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Why Are You Weeping?

Children's sermon
For April 21, 2019:
  • Why Are You Weeping? by Dean Feldmeyer — One of the reasons it’s so hard to visualize a risen Christ is that we’ve hidden him behind a mountain of hollow, milk chocolate bunnies and marshmallow chickens.
  • Black Holes and Empty Tombs by Mary Austin — The Easter story is a call to experience the power of the resurrection firsthand. Sometimes that requires paying attention to what is exciting for someone else — the two Mary’s for example run to tell the disciples, but are quickly dismissed until Peter got up and ran to the tomb.
  • Sermon illustrations from Tom Willadsen, Ron Love, and Chris Keating.
  • Worship resources by George Reed that focus on the power of Jesus' resurrection.
  • Children’s sermon: How the Cross Absorbed Our Sins by Bethany Peerbolte — This lesson can be replicated at home too! Consider making a few cut outs of paper towel crosses to send home so the kids can do it too. This object lesson is mostly about the visual. The words can be tweaked to fit your context.

Dean FeldmeyerWhy Are You Weeping?
by Dean Feldmeyer
Luke 24:1-12, Isaiah 65:17-25

My goodness, what have we done with Easter? It’s enough to make a person weep.

The highest, holiest day of the Christian year and, let’s be honest, it consistently plays second fiddle to Christmas in not just the popular culture but, okay, in the church as well.

Do a Google search for “Easter images” and you’ll find ten pictures of bunnies, baby chicks, and brightly colored eggs for every one picture of an empty tomb.  

Why are we weeping? Because, to paraphrase Mary, they have taken my Lord and hidden him in a morass of baby chicks, tiny bunnies, egg hunts, pancake breakfasts, sunrise concerts, Peeps, jelly beans, and chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. Empty tomb? Sorry, no one is really all that interested. Our fascination bends more toward baskets full of pink, plastic grass and hollow chocolate bunnies than toward tombs left mysteriously bereft of bodies.

The culture and, often, even the church, doesn’t quite know what to do with this he-is-risen, this empty-tomb business. Deep down inside us, where our 21st century intellect lives, we are just a little bit relieved and more than a little justified to hear Luke tell us that even for the disciples, the central proclamation of Easter “seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe it.”

It is, after all, shockingly absurd. It is appallingly illogical. It is scandalously improbable, dreadfully implausible, and just down right, plain ol’ impossible.

And that, brothers and sisters, is why we continue, in spite of all the noise and objections, to proclaim it as though our lives depended upon it.

Praise the Lord, Christ is Risen! He is Risen, Indeed!

In the Scriptures
This morning, the lectionary brings us two significantly different versions of the same events.

Luke’s version is a short, lean account of Easter morning. It is disjointed and almost haphazard. He shows us some people going to the tomb. In some translations these people are identified as the women with the spices from chapter 23. In others they are not so clearly identified. Whoever they are, they find the tomb empty, and they are confronted by two “men in dazzling clothes.”

It is not until this point that we find out that these people at the tomb are, in fact, women, when they fall to the ground in fear of the two men who then deliver a brief lecture about all the things Jesus had foretold and that they (the women, not the men in dazzling clothes) had forgotten.

When the lecture ends, the women run back into town where they relate what has happened at the grave to the eleven surviving disciples “and all the rest.” (There were, apparently, some other people who were present for all this but we are not told who they were.)

And, finally, now we are told who at least some of the women are, a detail that, normally, would have been placed at the beginning of the story.

And, we are told that no one believed them. The ones to whom they related their Easter morning experience thought it was an “idle tale.”

But Peter, just to make sure, runs to the tomb to check it out for himself. Finding the tomb empty, as the women had described it, he does not go back and tell everyone as they did. Rather, he goes home probably to think about what he has seen.

Not satisfied to leave us with Luke’s brief, disjointed account, the lectionary committee supplements our understanding of the events of that long-ago morning with John’s longer and more dramatic version. Here is a story that was written nearly 2,000 years ago but could be easily adapted to a modern screenplay.

It begins with Mary Magdalene coming, alone, to the tomb. No group of unnamed women, just Mary.

When she sees that the stone has been rolled away and the tomb opened, she runs to Peter’s house to tell him and John that the tomb has been broken into and the body stolen.

The fourth gospel account relates how Peter and John run to the tomb in an almost comedic race which is won by John who arrives first but doesn’t enter the tomb. He peeks into it from outside but Peter charges right in and sees things as Mary had said, described to us in vivid detail.

John joins him in the tomb and then they leave and go back home becaue they still haven’t put two and two together about this whole resurrection business.

