April 8, 2007

Easter Sunday

"Easter: Seeing Is Believing"

(John 20:1-18)

Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn


I read a great story about a six-year-old boy named David who was taking a walk one day with his grandmother. They decided to detour through the local graveyard. They stopped to read some of the tombstones and Grandma explained that the first date on the tombstones was the day the person was born and the second date was the day the person died.

"Why do some tombstones only have one date?" little David asked.

"Because those people haven't died yet," his grandmother explained.

David was obviously stunned by his grandmother's explanation because, that night, he couldn't stop talking about the excursion. "Mom," he said with wide eyes, "did you know some of the people buried there in the cemetery aren't even dead yet!" (1)

We can laugh, because today we come to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The stone has been rolled away and Jesus is more alive than ever because not even death could hold Him.

In the movie Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the wizard Gandalf fell battling enemies to protect the rest of the group. His loss was devastating and disheartening. In the second movie, The Two Towers, we find the group split. Frodo and Sam have slipped off on their own to destroy the ring of power. Merry and Pippin have been captured by orcs. And Aragorn, Legolas the elf and Gimli the dwarf are in pursuit hoping to rescue the two Hobbits from the orcs.

We've also found out that the white wizard of Orthanc, who used to be good, has turned to the other side, trying to gain his own power. The journey brings these three heroes to the forest where this white wizard roams.

Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli prepare to face the mysterious white wizard in battle. The wizard suddenly appears, blinding them with brilliant light. But it turns out to be Gandalf, who has not only defeated the white wizard but has also seemingly risen from the dead. The three heroes fall to their knees in shock when they realize the wizard is Gandalf, the man they saw die. They saw and believed.

That must have been how the disciples felt when they witnessed the resurrected body of Jesus three days after watching him die on the cross. The awe and wonder, fear, and joy had to have driven them to their knees as they realized Christ's triumph over death.

They thought he was dead but now he was alive. Peter and John were there. They had seen Him die. They probably helped take down the body and lay it in the tomb. And now, they saw the risen Christ with the nail prints in his hands and feet. Like the heroes of Lord of the Rings, they saw and they believed. How awesome was that? (2)

Let's look at the Passage from John 20:1-18

[1] Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.

[2] So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him."

[3] Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb.

[4] The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.

[5] He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.

[6] Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there,

[7] and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.

[8] Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed;

[9] for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.

[10] Then the disciples returned to their homes.

[11] But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb;

[12] and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.

[13] They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him."

[14] When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.

[15] Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away."

[16] Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher).

[17] Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"

[18] Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

We make pilgrimages to the spot of His burial and resurrection but you know what, we're not really sure where it's at. Tradition says one of two places. But I've also read about three other places that claim to be the tomb. And it may be none of them.

But what difference does it make? There is no marker on his tomb. We don't come to remember where He was buried, we remember the Resurrection. You only need a tomb if there's a body. And no matter what James Cameron thinks, Jesus was raised from the dead. And later He ascended into heaven.

What we need to ask is what does the Resurrection mean for us and for our faith.



It's sort of like a story I read in another sermon about a man who was seen running toward a large river. Just as he reached the dock he increased his speed and when he came to the end he jumped and threw himself as high and as far as he could before hitting the water. He landed about ten feet from the dock. As soon as he surfaced he swam back to the land and tried it again, over and over again.

The guy watching all of this, asked him, "What in the world are you doing?"

He said, "A friend of mine bet me a million dollars to one that I couldn't jump across the river and after thinking about the odds, I had to at least try." (3)

He had no chance whatsoever on God's green earth of jumping across the river on his own. Just like we have no chance whatsoever of defeating death on our own. We have no chance whatsoever of finding forgiveness on our own.

It doesn't work that way. We can't work our way to immortality. We can't will our way to immortality. We can't do enough good deeds or give enough money to earn God's forgiveness. There's only one way to receive forgiveness and life eternal and that's through what Christ did for us on the cross and at the empty tomb. It is ours simply by an act of Grace. A gift from God for those who believe.




Without the resurrection, we'd never know that our sins are truly forgiven? You see, Jesus didn't come back just to show us he had been raised from the dead. He came back to tell us and to show us in his nail scarred hands and feet that through His sacrifice on the cross we are forgiven. He came back to fill us with the Holy Spirit, His Divine presence with us each and every day whispering, singing, reminding us that we are forgiven.

Let me tell you a true story that happened some time ago: A young boy's father died in a car wreck when he was twelve years old. He happened to read about in the local paper before anyone got word to him to tell him about it. When he saw that picture of the family car smashed-up on the front page of the newspaper; and then read that his dad had died in that accident, he was thrust immediately and painfully into the shocked numbness of deep grief.

