How many Easter services, just like today, can you remember? I know I can remember a few. I remember getting up early as a kid at what felt like the middle of the night to go to the sunrise service with my family. I remember hearing the trumpet played and smelling the Easter lilies, much like today. I even remember at least one sermon theme from one of my pastors from when I was a kid.
But can I say I really remember every single Easter since I was born? Not really. I don’t remember all 34 Easters that I’ve ever had in my life, not specifically anyway.
What about you? You probably have memories of Easters of years past. You might remember the songs, maybe a favorite hymn. Maybe you remember getting up or going to an Easter breakfast. But I doubt you remember every Easter you’ve ever had a part of.
Forgetting some aspects of different Easters in your past isn’t necessarily a problem. We don’t need to know what the sermon text for Easter Sunday was 7 years ago. The important thing, is that we remember what Easter is. Right?
We remember that Easter means victory. We remember that Easter means that Jesus has won! He was beaten, he was bruised, he was battered. He was even nailed to a cross. He even suffered separation from his heavenly Father, the eternal punishment for sin. He even died on that cross.
Ah, but you remember Easter! You remember that Jesus didn’t stay dead. You remembered that the grave couldn’t hold him for long. You remember that we don’t celebrate a dead Savior today, but a living one. You remember that Jesus is alive forever and ever and that because he lives, we will live. You remember that your sins are forgiven, your relationship to God is restored. You remember that because of Easter, joy will always live, the Easter victory that Jesus won he shares with you and me and he does it forever! You remember all that. Good!
But here’s the thinig. Easter can be forgotten. I don’t mean a specific Sunday from years ago slips your mind. I’m not talking about the effects of Alzheimer’s or some kind of amnesia. I’m talking about forgetting Easter because you just don’t believe it. I’m talking about forgetting Easter because you don’t trust that it actually happened, or at least you don’t trust that it means anything to you.
I wish it were impossible to forget Easter. I wish it would never happen to anyone here or anyone you love. But the fact is, it does happen. And it doesn’t just affect the people who never really went to church or were never very “religious.” It can happen to any one of us. It comes with sin. The devil wants us to forget Easter, and he works hard with every temptation so that we do.
But friends, I want you to remember. I want Easter to be stamped on your mind and written in your heart forever. You might not remember today forever. Maybe not this sermon. But I want Jesus and his resurrection to never leave you. Only his Word can do that. Only his Spirit can keep that Word in your heart to make sure that Easter never leaves. I’m praying that you all have an Easter to remember.
I’d imagine the people in our text never forgot that first Easter. But when you really look at our text, things didn’t start out so well. On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. (Lk. 24:1) This doesn’t sound so bad. Yeah, the ladies are going to the tomb. So what? How else are they supposed to find out Jesus had risen?
But think about it. What were these faithful ladies really up to on this early Sunday morning? They were very faithful ladies. We find out later in our text that they are Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them. (Lk. 24:10) These women were with Jesus so much in his ministry; they’d come down from all the way up north in Galilee and followed Jesus road to Jerusalem in his last days. And we’re told here in Luke that they were there at Jesus’ crucifixion, watching everything take place. Then we’re told that they were there when Joseph of Arimathea got Jesus’ body, and they even watched Jesus laid in the tomb and knew just how his body and been laid there. (Lk. 23:55)
These ladies could almost be compared to the faithful women of today. The kind of ladies who’d be there for pretty much every worship service. The kind of ladies who would find a way to help in just about every situation that called for it. We’re blessed with such women here at St. John’s.
But what were these ladies in our text doing? Preparing spices to bring to the tomb, of course. Ah, but what were the spices for? Well, they were supposed to smell really nice. Ok, but why were they supposed to smell nice? Because, well, because, you need something to smell nice…when there’s a dead body.
There it is! Don’t you see; these faithful women weren’t coming to the tomb to worship a living Savior. They weren’t coming to bask in the glow of the resurrection. They weren’t there to celebrate the victory of our king. They were there expecting to find a dead, decaying Savior. They expected Jesus to be every bit as dead as he was when they’d seen him put into the tomb back on Friday. That’s why the angel there asked them the question he did. Why do you look for the living among the dead? (Lk. 24:5) They were looking for Jesus all right. But they expected to find a corpse. They’d forgotten about Easter.
Please don’t think I’m trying to pick on these faithful ladies in our text. I’m just saying what the Bible itself tells us. Because listen to what the angel said next. He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ (Lk. 24:6-7)
Oh, yeah, that. It’s not like Easter came completely out of nowhere. Jesus had told his disciples about it, that’s recorded for us back in chapter 18 of Luke’s gospel. The disciples knew about this, according to the angels these women knew about this, and from what we can tell even Jesus’ enemies knew about this.
Remember, that’s why there were guards outside of Jesus’ tomb. The Pharisees, remember, went to Pilate himself because they knew about what Jesus said. “Look, this Jesus guy has been talking about rising on the third day. We can’t let that happen! The disciples will try to steal the body; it would be horrible!” They didn’t believe Jesus’ promise, but they sure didn’t forget about it!