The story doesn’t end there, however. The camera now pans around to the garden surrounding the tomb and to Mary who has been taking all this in and weeping. She bends to peek into the tomb and now there are the two men from Luke’s version of the story. But instead of lecturing her, they ask her one, simple question. “Why are you weeping?”

Assuming that this is more than a rhetorical question she answers simply and honestly. Someone has taken the body of her Lord and she doesn’t know where they have put it.

Almost before she can finish this sentence, however, she senses a presence near her and she turns to see another man. It’s Jesus but, for some reason, she doesn’t recognize him.

He asks her the same question that the two men in the tomb asked her: “Why are you weeping?”

She takes him to be the gardener and says that, if he has taken away the body of Jesus she would appreciate it if he told her where it was so she could get it and remove it to a safe place.

Jesus reveals himself to her by simply saying her name: “Mary.”

Now she recognizes him and, no doubt, desires to embrace him, to give him a hug, to fall into his arms. (Might not an entire sermon be preached about the emotion that saturates this encounter? Surprise. Doubt. Acceptance. Relief. Joy. Love.)

He stops her, however, saying that she should not “hold onto me” because he is “ascending to the Father.” (Again, fodder for sermonizing in the phrase “Do not hold onto me.” What is meant by “hold onto?” Grasp? Touch? Embrace? Cling to? And what relation does this have to his ascendancy?)

Whatever is meant by this, he instructs her to go to the disciples and tell them what has happened and what he has said, which she does.

(Isaiah and Acts texts will be discussed briefly in the “In the Pulpit” section, below.)

In the News
When we hear about the disciples dismissing the women’s Easter proclamation as “an idle tale,” we might easily substitute the word “hoax.”

It is a word that is, after all, much in the news of late.

In the spring of 2011, six-year-old Timmothy Pritzen disappeared.

His mother, Amy Fry-Pitzen, took him out of an elementary school in Aurora, Illinois, and drove him to Wisconsin, where they were last seen together at a water park.

Ms. Fry-Pitzen’s body was found soon after in a motel room in Rockford, Illinois, after an apparent suicide. She left a note saying that her son was now in safe hands with someone who loved him and that “You will never find him.”

A massive, years long search, wide distribution of posters showing Timmothy’s photo, and urgent pleas from his father and other relatives failed to locate Timmothy.        

Then, last week, seven years after he disappeared, a disheveled, bruised young man stumbled up to some strangers in Newport, Kentucky, told them he was Timmothy Pritzen and asked them for help. He related a story of how he had been abducted and sexually abused for all those years and how he had escaped in Cincinnati and walked across the bridge to Newport.

The local news media went into breathless hyperdrive, abandoning all news but this story. Half-hour long special broadcasts re-told the original story and reporters interviewed family members in Illinois who related their hope that this really was Timmothy.

It didn’t take long, however, to discover that he wasn’t Timmothy at all. For one, he was too old to be Timmothy who would be only about 14 years old, now. Also, he refused to give his fingerprints. His ear lobes were attached where Timmothy’s were detached, a hereditary detail that does not change over time.

Finally, the FBI managed to get a sample of his DNA and have it tested and compared to Timmothy’s.

He was, in fact, Brian Rini, a mentally ill, 23-year-old man who, like many mentally ill people in the United States, had been in and out of jail and prison since he was a teenager. Now he has been arrested again, this time for lying to the FBI and other crimes that will probably send him back to prison.

The local news media, who couldn’t get enough of the story and gobbled it up uncritically when it first broke, are now all too eager to vilify the 23-year-old for perpetrating this “cruel hoax” on the family of Timmothy, who is yet to be found.1

Unlike Brian Rini, Jussie Smollett is, as far as we know, perfectly sane.

He’s just, according to the Chicago police, greedy.

Smollett, you may recall, is the gay, African American actor who said that he was attacked by two white men outside a Subway restaurant as he was walking home, alone, after dark. According to his story, they beat him, poured a caustic chemical (later determined to be household bleach) on him, and tied a noose around his neck, all the time shouting racist and homophobic insults and phrases associated with the Donald Trump for President campaign.

It didn’t take police long to figure out that this story was just too perfect to be true. It was, they say, a hoax, arranged, orchestrated, directed and perpetrated by Smollett himself.

The two men he hired to help him with the fake attack had been captured on a security camera, as they relaxed on a sidewalk bench prior to the alleged attack. When picked up for questioning they immediately gave up Smollett and allowed that he had paid them with a check, which they produced as evidence.