Strangely, one of his very first feelings were those of guilt. He had remembered how some months before at a family picnic he was showing off with a baseball. At one point he got careless and threw wildly; it hit his dad in the hand and broke his thumb. This boy felt horrible. He said to himself, "What a terrible son I am! I have caused my dad great pain."

It seemed like that was all he could remember after his fathers death, the pain he caused his dad. Not the joy or the laughs they shared. Finally, the young boy went to see his pastor and told him about the deep feelings of guilt and about breaking his dad's thumb.

In the boy's own words, he said: "I'll never forget how my pastor handled that. He was so great. He came around the desk with tears in his eyes. He sat down across from me and said:

The pastor addressed the boy by name and said, "Now, Jim, you listen to me. If your dad could come back to life for five minutes and be right here with us… and if he knew you were worried about that, what would he say to you?"

"He would tell me to quit worrying about that," Jim said.

"Well, all right," the minister said, "then you quit worrying about that right now. Do you understand me?"

"Yes sir," he said. And he did.

That minister was saying: "You are forgiven. Accept the forgiveness and make a new start with your life." The young boy did make a new start. And today, many years later, he is the pastor of a 9,000 member church: St. Luke's UMC in Houston. The young boy in the story? James W. Moore, the author of over 30 books on Christian living. (4)

That's Easter. The Risen Christ came back to life to assure the disciples that they were forgiven. The Risen Christ came back to life to assure us we are forgiven.




As a kid my Dad used to joke about one of the highway signs you see in mountainous and hilly areas. "Watch for falling rock." He told us that Falling Rock was the ghost of a Native American who died a tragic death on the very first paved highway. Ever since that day he's haunted the highways of America.

Out of nowhere, Falling Rock will suddenly appear in the middle of the road. Dressed in full war paint, knife in hand, he starts coming toward the vehicle. Your instinct is to slam on the brakes, which most people do, which in turn causes lots of accidents. After which Falling Rock laughs an evil laugh and goes running to the next spot. And all the signs we see on the highways are really there to mark the places where Falling Rock has played his evil prank. The signs are gentle reminders to be on the look out for the ghost of Falling Rock.

We all caught on pretty quick that it was a bunch of nonsense but we liked when Dad told the story because he always embellished it a little more each time. EASTER AND THE RESURRECTION ARE REMINDERS, not of some goofy fable but of the fact that no matter what, God is still in charge. Easter is the piece of string wrapped around the finger to remind us that life as we know it, isn't all there is.

Easter is the post it note that reminds us God is in charge of everything, especially life and death and judgment and forgiveness. Easter is the living memo of the depth of God's unconditional love for us.



Eugene Smith admits that he was a minister who never sang much because he didn't have much of a voice and couldn't read music. But one year, on Easter Sunday, his daughter persuaded him to sing along with the choir when it came time for the "Hallelujah Chorus." And he really got caught up in the last part when they were singing all of those "Hallelujah's." He said that as they were singing all of those Hallelujahs, he got carried away. He loved to sing those Hallelujahs and he was just about to sing a couple more when all of a sudden the choir stopped, the director stopped and the organ stopped.

He said that they stopped too soon. He said, "Since that time I've been going around with a couple of Hallelujahs inside of me just waiting to get out." (5)

This is the day fills us up with the Good News of Jesus Christ. This is the day we realize we have a couple of Hallelujahs waiting to get out. So, Accept this ACT OF GRACE for you. Let Christ COMPLETE GOD'S FORGIVENESS IN YOUR LIFE. And REMEMBER so you can live the life Christ has called us to live, so others will see and believe that Christ is alive and the tomb empty because others see Him living in you.

This is the Word of the Lord for this day.



1. Don't Stop Laughing Now! Compiled by Ann Spangler and Shari MacDonald (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), p. 54.

2. www.ministryandmedia.com

3. Mack R. Douglas, How to Make a Habit of Succeeding (New York: Galahad Books, 1966).

4. Www.sermons.com "Why I Believe In The Resurrection" Sermon by Brett Blair and Staff

5. As told by Gil Bowen, "More Than Conquerors," http://www.30goodminutes.org/csec/sermon/bowen_3625.htm.




Other References Consulted

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Circuit Rider, (The United Methodist Publishing House, Nashville, TN)

The Interpreter's Bible, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1953)

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Lights, Camera...Faith by Peter Malone with Rose Pacatte (Daughters of St. Paul, 2002)

Praying the Movies by Edward McNulty, (Geneva Press, Lousville, KY, 2001)

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Movie Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, by Craig Brain Larson and Andrew Zahn(Zondervan Publishing, Inc., Grand Rapids, MI, 2003)

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SermonWriter by Dick Donovan (Copyright, Richard Niell Donovan, 2000

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Ministry and Media

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The Source For Youth Ministry Movie Clips