In the life of the early church, Easter Sunday was celebrated much the same way we celebrate it today.
We shout “He is risen!”
We worship with uplifting hymns. We decorate the altar with flowers.
And instead of the cross being a symbol of death, it becomes a symbol of hope and of New Life.
We emerge from the darkness of Good Friday, as if emerging from death.
And we find on Sunday morning light and a promise of a New Life fulfilled!
That journey from darkness into light, from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, from death to life, is who we are in Jesus Christ.
And it’s because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross that we, too, are given eternal life.
We, too, will be resurrected.
We, too, emerge from death to life.
Because on Easter Sunday, we are able now to proclaim the power of life in the midst of death.
We are able to leave our brokenness here at the foot of the cross.
Because we have been redeemed by a God who took our brokenness to the cross.
And through his own physical suffering, he heals us.
Through his death and resurrection, he gives us New Life.
Waters of Change
It’s this image of moving from death to life that the early church celebrated in a way that we rarely do today.
This is when the sacrament of Baptism happened.
Today, we have a small font up here in the front of the sanctuary.
We pour water over the head of the person being baptized as a symbol of washing away the old self and being welcomed into the new.
But if we were to look at the ancient churches, you would find what looked like a small swimming pool built into them.
It was generally narrow, and it had steps going into it on opposite sides.
It was narrow in shape, because it symbolized the grave — death.
And when it was filled with water, one would enter it as in death, as into the tomb, and be submerged .
But after re-emerging, they would be cleansed, and they rise from it, and come out on the other side with a New Life.
Our baptisms, you see, were reflections of Jesus’s own death and resurrection.
It’s the Easter story!
From grave to new life. From darkness to light.
And through Jesus’s resurrection, we are given eternal life.
Free from the brokenness we call sin.
This is your location today:
As part of the body of Christ.
This church, which really means the people, is the body of Christ.
When we break bread during Communion, we remember Jesus’s sacrifice on the Cross that through his death gave us New Life.
In communion with God, with one another, and with the world.
Why did Jesus have to die?
See, we had fallen into brokenness ever since we disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden.
We wanted more than God gave to us; we wanted to be God.
In doing so, we began generations upon generations of God’s children who turned away from God, who broke that communion with God, and who became broken.
And so many of us still carry around that brokenness.
But God still loved us — you and me — so much, that he would show us just how much.
And how does God show us?
God comes to earth to be born as a baby to an unwed mother in an inhospitable city with no resources, no influence, and no power whatsoever.
Barely a hope.
The absolute least.
And Jesus began to teach us how to love so that we can recognize it when we see it.
Because it’s not love for this world.
It’s beyond love for one’s self.
It’s not our nationalism or pride or political power.
It’s love for one another.
Not just the nice ones.
Not just the clean ones.
Not just the beautiful ones.
But the broken ones, too.
The impoverished, abused, oppressed and persecuted.
That’s who Jesus is.
He taught us that God’s love is available to everyone.
No matter who you are, what you’ve done or where you’ve been.
And Jesus taught us how to love as he had first loved us.
And when we learned how to love, God continued this act of love by giving all of Gods’ self to us in the form of Jesus.
Jesus gave his life for us.
Sacrificed for your love — just in case you might have thought that God didn’t really mean it when God said “I love you.”
Jesus gave everything to show you how much he loved you.
That God wanted God’s children back.
And so when Christ breathed his final breath on the cross, the veil that separated God’s Holy Seat in the Temple from the people, was torn top to bottom.
It was torn so that we could be again face-to-face with God.
Dying to our old selves
Baptism is about dying to our old selves, our old way of life.
It is about becoming new people, rising to the way of Jesus and his teachings.
In the early church, that meant giving up professions that weren’t compatible with Jesus’s teachings.
It meant working to help one another with their spiritual lives…
It meant living out Jesus’s examples in our lives.
We still actually vow to do this during baptism ceremonies.
To hold one another accountable for being part of the church — and remember “church” just means the people.
And it meant sometimes even facing persecution — It mattered!
