walks with you and talks with you along life’s narrow way. And the best part about his resurrection is the fact that his resurrection lives eternally in your heart!

John writes in the Book of Revelation, “After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying,

‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever…’ For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:9-17). Because our Lord, because Jesus Christ, couldn’t be contained by the tomb and chose to be resurrected, you are able to experience a life by which He will take care of you. Life is worth the living, because he lives! And it is our job to share this with the rest of the world, with multitudes of people!

Christ has risen today! Christ has left the tomb! Christ has given us a triumphal love that deserves an Alleluia! Today, the resurrected Christ has given us hope to face tomorrow. Christ is Risen! Indeed, Christ is Risen today! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen!

Communion:

To show the power of his resurrection, I invite you now to join me in celebrating Holy Communion. Allow this time of remembrance to bring the life of Christ to life so that you know that he loves you, forgives you, saves you, and lives within your heart. Let us remember the hope of Jesus’ salvation together at his table…

Benediction:

Christ is Risen today! Raise your joys and triumphs high! Hail the Resurrection! In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, go, transforming lives as you live well and wisely in God’s world. Amen. Amen. Amen.


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