Even though he was charged with several crimes including making a false report to police, the prosecuting attorney later dismissed all charges saying that Smollett had suffered enough for his misdeeds. The Chicago police department disagrees and wants Smollett to pay for the expenses of investigating his claims of being abducted and attacked.

Things are currently in litigation.2

Other alleged hoaxes aren’t quite so obvious.

The President of the United States is convinced that the entire subject of global climate change is a hoax being perpetrated “by the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

In tweets dated September 6, 2012; December 6, 2013; January 25, 2014; and January 29, 2014 he uses the word “hoax” to describe the concept of global warming.

In the January 29 tweet he uses even more colorful language including, uh, B.S. and “nonsense.”3

The President also claims that the entire Mueller investigation of Russian interference in the American election process is a hoax being perpetrated on the American public by the Democratic party in a coup attempt to discredit him, gain power, and overthrow the government.4

So how do we tell a real hoax from a fake one? How do we know if these stories in the news and in our Bible and Sunday school curriculum are true accounts or “idle tales?”

Today’s readings would point us toward experience as a reliable rule for measuring truth.

In the Pulpit
Why are you weeping?

The question is repeated twice and we know, from study and experience, that when anything is repeated in scripture, especially in the gospels, it bears closer examination than we might otherwise have given it.

So, why are you weeping?

I have a colleague who says that the Easter morning worship service should always begin with weeping, just before dawn, in utter darkness. It should begin as a somber, even a sad occasion. Jesus, remember, has been killed, tortured to death and those who love him have been prevented, by tradition, from lovingly preparing his body for burial.

Why are you weeping? Indeed, why wouldn’t you be weeping at such a time as this?

And if all that wasn’t bad enough, now we discover that the body of our beloved friend and teacher has been stolen from his grave. Dear God, is there no indignity that this wonderful man, your son, must not endure?

Please, for mercy’s sake, let it end. For him. For us. Let us anoint his body and lay him to his rest.

No wonder skeptics claim that the resurrection of Jesus is a hoax. The only logical explanation for it, they say, is that it is an “idle tale,” a fable, or (with apologies to Joseph Campbell) a myth.

The debate over this topic creates fodder for fiction and non-fiction alike.

Josh McDowell, taking a “legal” track, talks of evidence in his book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World. It leaves one to wonder, if everything can be proven with hard evidence, what impact does that have on the concept of faith?

In Pagan Resurrection Myths and the Resurrection of Jesus: A Christian Perspective, Leon R. McKenzie compares the Biblical narratives to other resurrection stories to show that the accounts of the resurrection of our Lord are significantly different than the accounts of the resurrections of their lords.           
In Resurrection Reconsidered: Thomas and John in Controversy, Gregory Riley suggests that we consider how some early Christians believed not in a physical resurrection of Jesus but a “spiritual” one.

And in The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened In the Years Immediately After the Execution of Jesus, John Dominic Crossan combines history, theology, and anthropology to formulate serious but respectful questions about the resurrection, reminding us “that the dead could return and interact with the living was a commonplace of the Greco-Roman world, and neither pagans nor Jews would have asserted that it could not happen.” He also reminds us that such belief is far from rare in the modern, scientific 21st century as well.

Fiction floats on questions about the resurrection as well. No lesser best-selling authors than Robert Ludlum and Dan Brown have profited with fanciful plots that question the historic authenticity of the resurrection.

So, how do we, the Christian faithful, hold to the resurrection when it is being assailed on every side as a mistake at best or a fabrication at worst? Do we simply stand by the grave and weep?

We Methodists have a long tradition that we call the Wesley quadrilateral: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. We could do worse than to bring these four to bear on the question of the resurrection. Peter doesn’t need all four, however. One will do nicely, thank you. Let’s look at the texts.

How does Peter test the assertion that Jesus has risen from the grave? He goes and looks for himself. He tests the assertion by experience.

In Luke, he goes by himself. In John he goes with “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” but in each case he goes. He does not sit in his living room or in the local coffee shop and debate the resurrection as a matter of intellectual inquiry, he goes to experience it himself to see if it is real or fake.

In Acts, Luke speaks of witnesses who actually saw the risen Christ and ate and drank with him. They don’t sit around the dinner table and reminisce about their time together with him, they experience him in the here and now, in the breaking of bread.

In John’s gospel Peter and John see the evidence in the tomb and leave but Mary actually hangs around and sees not just the stuff that was left after the resurrection but the resurrected himself. She sees Jesus and talks with him and, had he not stopped her, she would have embraced him.

In the modern church we are not content to speak of Jesus’ resurrection in the past tense. We do not say, “Praise the Lord, Christ was risen,” do we? No, we say, “Praise the Lord, Christ is risen.” It is not simply an historic event. It is a contemporary, existential reality.

