Preached by Terrell Carter on 3/31/13
One of the strongest, and most painful, memories that I have is the day of my mother’s funeral. Derrell, my twin brother, and I were 7 years old when our mother was murdered. It wasn’t our first funeral. Just a year prior, our grandmother, Grandma Ferguson, our mother’s mother, had died of cancer. Grandma Ferguson was in her 40s when she died. She was married to Granddaddy Ferguson, and they had 6 children, and a whole slew of grandchildren. Prior to her death, Grandma Ferguson lived a vibrant/active life.
She would pick up her 4 grandsons every morning and take us to her house to babysit us while our mothers went to work. She played with us, encouraged us, and in general spoiled us all. We had good times and good memories of Grandma. As we stood next to Grandma’s casket, we wanted her to get up from her nap, just like she did every afternoon, and keep playing with us. But, our uncle Michael had to explain to us that Grandma wasn’t sleeping. She wasn’t going to be able to get up. And worst of all, after that day, we would not be able to see her again. After that day, all we would have would be pictures and memories.
Grandma’s funeral was the first time that I experienced the death of a person. That day, and for weeks afterwards, I was flooded with feelings and emotions that I could not control. I cried. We all cried. We all got angry. We were all sad. Eventually, the pain became less intense, and the crying was less often.
But now, a year later, there we were, going to see another body in another casket. This time it was our mother’s.
As Derrell and I walked into the sanctuary of the New Sunny Mount MBC, everything seemed so big and so far away. The lights were dimmed, making the sanctuary feel hollow and dark. It seemed like it took forever for us to be able to walk from the sanctuary doors to our mother’s coffin. Grandma and Papa (Genevieve and Jerry), our father’s parents, who were now going to raise us, stood in the church hallway, looking through the glass in the sanctuary doors. They were ready to respond if we needed them.
As Derrell and I walked, we felt the same feelings from a year before. We were in despair, confusion, anger, frustration, and loss. We asked God the same questions from the prior year. Why? How come it couldn’t have been someone else who died? Why did You take her away from us? Why did You leave us? If you loved her, why did You let this happen to her? If you loved us, why did You let this happen to us? What’s going to happen to us next?
As we stood next to her casket, our lives, our dreams, our hopes, our security, and our expectations had been shattered. We looked at our mother, who no longer looked like our mother. There was no more light in her eyes. There was no more pretty smile. The arms that had previously held us and played with us were stiff and lifeless.
I know this kind of experience is not unique to me and my brother. If asked, all of us could tell of an experience of how we lost a loved one who was too young to die. We all can think of a father or mother whom we miss. We all can think of a spouse who was taken from us too soon. We can think of a friend who was taken from us by tragic, unforeseen circumstances.
If asked, we all probably could acknowledge the questions we sometimes ask God when these types of things happen. Why her? Why him? Why me? Why not someone else? God, if you are so great, why would you let this happen?
We all could acknowledge the emotions that we feel towards God during these times. Fear. Anger. Confusion. Disbelief. Numbness. And sometimes, even a loss of faith.
As we look at the circumstances surrounding that first Easter morning that occurred so long ago in John 20:1-10, we can recognize and sympathize with what the followers of Jesus were probably feeling. Their world, which seemed so bright and promising and full of hope just days and weeks and months before, had recently been thrown on its head.
For months and weeks before the events in John 20, the people that we read about had been living an exciting life. They had been part of the inner circle of the hottest religious leader/preacher in town. They had been following Jesus, a man who had come from humble beginnings. He came from a small town where His claim to fame was that He was a carpenter’s son.
Just three years prior, He exploded onto the scene and began to carve out a niche for Himself as a teacher of great spiritual truths and a lover of the unlovable. His teaching attracted and empowered those who were disenfranchised and outcast. This was reflected in the people that made up His core group of followers. He surrounded Himself with stinky fishermen, like Peter, who could be obnoxious, boisterous, hot headed, and impulsive. Tax Collectors, like Matthew, who were not accepted by their own people because they had the reputation of being swindlers and crooks who cheated the common person just to make a quick buck. Women with questionable reputations like Mary Magdalene, who had seven demons cast out of her. He was affiliated with people that were sick and gross looking, and unclean, and deaf/dumb/blind.
He surrounded Himself with those who the religious elite considered less than desirable. But Christ loved them. Not only did He love them, He fed them and He healed them. He performed miracles on their behalf. He taught them and showed them that God loved them and had a home for them in His kingdom. Christ readily made friends with the friendless. You could say that He was the Robin Hood of Israel.
As good as His relationships were with the outcast, they were essentially nonexistent with the religious elite. As a matter of fact, you could say that He was at odds with many of the religious leaders of His day. He was an outcast within the temple community. Not only because of the company that He kept, but because of what He taught.