Jesus suffered and died for each one of us.
Every single one of us.
The ones who are faithful to their baptismal vows, and the ones who are not.
The ones who have forgotten, and are too busy or simply turned away.
For us, yes, but also for those who don’t know Jesus.
For those who don’t want to know Jesus.
For those who even disown Jesus.
Those who belong to different beliefs, religions or faiths.
Those who hate. Those who abuse. Those who murder.
His blood spilled for all of us, because we all needed to be reunited with God.
We all were — and are — in need of a savior.
The one whose blood would save us from that separation because of our brokenness.
So we need to ask ourselves:What kind of changes do we here today need to make?
Like the people of the early church, what are we doing that isn’t compatible with Jesus’s teaching?
How are we holding one another accountable for the vows we’ve taken in the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion?
These are not arbitrary moments — we come before God today and every day.
A God who will one day ask us what have you done with the life I gave you? — Did you take it seriously?
Because I meant what I did there on the cross for you. #
The empty tomb
They found the tomb empty.
And they were distraught.
They believed what Jesus had told them and what Jesus had taught them.
But now? Now they lost all their hope.
Peter and John, Mary Magdalene and Mary.
They were deeply anguished.
I imagine in that time of such sorrow they had never felt so abandoned in all their lives.
It was over.
Jesus wasn’t who he said he was.
And we see beginning in Verse 11 that Mary Magdalene is just decimated there at the empty tomb.
And then she hears that voice:
“Woman, why are you weeping?”
She answers, “They have taken away my Lord.”
She didn’t recognize that it was Jesus standing there talking to her.
Not until he calls her by name.
John 10.27 reminds us: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”
Mary belongs to the Good Shepherd. She knows his voice.
Do we? Do we?
What have you come to find here today?
Do you recognize the Shepherd’s voice?
Do you know God’s endless and eternal love for you?
Listen to the story of Easter.
Look up onto that cross.
The Easter story is all for you. All of it.
This is the good news.
I don’t know what brought you here today.
But you need to know that God knows.
That God loves you and has a purpose for you.
That God wants to heal your pain and brokenness.
That pain and brokenness that come from the choices we make and the choices others make.
In the Bible, we call that brokenness sin.
And it is the evil that separates us from the God who created us to know God…
…and it also separates us from those we love.
But despite the sin that leads to brokenness, we can know really hope.
Because God showed us the way to fix that brokenness.
You see, Jesus stepped into our broken story and defeated the power of sin by dying as a substitute for our sins.
And it was through his broken body on the cross and his resurrection out of the tomb that he made a way for people who had gone far from God to come back, no matter what they’ve done what had been done to them.
We’ve all run away and tried to find life outside of God.
But it’s through Jesus that we all can discover what it means to know a God like a father who holds us securely, like a mother who nurtures and loves us, and like a friend, who is always by our side.
Jesus knows your heart, and he knows your pain.
He knows even your most hidden scars.
Because he reaches to you now with his own nail-scarred hands to offer love that this world longs for but never finds in other places.
This is the Good News…
This is the story that allows you to become a part of.
And your story can be rewritten, changed into something beautiful.
Like Jesus’s story.
It didn’t end with a horrific death on the cross.
Jesus died, was buried and rose again so that you could become part of a greater story.
Look at how that story has changed the world for those who TRULY know him.
Whose stories are written into his!
It’s the difference between looking into the empty tomb and either experiencing hope, or experiencing hopelessness.
At first, Mary Magdelene experienced hopelessness that looked and felt like death itself.
But she knows the Shepherd’s voice.
And when she heard that voice, she found hope.
She found healing.
She found Jesus!
She witnessed the promise that Jesus would rise.
And it’s the same voice, the same healing and the same promise that we are offered here today.
A promise of New life.
A promise that we, too, will rise!
Mary Magdalene was transformed by the transformed Lord.
And she ran as fast as she could to find her friends, the disciples.
“I have seen the Lord!”
“I have seen the Lord!”
I have seen the Lord, have you?
Listen for his voice.
Because He is risen.
Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!