The resurrection of Christ is something we can experience right now. We can know it, and feel it, and, yes, we can live it in our own lives.

When we see the “wolf” and the “lamb” feeding together, when we watch the “lion” eating “straw” like the “ox,” when we experience the “serpent” being “cast out with nothing to eat but dust,” then we will know that Christ is risen.

Read the Isaiah passage for this morning. Resurrection is happening all around us. God is creating new heavens and new earth. The old things are being forgotten even as we speak; they hardly even come to mind. Be glad and rejoice forever in what our God is creating!

Stop weeping! Strike up the band! It’s time to dance in the streets to a rousing version of “When the Saints go Marching In,” because Christ was risen, Christ is risen, and Christ will ever be risen.

This is the word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

1 Monica Davey, "Timmothy Pitzen Hoax: Man Charged With Claiming to Be Missing Boy," The New York Times, April 5, 2019.

2 Philip Bump, "The debunking of Jussie Smollett has gotten more attention than his initial allegation," The Washington Post, February 21, 2019,

3 David Emery, "Did Donald Trump Claim Global Warming Is a Hoax?" Snopes.com, September 28, 2016.

4 Adam Shaw"Trump calls Russia probe ‘a big hoax,’ says Dems have ‘done a lousy job’" Fox News April 6, 2019.

Mary AustinBlack Holes and Empty Tombs
by Mary Austin
John 20:1-18

A picture of a black hole? I wasn’t enough of a science geek to get engrossed in this dramatic development…until everyone else started getting excited. All of a sudden, the stories about finally (finally! who knew we had been waiting?) being able to photograph a black hole filled up my imagination. I didn’t know enough to get excited, until I caught the excitement from other people.

Then I couldn’t get enough of the news about the photo of the place where light goes in and never comes out. The energy of this accomplishment was contagious.

In the same way, we can imagine that the emotion the women bring back, after they visit the empty tomb, bubbles up and becomes contagious. The disciples start out thinking this is complete crap, when they hear what the women have to say. But something trickles in, at least for Peter, who runs — not walks — to the tomb. Something in their story catches hold in his imagination, and urges him to get there as fast as he can.  

Evoking the news brought by the woman at the tomb, MIT graduate Katie Bouman became the face of the project to photograph the black hole. Delightfully, she seemed just as thrilled about the images of the black hole as everyone else. A computer algorithm to enable pictures of the black hole was part of her PhD project at MIT, and she contributed to the computer work on the project. In 2016, Bouman gave a TED talk on how to take a picture of a black hole, and said, “getting this first picture will come down to an international team of scientists, an Earth-sized telescope and an algorithm that puts together the final picture."

As with the resurrection news getting to the disciples, this was the work of a whole group of people. “The project, led by Shep Doeleman, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, was the work of more than 200 researchers. About 40 of them were women, according to Harvard’s Black Hole Initiative. “There are women involved in every single step of this amazing project,” said Sara Issaoun, 24, a graduate student at Radboud University in the Netherlands who worked on the research. “As a woman in STEM myself, it’s good to have role models out there who young girls and young boys can look up to.”

But Ms. Issaoun warned against a “lone-wolf success” narrative. “The diversity and group effort and the breadth of our collaboration, I think, is worth celebration,” she said. To capture the image of a black hole — a mysterious phenomenon long thought to be unseeable — the scientists used eight radio observatories across the globe to observe the galaxy on and off for 10 days in April 2017. Then they embarked on the painstaking effort to process enormous amounts of data and map it into an image.” Like our Christian faith, this was the work of many people together.

In an opinion piece, columnist Eugene Robinson posited that seeing the photo of the black hole gives us a glimpse of eternity. “Let’s take a moment to marvel at how weird and wondrous the universe turns out to be,” he writes. “Black holes, which are not rare — one lurks at the center of our own galaxy, the Milky Way — can be thought of as portals that lead to some other realm that lies forever beyond our reach. They are places where space and time as we know them cease to exist, where the familiar parameters that define our reality lose all meaning. To see such an object is to gaze into the ultimate abyss. Dumbstruck awe is the only reasonable response.”  

The original resurrection, for us, is un-seeable, but when we look at the empty tomb, we also see a portal to another realm. This one is not out of our reach. We expect to be there one day, reunited with the Jesus who has gone before us. And dumbstruck awe is the proper response here, too!

