The Resurrection of our Lord - Easter
In the Name of Jesus Christ, our risen Savior and Lord. Alleluia! Amen!
Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin. You may not remember his name, nor should you. But during his day he was a powerful a man as there was on earth. He was a Russian Communist leader who took part in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, was editor of the Soviet newspaper Pravda (which by the way means “truth”), and was a full member of the Politburo. His works on economics and political science are still read today.
There is a story told about a journey he took from Moscow to Kiev in 1930 to address a huge assembly on the subject of atheism. Addressing the crowd he aimed his heavy artillery at Christianity – hurtling insult, argument, and proof against it.
An hour later he was finished. He looked out at what seemed to be the smoldering ashes of men’s faith. “Are there any questions?” Bukharin demanded. Deafening silence filled the auditorium, but then one elderly man approached the platform and mounted the lectern standing near the communist leader. He surveyed the crowd first to the left and then to the right. Finally, he shouted the ancient greeting known well in the Russian Orthodox Church: “CHRIST IS RISEN!” En Masse the crowd arose as one and the response came crashing like the sound of thunder: “HE IS RISEN INDEED!” And again he shouted, “CHRIST IS RISEN!” And again the crowd responded even louder than before: “HE IS RISEN INDEED!!”
And so I say to you this morning: “CHRIST IS RISEN!” (“HE IS RISEN INDEED!!”) I say it again: “CHRIST IS RISEN!” (“HE IS RISEN INDEED!”) Alleluia! He IS risen indeed!! Alleluia!
Today is Easter, the greatest and holiest day of the year for Christians. On this day, we celebrate that our Lord Jesus Christ - who died – is alive again and lives and rules forevermore. What wonderful news this is!
But Easter is also much more than just a celebration of one person’s resurrection. It is also a celebration of our HOPE that because our Lord Jesus lives, we shall live also! It is also our celebration that nothing in this life can ever overcome us and separate us from God’s power and love.
It is this unshakable HOPE that moved that crowd in Kiev to repudiate the atheism promoted by Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin. Bukharin represented the power of the state – of a totalitarian government that inspired terror and fear. His arguments were surely learned and persuasive. But even in the face of all of the power and evidence to the contrary, the HOPE of Christ’s resurrection gave courage to the people that God was still in charge – and that his power and love would indeed triumph in the end. Their hope was beyond any logic – but the people knew it to be more real than reality itself!
That is what it was like for the women in today’s gospel. At the empty tomb heard the news that Jesus had risen from the dead. Even though they did not yet see their living Lord, they remembered his teaching that he would rise again on the third day and they believed. They believed and knew in the deepest depths of their hearts that the message of those two men in dazzling clothes was true – and this news filled them with incredible, overwhelming joy!
But what happened afterwards? When they told the news to the eleven apostles and the others with them, “these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” The women were greeted with the same kind of skepticism that many atheists such as Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin had and still have today. (They were greeted with the same kind of skepticism that you might get if you tell someone that I cut off a person’s tie during this service!)
But yet the women still knew that the news was true – that their Lord had indeed been raised from the dead – and that because of this their lives would never again be the same. From now on they would live knowing that nothing would ever again overwhelm them with fear and sadness. Despite the skepticism of others and despite all outward reasons to be expecting only the worst – from now on these women would always be looking forward to the best. Even when all cause for hope would seem to be completely crushed and gone, they knew that somehow God would bring them through. Yes, God would bring them through even death itself! And that belief – that assurance – filled the women with a joy that no one or no thing would ever be able to take away from them.
People of God, this is what Easter means for us! Today we do not only celebrate that Christ has been raised – but we also (perhaps most importantly) celebrate that God is with us now our world and in our lives. It may be hard to see this at times – we know that often everything is heavy with despair. As a nation, we are anxious and depressed about the war in Iraq and about terrorism. In our community, we are worried about the future. Personally, many of us may be struggling with burdens in our lives such as having to deal with an illness or tragedy either personally or in our families. Others of us might be facing the breakup of a marriage or other close relationship – or may be in overwhelming debt – or may be in the throes of addiction to gambling, drugs, or alcohol. And certainly, we are often mourning the death of loved ones – such as what we did this week with the death of Marge Thogersen. And I can go on and on.
But Easter shows us that JOY rather than despair is the last word! The Easter resurrection of Jesus shows us that despite all appearances to the contrary, God’s love is still with us in our world and in our lives – and will always be victorious!
There is a true story that illustrates this point rather well. Back in the early 1800’s when the British General Wellington fought Napoleon in the decisive battle of Waterloo, all of England waited breathlessly for the news. In those days it had to come across the English Channel by sailboat and then be signaled overland by semaphore to London. High up atop Winchester Cathedral in southern England the semaphore began to spell out the message slowly letter by letter: W-E-L-L-I-N-G-T-O-N---D-E-F-E-A-T-E-D.” Then a dense fog settled over the city – a real “pea-souper”. The semaphore could no longer be seen. The message “WELLINGTON DEFEATED,” spread gloom and despair among the people. The whole city was in mourning. Then the fog lifted, and the semaphore flashed the rest of the message, “WELLINGTON DEFEATED THE ENEMY!” This entirely opposite report spread like wildfire, turning despair into raptures of joy!
This is what it is like for us today. Many people know or feel only the first part of the message … “JESUS DEFEATED”… “life defeated” … “hope defeated” …and then they see nothing but the fog. Guilt, despair, all kinds of problems, and always the ever-present specter of death are all that they see. They are like the apostles at the end of today’s gospel reading. They are like Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin. And to be very blunt, their lives show it! In their attitudes, in everything that they say and do…they are as gloomy as the message they feel: “It’s no use…God can’t help…I’m scared…why bother?” and so forth. Or in other words, “JESUS DEFEATED.”
But we are an Easter people! The fog has lifted and we know the rest of the message – “JESUS DEFEATED THE ENEMY!” He is completely triumphant over the powers of this world, the devil, and even over the power of death itself! It is true that the fog of many trials and problems we face…and eventually the fog of death itself…is going to roll in between us and God time and time again throughout our lives. But we know the message! We know that victory is ours! May our lives show it! Not just today at this service, but each and every day in everything that we say and do! For Jesus is triumphant! Jesus is alive! Jesus is victorious over all things! And so shall we also who place our trust in him!
For two thousand years the forces of skepticism, evil, and despair have been trying to destroy the Easter hope – but its flame still burns even brighter than ever. And on this day we gather to celebrate that this hope also burns in us. We are God’s people! We are God’s EASTER PEOPLE who abide in His love forever – and who believe that God will bring us through everything that we have to face in this life – and who believe that when it comes time for us to die, God will bring us through that also! On this day we joyfully proclaim our hope that we shall live again – and shall be reunited with those we love – and shall live with them and our Lord Jesus Christ in his kingdom forever and ever and ever!
And so today on this Easter day, we and Christians all over the world continue to joyously proclaim our Lord’s resurrection. Just like the crowd in that Kiev auditorium in 1930, we shout the timeless greeting that will never grow old: “CHRIST IS RISEN!” (“HE IS RISEN INDEED!”) “CHRIST IS RISEN!” (HE IS RISEN INDEED!”) Alleluia! Amen!
George R. Karres,
Pella Lutheran Church
418 W. Main Street
Sidney, MT 59270