He taught that people could have a personal relationship with God the Father without having to go through the temple or the religious elite. “How was this possible?” they asked. He told them that He was the Son of God. The one that could restore their broken relationships with each other, and God. Where sacrifices and prayers failed, His position as the Son of God, one who was equal in power, stature, and authority with God the Father, could fix everything for them. All they had to do was believe the evidence that He had given them and trust in Him.
In many ways, Christ was a celebrity. Wherever He went, people followed. Whenever He spoke, people listened. People lined up for Him to bless them, or their children, with a miracle. His popularity was at an all time high. You could say that He was on top of the world. And His followers, including those we meet in John 20, were riding high right along with Him. If they were asked, they would have said that life couldn’t get any better.
But the good times would not last for long. After entering Jerusalem earlier that week, Christ enraged and alienated the temple leaders. He disrupted the system they had in place to bring in money to the temple by turning over the money changers table. He embarrassed the temple leaders by confounding them with His wisdom and spiritual maturity. He made them look bad in front of the common people that looked up to them for spiritual guidance and direction. They could not let something like this happen.
The temple leadership concocted a scheme to have Jesus arrested and tried on trumped up charges. While Jesus was in a garden praying with His followers, a posse surrounded them. After a bloody hullabaloo where Peter cuts off someone’s ear, they eventually take Him into custody.
The joy and exuberance that Christ’s followers had been feeling quickly turned to fear and tense anticipation. So much so that the majority of them abandoned Christ during His greatest hour of need.
At His trial before the religious leaders, only the disciple John could be found. And even that was only as a silent witness to the events that were to occur. Even Peter, the man who had been at the forefront of recognizing and proclaiming Christ’s power and authority, falls silent in his support of Christ. No longer does Peter boldly proclaim Christ as the Son of God. Instead, he denies even knowing Christ in a casual way.
The emotions of Christ’s followers had gone from joy and awe to fear and trepidation. They had experienced the highest highs, and now were sinking into the lowest lows. And unfortunately, they’re going to go even lower, because after Christ is falsely accused on trumped up charges, after His despicable trial in the kangaroo court of the temple, after He is beaten and shuffled before one false witness after another, Christ is then subjected to one of the cruelest and most humiliating punishments possible at that time. He was crucified between two common criminals. It seems as if He is unable, or unwilling, to save Himself.
His former followers finally come out of hiding to see His beaten and bruised body hanging from the tree. They are horrified by what they see. He no longer looks like the man they once knew. He no longer smiles. His eyes are no longer bright. His arms and hands are no longer strong.
When they thought things couldn’t get worse, they did. In order to speed up the dying process, the guards broke the legs of the two men hanging on the sides of Jesus. But, instead of breaking His legs, they pierce His side with a spear. When they realize He is dead, they hurriedly took His body from the cross.
Instead of turning His body over to His family, two of His followers petitioned to have it turned over to them. Nicodemus, the man who came to Jesus secretly at night to ask what he needed to do to be saved, and Joseph of Arimathea, who we really don’t know much about. We do know this; both of them actually belonged to the religious council that brought the trumped up charges against Jesus.
I can only imagine the emotions that these two felt. They were part of the religious elite. Part of the upper crust. And yet, they believed the message of Jesus. Their hearts probably broke as they watched Him stand before false witnesses and an unsympathetic jury. Yet, they could do nothing to help Him without putting their own lives in danger.
The religious elite wanted Jesus to be buried quickly so as not to be an embarrassment during the Passover Celebration. So, these two men stepped forward to take charge of the body of Christ. They obtained the body and hurriedly got it prepared to be placed in a new tomb that belonged to Joseph.
As the Passover approached, the true Passover Lamb laid in a tomb. No fanfare. No celebration. He laid in nothing but darkness. A once dazzling leader lay lifeless.
Days pass and the buzz surrounding the trial and execution of Christ may have begun to fade from the memories of many people. But not for Mary Magdalene. The woman who Jesus had cast multiple demons out of.
The scriptures say that on the first day of the week, she got up early to go to Jesus’ tomb. She went to finish the burial process that had been begun in haste when Christ was removed from the cross. She wanted to give Christ a proper burial preparation. When she arrives at His tomb, she is shocked to see the tremendous stone that had been set to cover the entrance had been removed. And not only was the stone moved, but Christ’s body was missing.
Imagine her feelings as she walked up and saw this. She was already in tears, and was probably inconsolable. And now, someone has performed the ultimate act of disrespect. She was flooded with feelings of terror and despair.