If we’re slow to take in the awe of the empty tomb, we can catch the excitement from each other.  When our faith wanes, and our prayers are short and dry, we can gather our faith again from the people around us. When we stand at the empty tomb, and don’t quite realize what we’re seeing yet, the people around us show us that this is no idle tale. We have caught our faith from the people who passed it on to us, and we can keep catching it from each other, and passing it on in a long, Spirit-filled collaboration.

Eugene Robinson asks, “How is it even possible to take a picture of a black hole against the inky blackness of space? How do you capture an image of nothing?” We wonder the same about the empty tomb — how can we see what’s not there? We see the resurrection in each other, and in the Jesus who lives in each of us.


Tom WilladsenFrom team member Tom Willadsen:

Luke 24:11
The only place that the word “ληρος“ (laros, in English) appears in the Bible is Luke 24:11. Laros is what the apostles called the news that the Marys and Joanna shared with them. The NRSV renders this term, “an idle tale,” but a stronger term may be in order, perhaps something like “complete nonsense,” or even “bull****.” The apostles were broken men. They greeted the best possible news with complete hostility.

* * *

Acts 10:34-43
Peter is speaking to Gentiles in Joppa — this is a huge break from what the followers of The Way had done up until this point. Peter now understands that the Good News of Jesus Christ is not exclusive in any way. Peter says that he has been called by God to preach…and to testify. Is there a difference? Is the difference significant on Easter, when worship attendance will be at its highest all year?

In America there is an immediate, strong reaction whenever someone refers to others as “you people.” “Those people” gets an even stronger reaction. In a society where many members of the racial majority are feeling under attack, referring to “those people” is a sort of spoken defensive statement, an oral circling of the wagons.

Peter was shocked by and resistant to the idea that the grace of Christ was available to “those people.” Arno Michaelis was a violent Skinhead, lead singer of the band Centurion and filled with hate and fear before he got out of the white nationalist movement. Now he leads The Forgiveness Project with Pardeep Kaleka.

Kaleka’s father was a Sikh priest who was killed in a mass shooting at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin in August 2012.

Kaleka and Michaelis wrote a book together The Gift of Our Wounds. They identify each other as “brother” and together reach out to communities where the trauma of hate can be expressed and eased.

The deep personal connection they have forged and the forgiveness they are able to extend and receive are truly inspiring. By identifying a common humanity in one another they have found ways to tell stories of their journeys to peace on the other side of catastrophe.

* * *

John 20:7
The linen cloth rolled up
This seems like an extraneous detail, “and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.” What’s up with that? Just this. When the lord of a house rose from the eating table he would either leave his napkin wadded up at his place or fold it. A wadded napkin indicated that he would not be coming back to the table. It was an unspoken “check please” to his servant. If the Lord folded his napkin it indicated that he would return. Since this table custom is not ours we miss this subtle point. Peter knew the significance of a folded napkin, as did John’s original readers. And perhaps the folded cloth was the sign that “the one whom Jesus loved,” saw and believed.

What would be a modern sign that we’re going to return? Perhaps leaving a message on our office voice mail, or having our email automatically respond with a message about when we will return to our office at full strength?  

* * *

John 20:1-18
I’ve never understood why Peter and the other disciple did not see the angels that Mary Magdalene saw when she looked into the tomb. Note that Mary, who arrived first, is the one who stayed in the garden. Where did the angels go after they asked her why she was weeping?

Note also that Mary turns around twice. First she turned around, presumably away from the tomb where the angels she’d been speaking with were. She saw Jesus, but did not recognize him. Maybe it wasn’t fully light yet. Certainly  she wasn’t expecting to see Jesus there. She was holding tightly to the idea that “they” had taken the body away. She was all set to take care of the body as soon as the Sabbath had ended and there was enough light to see what she was doing. Mary turns a second time when Jesus called her by name.

Consider the lyrics of “Simple Gifts,” by Carol Tornquist as recorded by Judy Collins:

'Tis the gift to be simple
'Tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be
And when we find ourselves in the place just right
It will be in the valley of love and delight

When true simplicity is gained
To bow and to bend, we will not be ashamed
To turn, turn, will be our delight
'Til by turning, turning, we come round right

It took Mary a couple turns, but she truly was the first Christian to “come round right.”

There are also echoes of Jesus’ call to be the servant of all in those lyrics.

* * *

John 20:1-18
Let’s return to the linen cloth that Jesus left in the tomb where his head had been, maybe Jesus just had a neat room as a child. Congregations I have served have had very particular ideas for how the Lord’s Supper should be served. The way they array themselves around the sanctuary for the speedy and efficient distribution of the bread and wine reminds me of complicated football plays: “OK, Don, if I notice you’re open by the seventh pew, watch for a pass. If Don’s not open, Sally, you’re my secondary receiver, run a fly pattern to the narthex and I’ll hit you deep.”