Yet these women did. Here it is, this person who is the most important person in the world to them, they dedicate their lives to following him. They take care of all of his needs. He has never spoken a lie. He has performed powerful miracles, including raising someone from the dead not long ago. He has famously predicted that he would be killed and then on the third day he would rise again. And they forgot about it.
I’m not letting the disciples off the hook, either. They’d heard Jesus every day. They’d seen everything he did. They knew what he said would happen on the third day. But when all the women come and tell them the good news, what happens? They did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. (Lk. 24:11) Peter, at least, should’ve done better. He’d seen Jesus raise a few people from the dead. You know he’d heard this promise of Jesus before. And it looks like he might be getting it more than the others at first, but soon we see that he, too, had forgotten about Easter. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened. (Lk. 24:12)
Hmm, what could have possibly happened? An empty tomb. Strips of linen. Oh, I don’t know… maybe what happened was EXACTLY WHAT JESUS HAD SAID WAS GOING TO HAPPEN ALL ALONG. This shouldn’t have been so hard! Honestly, if if the disciples, if the women, if anyone had really taken Jesus at his Word, if they had remembered Easter, the Easter accounts would’ve looked a lot different. There would’ve been a huge crowd waiting outside that tomb, holding signs of “Welcome Back Jesus.” But there was no one. Only some hired soldiers who quickly ran away. Jesus rose, and no one was there. They forgot about Easter.
Could it happen to you, friends? I’d like to say know. I’d like to say you’re immune. I’d like to say that you are much stronger and your faith could never falter like all the disciples and like all those faithful women. But I can’t say that. But how could it happen.
Well, it’s true, the disciples and these women had been through a lot. Honestly, the events of Holy Week alone could be considered traumatic on Jesus’ early followers. They see him taken. They run for their lives. They see their teacher, the one in whom they’d put all their hopes, killed before their eyes. And he wasn’t just killed, but in a horrific, horrible, painful way! Maybe that’s why we’re not usually that surprised that they all forgot about Easter.
But see, we face difficulties, too. We face death. We lose people we love. We have difficult experiences. We struggle. We hurt. We go through things everyday, too. Does that mean it’d be ok if we forgot about Easter? Could we really forget?
I think we could. I don’t know what it would take. But I know the devil wants nothing more than for it to happen to you. And every temptation he wants to pull you away.
I recently came across a heated conversation on Facebook. If you use Facebook, you’ve probably seen conversations like this. It was a post and comments on a political topic, but also a religious topic. And the opinions shared there got people pretty riled up. One person in particular was upset, a man I don’t know and have never met. And the poster — who doesn’t live in this area and is not connected to St. John’s in any way — asked this angry person: aren’t you a WELS member? I thought you were.
Then this man went on to explain how he used to be a member of a Wisconsin Synod Lutheran church, but he wasn’t anymore. He’d been offended by things said in that church. He’d been offended by things people in the church had done and by the way the church itself operated. And so, he explained, he couldn’t in good conscience be a member there any more. And then he added one more comment after that: “And by the way, I’m now an atheist.” After everything that had happened; that man forgot about Easter. He no longer believed. And if he’s telling the truth; I fear for that man’s eternal destiny.
What would it take to do that to you? It wouldn’t need to be something big. You might not get offended at the teaching about Easter. It might be something small; it might be something big. But any temptation, any sin, can grow like a big wet snowball to the point that it knocks over our faith itself. Anyone could forget about Easter.
So how can you avoid that happening? Look what it took in our text. Well, the angel told the women. He told them what Jesus had said. He told them how Jesus had just done what he said he was going to do. And then we read: And then they remembered his words. (Lk. 24:8) Their memory was jogged by hearing Jesus’ words. Then they remembered.
Are you getting this? Because I’m not trying to say something complicated here. We need to continue in Jesus’ Word. We need to continue in the Bible. We need to be constantly reminded about things we already know, things we are sure we could never forget. Things that with our power we very well could forget. But we need the Spirit’s power. We need the Holy Spirit working through the Word to make sure we never forget to keep Easter fresh in our mind at all times.
This isn’t supposed to be hard. It’s not supposed to be some secret. We just let God do his work on us in his Word. We just let God create and sustain faith in us in his Word, just like he has promised to do. That’s how Easter stays up here. That’s how we have an Easter to remember.
Because what will we remember? We’ll remember that Jesus isn’t dead. Yes, he was killed, but he did that for you and me. He suffered for your sins and mine. He paid for our mistakes, our short memories, our slowness to understand. He paid the price for our lack of putting him and his Word first. He paid for all of that. And then he rose. And when he did he guaranteed that sin was paid for.
Jesus rose again; Jesus lives, and because he is, we never have to be scared. Whatever we face, whatever difficulties we encounter, none of it will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Jesus resurrection guarantees that death, as scary as it is, it doesn’t have any sting. It doesn’t have any victory. Jesus won the victory. And he’s given it to you and me by faith.
So continue in his Word. Let him remind you every week, every day about his love. And then join your voices with the angels. Join your voices with the excited women as they ran from the tomb. Join your voices in saying and singing your Savior’s love now and forever. Alleluia! He is risen! He is risen indeed!
Preached at St. John’s Lutheran Church, Easter Sunday, March 31, 2013.