All she could do was run to tell someone. But who can she tell? Who can she trust? Who will help her get to the bottom of things? She runs to Peter, the disciple who had been missing in action, and John, and tells them what she has found. They all run back, at a fever pitch, to the grave to find things just as she said they were. The tomb is empty. The grave clothes were still there, but the body wasn’t.
All hope is lost. Their dreams were lost. I can imagine that they began to ask God the same questions that my brother and I asked at our grandmother and mother’s funerals. I can imagine that they felt the same emotions that Derrell and I felt. The same emotions that all of you have probably felt at some time in your lives.
Verses 9-10 tell us that they did not understand that Christ had risen, as the scriptures had predicted. Instead, with their heads down, and confusion surrounding them, they leave and go back home, hopefully to not experience any more bumps on their emotional rollercoaster.
Everyone left, except for Mary. She remained behind. Crying. And crying. And crying. But her tears eventually were interrupted by a familiar voice. A familiar look. A familiar touch. Jesus was at the tomb, physically in her presence. His body had not been stolen, or misplaced, or destroyed. He had arisen just like He had promised He would. Her tears of sorrow turned to tears of joy, jubilation, excitement. So much so that Jesus had to eventually tell her that she couldn’t hold on to Him. She was no longer sad, but jubilant.
Not only did Mary’s disposition change, but everyone’s disposition changed. Christ appeared to numerous people and groups to prove to them that He was the risen Son of God.
For days, Christ’s followers were in emotional turmoil because He was executed and buried. What they saw in His death was the end of the road. They saw life as they knew it end. The man that had embodied the coming of God’s kingdom on earth was gone. And with Him went their hopes and dreams.
But on that first Easter morning, they went from the depths of an emotional valley to the peak of the mountain top. Christ came back. Christ was raised from the dead. And because of Christ’s resurrection, they no longer had to ride an emotional rollercoaster.
Okay, Terrell. What’s the point? How does this relate to where I am in life? We, like the ancient followers of Christ, will find ourselves in the valleys of life. Sometimes it may seem like all we experience is emotional turmoil. Where there used to be good health, there is a report from the doctor that will bring us to tears. The doors that we expected to open get slammed in our faces without hesitation. Where we expected to hear yes, we only hear a forceful and resounding “no”.
But, because of Christ’s resurrection, we can look past the closed doors. Because of Christ’s resurrection, we can see past the valleys of life. Because of Christ’s resurrection, we can ignore the answers of no. Because of Christ’s resurrection, we can be still, and wait, and trust the risen Savior and hear Him ask us “Why do you weep? I have risen with all power in my hand. And I am here with you. I am smiling on you. I am interceding on your behalf. I am here because I love you!”
Because of Christ’s resurrection, we no longer have to be on an emotional rollercoaster. Because of the resurrection, we no longer have to be victims to what the world and Satan throw at us. Because of the resurrection, we can handle anything that life sends our way. Because of the resurrection, we have hope for this life and the life to come because Christ was willing to live, die, and rise again, on our behalf.
Craig Barnes puts it this way. “Earlier this week, an old couple received a phone call from their son who lives far away. The son said he was sorry, but he wouldn’t be able to come for a visit over the holidays after all. “The grandkids say hello.” They assured him that they understood, but when they hung up the phone they didn’t dare look at each other.
Earlier this week, a woman was called into her supervisor’s office to hear that times are hard for the company and they had to let her go. “So sorry” the supervisor says. She cleaned out her desk, packed away her hopes for getting ahead, and wondered what she would tell her kids.
Earlier this week, someone received terrible news from a physician.
Earlier this week, someone else heard the words, “I don’t love you anymore.”
Earlier this week, a child was told that they would not see a parent again.
Earlier this week, someone’s hope was crucified. And the darkness is overwhelming.
No one is ever ready to encounter Easter until he or she has spent time in the dark place where hope cannot be seen. Easter is the last thing we are expecting. And that is why it terrifies us. This day is not about bunnies, springtime and girls in cute new dresses. It’s about more hope than we can handle.” The hope that comes from a risen Savior.
In spite of emotional, financial, and physical turmoil, we have more hope than we can handle because we have a Savior that got up out of the grave that first Easter morning.
Terrell, this is not a happy message. This is Easter. We were expecting a happy sermon about sunrises and celebration and hosannas to the king. Well, I have to tell you that I think that this is a sermon of celebration. We have every reason to celebrate. We can celebrate in the midst of life’s drama because within the resurrection our lives don’t have to be dramatic. We can celebrate in the midst of life’s uncertainty because within the resurrection we can be assured that Jesus has certainly taken the burden of our sins and the weight of the world from us. We can celebrate in the midst of life’s insecurity because within the resurrection we can have confidence that we are securely within the hands of our mighty God and Savior.
This celebration of God’s love, mercy, and protection is at the heart of the Easter story.
Will you pray with me?