One matter about celebrating the sacrament that was drilled in to me in my Baptism and Eucharist class was that the presider is the host at a feast. Of course, she is only standing in for Jesus, the real host of the feast. If we take that notion of a feast seriously — we always say, “This is the joyous feast of the people of God” — that affects what we do throughout the liturgy.

For example, the feast that may be most familiar to us in the United States is Thanksgiving. In my family it never mattered whether the mashed potatoes were next to the cranberry sauce. Everything was going to be passed around the table anyway. “Marge, which way are we going this year, clockwise or counterclockwise?” Since everyone would eventually have access to every food, the placement of the dishes did not matter. Contrast this with the fussy attention given to the way the trays of cups and bread are placed on the communion table. And if the presider is left-handed, well, that changes everything, because the handle for the pitcher of wine needs to be stage left!

One thing we never did was start doing the dishes while people are still eating. The dishes could wait. We even sort of enjoyed doing the dishes together, but we did them together, not when guests were still enjoying the feast, that would be rude. It would be like saying, “Well, look at the time! Marge, why don’t we head up to bed so these could people can go home?”

Given this mindset by my seminary education, I never put the lids back on the trays of cups, or re-covered the bread with a napkin. The guests were still here! There will be time enough to take care of everything after worship.

This approach will drive some of your members crazy. Ask them how they handle the dirty dishes when they host a feast in their home.

* * *

Acts 10:34-43
A lot has happened since Maundy Thursday. Peter has denied Jesus three times. He recognizes that he has failed his lord. Yet look at him in the reading from Acts. He’s been restored. He gave the first sermon in Christian history back in Acts 2 and here he is speaking on behalf of eye witnesses to the resurrection, confirming the fact of the resurrection, spreading the Good News. Who else has made a huge comeback?

Every year since 2005, Major League baseball names The Comeback Player of the Year in each league. Originally the award was sponsored by Viagra and Major League Baseball. The overhelming majority of the winners have returned following serious injuries. Some have been out of the game for more than a year. None has returned to his prior form for much more than a season or two. Contrast their comebacks to Peter’s. Or better yet, Jesus’.

* * *

Isaiah 65:17-25
This text sounds like it could be in Revelation. Suffering and tears will be no more, the Lord will hear our prayers before we speak them…The old curse of building a house or vineyard and having someone else inhabit it will be gone.

Lift these promises up and point out that they are foretold in what we call The Old Testament.

When have you worked for something and seen someone else benefit from it?

* * * * * * * * *

Ron LoveFrom team member Ron Love:

The novel Johnny Got His Gun, was written by Dalton Trumbo and was published in 1938. The book has a very strong pacifist message. It is a modified stream-of-consciousness narrative occurring in the mind of a soldier, Joe Bonham, whose arms, legs, ears, eyes, nose, and mouth have been blown away in a bomb blast during World War I. He is no more than a brain that thinks. He has a desire to commit suicide, but he is unable to do so. He can’t even hold his breath until he dies, since he breathes through a tube.           

As the book progresses, Bonham begins to consider himself dead, with the mind of a living man. In order to combat this isolation, he desperately tries to communicate to those who are “outside.” Remembering the Morse code he learned as a teenager, using his head he begins to tap his pillow with dots and dashes. He never stops repeating S.O.S. But no one understands. This tapping continued undetected for years. Then, over the Christmas holiday, he gets a substitute night nurse who does understand that he is communicating.

Bohham hears her quickly leave the room, and he begins to imagine her running up and down the hospital corridors sharing her revelation, as Trumbo writes:

He could hear her voice as she told them that up in a little room away from the rest of the hospital a lid had been lifted from a coffin, a stone had been rolled away from a tomb and a dead man was tapping and talking. Never before in the world had the dead spoken since Lazarus and Lazarus didn’t say anything.

* * *

On the first day of every week the first century church celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. In Acts 20:7 we read, “On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread…” For these Christians every Sunday was a “little Easter.”

* * *

The third-century liturgical document The Apostolic Tradition provides for us the best description of how the early church celebrated Easter. There was a period of fasting from Friday through Saturday. Then an all-night vigil began on Saturday evening, symbolizing the symbolic movement of darkness to light. At dawn new converts were baptized, anointed with oil, and received their first Communion with the Christian community. An inscription from this time period on a Lateran baptistery expresses the mood of this celebration:

Sinner, sink beneath this sacred surf that swallows age and spits up youth. Sinner, they know no enmity who are by one font, one Spirit, one faith made one. Sinner, shudder not at sin’s kind and number, for those born here are holy.

