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Easter Day Celebration – Series “Return From Exile: A Lenten Journey”

Text:  Mark 16:1-8

Title: “Welcome Home!”

Date: Sunday, April 1, 2018…11:00a.m.

Pastor Steve Bocklage

So, why have you come here today? What are you looking for? Why this place, this day? What are you looking for? You must be seeking something in particular on a day like today because, as any pastor can tell you, we do not get these kinds of crowds every Sunday! I suppose some of you are here because it is the traditional, expected thing to do on Easter Sunday: “My parents always made sure we were in church on Easter, and I am carrying on the tradition.” Maybe your family has a rule, a mandate: no church, no ham! Some of you are here because you are always here, every Sunday. So, today is no different, except for the breakfast. But, why are you really here? What are you really looking for? I strongly suspect that you are looking for the end of the journey…you are looking for home. Perhaps you are here because you are home for the holiday and your family always goes to church together on Easter. Possibly you are here because you are unable to be home, and church on Easter Sunday reminds you of your home and family. Maybe church and the people here are your home and family.

There is something about this day and this place that reminds you and me of home—and rightly so! The unfortunate truth remains, however, that we spend most of our days looking for home somewhere else. I am not talking about church attendance, even though it is related. I am referring to our focus upon the things of the world as if they are what truly matter. We look to this world as if it truly is our home. And while that may seem like a small matter on the surface, in reality it means that we are like the women in our Easter text from the Gospel of St. Mark. The first place we “go” to seek Jesus is a tomb. We look for Him among the dead. We focus upon the tangibles, the perishable, and the mortal. We seek Jesus among the dead! We treat the pit of the tomb as if it were home.

Why do the women go to the graveyard to see Jesus? We always talk about how they are doing their duty by going out to anoint the body—to properly prepare His body for burial. We speak of their bravery while the rest of the crew hide behind locked doors in fear and terror. We talk of their devotion to the Son of God. But this truth remains the same…they believed Jesus is dead! They go to the tomb to see Jesus because the tomb is the home for dead people.

Why do they seek Jesus among the dead? It’s because death is the land of exile for mankind. Sin has made it that way. Death is the reality all of us face. Yes, it’s true that we fight it and we deny it. We do all we can to put it off. But the reality of our sin is death! Death is our land of exile…the grave is our wilderness home. You can eat healthily, workout, see the best doctors, eliminate stress, and be in touch with your inner self.  Yet, in spite of all this…you will still die. As a surgeon told some seminarian students in a lecture on the progress of medical science, “Do not forget…that with all this advancement, the mortality rate remains 100%.”

Such is the devastation brought about by sin in our world and in ourselves. In the Garden of Eden, man willingly brought sin into our world. But who knew that sin would bring its partner we know as death? I’m not talking about the sanitized death of our American culture. No, I’m talking about the brutal, agonizing, weeping-and-gnashing-of-teeth kind of death that is the result of being separated from God. It is death that is everlasting condemnation…death that is suffering beyond comparison…death that is the great enemy that no person can overcome. Your sin has sent you to this land of exile…this land of death. You are in an exile that is a death both physical and spiritual. You are in exile with no ability to escape and no hope of return. Small wonder that you and I live as if the tomb is our home.

For this reason, God sent His beloved Son into this world to rescue you from your land of wandering…from your deadly exile in sin…from the reality of death itself. Jesus came to accomplish what you had no hope of accomplishing. By the cross, He has redeemed, restored, and renewed you. Jesus hung on the cross to bear your sin and mine—suffering, bleeding holy blood, and dying as the all-availing sacrifice. The Son of Man overcame the twin forces of sin and death. The Son of God conquered Satan as He provided the sacrifice required and cleansed you from all guilt and shame. For all this, God sent His Son Jesus, who faced death in your place and finished the work God promised He would do. And for this, He was laid in a tomb as a lifeless corpse—but a lifeless corpse with a promise!

Yet, the women who go to the tomb that first Easter morning are not focused on the promise. They are focused on the corpse. They go to see Jesus among the dead. They are living as if the grave is their home—the end of their journey. But the angel tells them: “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here.” (Mark 16:6) Why do you seek the living among the dead? Why do you seek Jesus in a tomb? He is not here. He is risen! The tomb is empty! It’s not Christ’s home. The grave holds Him for only three short days. The grave—the pit—is not and will not be His dwelling place. The land of the exile with sin and death…Satan’s wilderness…could not contain Him. He is not there. He is risen!

An English advertising agent and freelance writer named Frank Morison was a non-Christian and quite proud of it. He went to Palestine with the sole purpose of researching the resurrection story in order to disprove it. In doing so, the whole structure of Christianity would come toppling down. He searched for the chunk of evidence that would refute all the claims of Easter Sunday morning. But the more he examined the evidence of Christ’s resurrection, the more interesting and impressive he found it…and the more tired he grew of his own naturalistic, humanism explanations. Finally, he shed his agnostic views and converted to Christianity, finding the resurrection account too difficult to disprove. He gave a briefing on the entire experience, which he titled: “Who Moved the Stone?”

THE TOMB IS EMPTY!  Jesus is not there! He is risen! Do you realize what this means? If the tomb is not Christ’s home, then the tomb is not your home either! Christ has been victorious over sin, death, and the devil…and He has shared His victory with you and me. As Isaiah prophesied in our OT reading: “He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.”  Christ paid the price and overcame the Ancient Foe, so you are rescued from the wilderness…you are restored to your God…you are returned from the land of your exile…from sin and eternal death. Welcome home!

         THE TOMB IS EMPTY!  Folks, THE TOMB IS EMPTY! Say it with me: “THE TOMB IS EMPTY!” (they repeat) Do not seek Jesus among the dead…do not live your life like those who have no hope. The tomb is empty! He is risen, and you and I will also rise from the dead! That is God’s promise for all who believe and trust in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. 20th Century American theologian and Presbyterian minister Wilbur M. Smith, noted in his book Therefore Stand that “of the four great religions of the world resting directly upon personalities rather than upon some philosophical system, the Christian religion is the only one that even talks about an empty tomb in relation to its founder.”

Since this world is NOT your home, don’t be distracted by the glamour and the glitter. Since this world is NOT your home, you not be overcome by the pain and the darkness. We walk with eyes focused…not on the tomb…but on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith. (cf. Heb. 12:1–3) We live with eyes focused on the One who has returned us to a right relationship with our Father in heaven. We walk with eyes focused…not on the land of death…but on forgiveness and the open gates of everlasting life.

Welcome home! In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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