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Sermon: Let Us Rejoice!

Easter Sunday Sermon.04.01.18

St. Paul’s – Brookings

Fr. Larry Ort

Acts 10:34-43; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; John 20:1-18

Happy Easter! We sing with the psalmist: “On this day the Lord has acted; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118.24, BCP).

In the Easter Vigil, we read several passages which portrayed some of the mighty acts of God in “salvation history.” Our readings ended with Matthew’s account of the resurrection. Matthew tells us that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb as dawn was breaking. A great earthquake occurred; an angel rolled back the stone and sat on it. The angel then told Mary Magdalene and Mary not to be afraid, that he knew they were looking for Jesus who had been crucified, that Jesus was not there for he had been raised from the dead. The angel invited them to come see where Jesus had lain and further instructed them to go quickly, to tell the other disciples Jesus had been raised and would meet them in Galilee. As they were running to share the good news, Jesus met and greeted them. They took hold of his feet and worshipped him. Jesus told them not to be afraid, to go and tell the disciples he would meet them in Galilee.

Having just read John’s account we can identify several differences. John notes it was still dark; he only mentions Mary Magdalene. Upon seeing the stone had been rolled away, she ran to tell Peter and John they have removed Jesus’ body from the tomb. Peter and John raced to the tomb; John got there first and upon looking in the tomb, he saw the discarded linen wrappings. When Peter arrived, he entered the tomb; John followed. Having seen the empty tomb, they returned to their homes. Mary remained; she wept outside the tomb. Upon looking into the tomb, she saw two angels; they asked why she was weeping. She told them they have taken away her Lord and she did not know where they had laid him. Mary turned around, saw Jesus, but did not recognize him. Jesus asked her why she was weeping and she, taking Jesus to be a gardener, said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus then called her name – “Mary” and she responded “Rabbouni” (teacher). Mary must have embraced Jesus, for Jesus told her not to hold on to him, for he had not yet ascended to the Father. Jesus told her to go tell his brothers of his impending ascension. When Mary met with the disciples, she told them, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20.18; NRSV). Mary was first to proclaim the risen Lord! We proclaim him still!

Although there are some striking differences in detail, all four gospels testify to Christ’s resurrection.

In his letter to the Church of Corinth, St. Paul reminds the Christian converts that he had handed on to them what was of first importance, that is of greatest importance – that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and raised on the third day, all in accordance with the scriptures. Paul also tells us that he appeared to Cephas (that is Peter) and then to the disciples, then to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, then to James, then the apostles, and finally to him (that would have been Paul’s “Dasmacus Road” experience). I have long appreciated this reference to Jesus having met with Cephas. Jesus would have known how Peter felt after his denials. I am sure this meeting brought new life to Peter as he experienced Christ’s love and forgiveness.

Our reading from Acts is also noteworthy. As you may recall, Cornelius was a Roman centurion of the Italian Cohort. He is described as “a devout man who feared God with all his household,” who “gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God” (Acts 10.2; NRSV). While praying one afternoon, Cornelius had a vision in which an angel of God appeared and called him by name. Cornelius was terrified; he asked, “What is it, Lord?”. The angel told Cornelius his prayers and alms had “ascended as a memorial before God” (Acts 10.4; NRSV). The angel then instructed him to send men to Joppa to summon Peter. As instructed, Cornelius dispatched some of his slaves to summon Peter.

When Peter arrived, he told Cornelius and the other Gentiles, "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Vs. 34; NRSV). Peter then acknowledged Cornelius’ awareness of Jesus message and his preaching of peace. He told Cornelius, and those about him, “We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree” (Vs. 39; NRSV).

Peter then said something Cornelius and those gathered would have found shocking: “God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead” (VS. 40-41; NRSV). Why would this have been so shocking?

The commonly accepted Gentile view of the afterlife was grounded in the ancient Greek conception of the soul as disembodied. On the Greek view, the soul was held prisoner to the body, and escaped the body upon death. The resurrected Jesus was not some disembodied soul – he was embodied, joined the disciples in eating and drinking.

Peter further told Cornelius and his company, “Jesus commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Vs. 42-43). The account tells us while Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. Peter asked those who had accompanied them, if anyone could withhold the water of baptism for those who had received the Holy Spirit? He then ordered that Cornelius, his household, and friends be baptized.

Cornelius was a righteous man, acceptable to God, but God wanted Cornelius to have the full Christian experience of baptism by water and by the Spirit.

God wants us to have more – to have life and to have it abundantly. If we believe in Jesus Christ and confess our sins, we receive forgiveness through his name. In baptism we experience Christ’s death and are raised to new life in him as a child of God; we are admitted to God’s family; we become children of God, and heirs of God’s promise of eternal life. God would have our lives be transformed, would have us live more deeply into the kingdom of God.

Apart from Christ’s death and resurrection, we would still be imprisoned under the law and subject to death. Through Christ’s resurrection, we are given the assurance of eternal life. As St. Paul tells us, “We have been buried with Christ Jesus by baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6.4; NRSV).

Happy Easter! “On this day the Lord has acted; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118.24).

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