* * *

In the fourth century the Easter celebration was expanded to include the “Great Fifty Days” of rejoicing. These were the fifty days between Easter Day and Pentecost. Augustine was the bishop of Hippo. He was a doctor of the church, which means a teacher of the church. The Latin church had four doctors besides Augustine, who were Ambrose, Gregory the Great, and Jerome. Regarding the “Great Fifty Days” Augustine wrote, “there is no fasting and we pray standing, which is a sign of resurrection.”

* * *

By the fifth century fasting during Lent became a Christian ritual. Then, on Easter Day, the fast was broken. Christians were not permitted to eat food that came from flesh or the product of flesh, such as milk, cheese and eggs. This ritual continued for several centuries. Thomas Aquinas (1225-74), an Italian Dominican theologian whose best-known work is the Summa Theologiae, wrote why eggs, milk and meat were forbidden during Lent:

Eggs and milk foods are forbidden to those who fast, for as much as they originate from animals that provide us with flesh … Again the Lenten fast is the most solemn of all, both because it is kept in imitation of Christ, and because it disposes us to celebrate devoutly the mysteries of our redemption. For this reason the eating of flesh meat is forbidden in every fast, while the Lenten fast lays a general prohibition even on eggs and milk foods.

In a society absent of refrigeration, eggs were the one food that could be preserved during Lent, and thus enjoyed on Easter Day. This is possibly the origin of celebrating Easter with Easter eggs.

* * *

John Chrysostom (349-407) was the archbishop of Constantinople at the Church of Holy Wisdom, also known as Hagia Sophia. To this day, his Easter sermon is read each Easter at all Orthodox churches around the world. The sermon is consists of one-line questions followed by one-line answers. He begins with a series of questions if you were saved in the “first hour” he preaches “let them receive their due reward.” The sermon follows each hour coming to the “eleventh hour, let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.” The entire sermon becomes one of reassurance. He ends his sermon with these words:

O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?
Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
For Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

* * *

Carl Ferdinand Walther was one of the founders of the Missouri Synod of Lutherans. When his health failed, he had to sail back to Germany. On board ship, on Easter Day, April 8, 1860, he wrote an Easter hymn. Part of the hymn reads:

The Foe was triumphant when on Calvary
The Lord of creation was nailed to the tree,
In Satan’s domain did the hosts shout and jeer,
For Jesus was slain, whom the evil ones fear.

But short was their triumph, the Savior arose,
And death, hell, and Satan He vanquished, His foes;
The conquering Lord lifts His banner on high.
He lives, yea, He lives, and will nevermore die.

* * *

Probably the most popular hymn on Easter Sunday is Charles Wesley’s Christ the Lord is Risen Today. Charles, along with his brother John, are the founders of Methodism. The original title of the hymn is Hymn for Easter Day, and it was written in 1739. It was written for the inaugural service at the Foundry Meeting House, which was London’s first Wesleyan chapel. The hymn was composed one year after Charles’ conversion experience. The original composition did not include the hymn’s most distinctive characteristic, the “Alleluia!” that ends each line. An unknown editor added the alleluias later. Alleluia means “Praise the Lord.” The hymn now has twenty-four alleluias.

* * *

Jeremiah Denton, a Navy pilot who was held captive in the Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War, understood the need for the comforting presence of God as he endured a hell administered by his heartless guards. To endure he wrote poetry, memorized it, and then recited it to other pilots, who in turn memorized the lines. These captive pilots would then share the poem with other prisoners.

For the celebration of Easter in 1969, he wrote a poem titled La Pieta. La Pieta is any poem or statue or similar piece of artistic expression that depicts the crucified Jesus lying on the lap of his mother, embraced in her arms. Once the poem became a part of the camp’s vernacular, Denton was designated as the president of the Optimist Club.

The soldiers stare, then drift away,
Young John finds nothing to say,
The veil is rent; the deed is done;
And Mary holds her only son.
His limbs grow stiff, the night grows cold,
But naught can lose that mother’s hold,
Her gentle, anguished eyes seem blind,
Who knows what thoughts run through her mind?
Perhaps she thinks of last week’s palms,
With cheering thousands off’ring alms
Or dreams of Cana on the day
She nagged him till she got her way.
Her face shows grief but not despair,
Her head though bowed has faith to spare,
For even now she could suppose
His thorns might somehow yield a rose.
Her life with Him was full of signs
That God writes straight with crooked lines.
Dark clouds can bide the rising sun,
And all seem lost, when all be won!

