Sunrise Easter Service
I Corinthians 15 50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.
I’ve learned over the years that if you ask a group of children a question, you’re not always going to get the answer you’re looking for. Years ago, I was doing a children’s lesson in church, and my question was what do people need to do in order to get into heaven? The answer I was looking for was that you can’t do anything to get into heaven, that heaven was a free and undeserved gift received by faith. At first the kids really didn’t want to answer, and so I repeated the question again and again, what do you need to do in order to get to heaven? Finally one of the little Ressie girls, I think it was Deanna, raised her hand and answered, “you have to die.”
Which brings us to our text for this morning, in Paul’s great resurrection chapter, I Corinthians 15 - 50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
Easter truth #1 – Caskets, cemeteries, and gravestones are necessary evils, but the Good News of the open tomb gets the final word. This morning’s theme is “The Open Tomb.” Last night’s theme was “The Guarded Tomb.” Last night we saw that the body of Jesus was carefully and lovingly cared for by his closest friends. We saw Joseph of Arimathea asking for and receiving the body. We saw him taking the time to purchase fine linens, we watched Nicodemus purchasing all kinds of spices, Joseph and others doing the work of a funeral director. We saw a wounded and bloody corpse removed from the cross, blood stains washed away, spices used to anoint, fresh linen used to wrap and preserve. We saw Mary Magdalene and another Mary watching to make sure all was in order, we saw Pharisees requesting and receiving permission to guard against the disciples stealing the body and claiming resurrection, Jews going so far as to seal the tomb shut, we saw the body of Jesus resting quietly, his suffering now finished, death the apparent winner, the sun going down, the Sabbath now beginning.
Last night we gave thought to our fenced in and well maintained cemeteries, we noted how for the most part these days, most American families spend all kinds of effort and energy pre-arranging, planning out and carrying through with funerals and burial. Most of our families care deeply about laying loved ones to rest in decent and respectful fashion.
Last night we gave attention to what theologians call the intermediate state, the time period between the death of a Christian and the day of resurrection. That period of time where the body is asleep, but the soul is wide awake either in the presence of Jesus or not in the presence of Jesus.
This morning, the open tomb gets the last laugh. We celebrate that old saying that he who laughs last laughs best. We fix our eyes on that which we cannot see - that glorious moment when the last trumpet will be sounding, the archangel will be shouting, and all of humanity will be resurrection. In the time it takes you to blink your eyes, caskets will be giving up their bodies, urns will be giving up their ashes, cemeteries will be opening up and swallowing up death itself.
Just yesterday, we laid one of our dear Ladies’ Aid members Helen Ewert to rest. Laid to rest by two sons, one daughter, 17 grandchildren, 21 great grandchildren, and other families and friends. Tears there were in their eyes to be sure, but the open tomb had the last word. Sadness and perhaps even a few regrets in their hearts, but the open tomb of Easter had the last word. A realization that life is short and full of trouble tried to rule the day, but Easter Truth #1 prevailed, Caskets, cemeteries, and gravestones are necessary evils, but the Good News of the open tomb gets the final word.
The Good News is simply this, that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, and because He lives so also Helen Ewert live, because Jesus lives, so also do our loved ones named in our bulletin and remembered with lilies and flowers live, because Jesus lives, we have proof that He is Who He said He is, we have proof that all of Holy Scripture is true, we have proof that the Father has accepted the sacrifice of the Son as full and complete payment for the sins of the world.
And because all of that is true, we ask with the prophet Hosea, we ask with St. Paul, we ask with Christians in all generations, we ask with millions of folks who have heard their pastors speak the liturgy of burial at cemeteries of loved ones,
“O grave, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” At which time we might even shake our puny little fists at the prince of this world, the father of all lies, and ask “O nursing homes and funeral homes, where is your victory? O urns and caskets and crematoriums, where is your sting? O funeral directors and grave diggers and cemetery caretakers, where is your victory? And o by the way, cancer and heart disease and a thousand other enemies of life, where is your sting?
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Easter truth #2 - Death stings like you know what, but the open tomb gives a victory that swallows up death forever.
On a Friday that was good for us so many years ago, the sky went dark, the earth quaked and a man died on a cross. Martin Luther said that at that moment Jesus was the greatest sinner to ever live. All the sins of the believers in the past, present and future were piled on him to such an extent the sun refused to shine on him.
This Easter weekend celebrates the weekend that most historians say is the most momentous weekend in human history. Recently I read the suggestion that one half of all Americans will be in church on Easter Sunday – that would be two or more times the average Sunday. Even those who do not believe Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God acknowledge that his death and resurrection (or reports of his resurrection for nonbelievers) fundamentally reshaped human history. The rise of Christianity contributed to the collapse of the Roman Empire, the rise of Western civilization and the spread of western culture around the world.
Death stings like you know what. (Story of my first job which paid $1.50 an hour, working in Dwight, ND for the beekeeper, Dick Ruby / summer of 72 year of high school graduation / in June and July I painted bee hives, also called supers, no problem, no problem at all/ In August my assignment was to run the honey extracting machine/ I would place frames full of honey and a few honey bees in the machine and part of that assignment was to get stung repeatedly / my orders were to stay relaxed, scrape the stingers out, and to keep working / that was a problem, being the mama’s boy and the big baby that I was/am, it was the only job I ever quit!
Multiply the sting of a honey bee by a thousand, and we have a picture of adult children gathering around the casket of their mom, we have a picture of grandchildren watching their grandma get lowered into the ground, we have a picture of family and friends walking away from the burial of a loved one. Death is a final enemy that except for Enoch and the prophet Elijah, we all face. Death is ugly, it is the wages of sin, it separates, it’s awful, and it seems as final as final can be.
But it isn’t. We stand in the radiance of our Lord’s open tomb, we bask in its glow, we remember that by virtue of our Lord Jesus Christ’s suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, a victory has been won, and as often as the waters of Baptism are splashing, as often as the preachers are preaching, as often as the redeemed people of God are eating and drinking at the Supper, that often the victory is getting delivered straightway into our souls, into our spirits. This is a victory like no other, Isaiah writes that it swallows up death forever.
Story of dog Sophie getting into and chewing up but now swallowing our new Addie Stockman feather pillow/ my research suggests that feather pillows can have as many as 2250 feathers in them / 20 minutes I spent with a regular vacuum swallowing up those feather, which worked ok, but required frequent emptying of the vacuum, then I hit on the idea of using our shop vac, which worked really well as far as scooping up, swallowing up hundreds and hundreds of feathers, until I looked behind me and saw the shop vac spewing out on the feather into the air of the kitchen, it wasn’t funny at the time, you might think so today, but not so much the other day for me!
The kingdom of God is like hundreds and hundreds of believing and baptized Christians worshiping on an Easter Sunday morning. As they pay attention to Easter truths they have heard a hundred, maybe a thousand times before, they realize how foolish it is to try and clean up their messes in life, they learn one more time what it means for the Good News of the open tomb to get the final word in all the circumstances of their lives, they rejoice like they haven’t rejoiced in a long time as they chew on the idea that in Christ, death has been swallowed up forever.
Worship Sermons & Letters