* * *

When Marie Osmond was 56, she said she never felt better. With her usually happy countenance she said, “They say the music industry is a place for 20-year-olds, but I’ve been in the business for five decades, and I can tell you that that’s not true.” Osmond went on to say in 2016, that since her last album she went through a divorce, and then fell in love again with her first husband Steve Craig. Marie said this happened “again after not seeing each other for 25 years.” Marie then went on to say, “After all the life I’ve been through, I knew I had another album in me.”

Marie Osmond went from the sadness of Good Friday to the joy of Easter Sunday.

* * * * * * * * *

Chris KeatingFrom team member Chris Keating:

A Cathedral burns, but resurrection hope remains
In addition to the illustrations included below which reference the tragic burning of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, here are links to various stories that may prove helpful in crafting sermon illustrations based on the fire.
  1. The Washington Post offers a brief history of great cathedrals lost to fire.
  2. Another “Post Perspective” on how Paris will endure.
  3. Hemat Mehta offers a “Friendly Atheist” perspective that the fire is tragic, “no matter what you think about religion.”
  4. Ross Douthat’s opinion piece in the New York Times which looks at the message the fire may inadvertently carry for the world. Douthat, from his conservative view point, worries that a rebuilt cathedral will simply be a “grand exterior concealing an emptiness within.”

* * *

Isaiah 65:17-25
A new thing
The iconic wooden roof of Notre Dame’s cathedral — nicknamed “the forest” because of its spectacular network of interlocking beams — collapsed in flames on Monday in Paris, erupting bursts of grief in Paris and across the world. But as the flames cooled, hopes for the promise of what may come began to arise.

“Perhaps what’s most surprising, though, is it didn’t burn sooner,” writes Matthew Gabriele, a professor of medieval studies at Virginia Tech. “Simply put, medieval structures caught fire almost as a matter of course.” Gabriele details the fiery destruction of many notable cathedrals, but then adds, “tragic fires often led to later triumphs — both artistic and communal.” Gabriele says that when mighty churches crumbled in the Middle Ages, they almost always rose to newer, and even mightier grandeur. In 989, for example, the cathedral of Orleans, a fire broke out and quickly devoured the entire cathedral. Gabriele says:

The towering cathedrals that dot Europe’s landscape are mostly monuments to resilience, testaments to what you could build after fire claimed what had been built before. The radiant stained glass and soaring vaults that we see today were often direct responses to tragedy and disaster. In the end, [those] who witnessed [the fire at Orleans] … looked into the catastrophe and saw a challenge, one they met time and time again with stone and mortar, illuminated by colored glass, that vaulted toward the sky.

Insight: Even the most magic cathedral and building are finite objects subject to destruction. But God promises the creation of something far greater — a new heaven, a new earth, as well as other signs of an astonishing kingdom of peace.

* * *

Psalm 118:17
I shall not die
The struggle on Easter morning is to glimpse the power of resurrection even in the face of death. The same may be true for the French as they watched the fire consume Notre Dame Cathedral. Writing for America Magazine, Zac Davis notes that “now is a time for grieving.”

Notre Dame is a French Catholic treasure that belonged to more than the French and the church. It evokes thoughts of God from the religious and nonreligious alike. Its flying buttresses are a marker of architectural innovation, and its spires and stained glass icons of the Gothic era. And it has borne witness to the joys and tragedies of Paris for over eight centuries, outlasting kings and commanders, wars and revolution.

Davis concludes that despite his understanding that Notre Dame will rise from the ruins, his faith informs him that “the view of Easter Sunday is never murkier than through the haze of Good Friday.”

Insight: The helpful connection for preaching is Psalm 118’s reminder that despite our grief, God’s steadfast love endures forever. That is the view we look for on Easter, and every day, especially when billowing smoke clouds our eyes.

* * *

John 20:1-18
It starts in the dark
Mary is up early in John’s account, long before the sun has risen. While there could be many reasons why this detail is important, Barbara Brown Taylor thinks that it is important to note that resurrection does not happen with bright streaming lights and trumpet blasts, but rather in the darkness of a rough-hewn cave. “If it happened in a cave,” she writes in her book Learning to Walk in the Dark, it happened in complete silence, in absolute darkness, with the smell of damp stone and dug earth in the air. Sitting deep in the heart of Organ Cave, I let this sink in: new life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starks in the dark.” (p. 129)

Insight: Taylor’s point provides additional insight into Mary’s gradual coming to awareness of Jesus’ resurrection. It didn’t happen on stage and in bright lights, but rather much like the chrysalis of a butterfly, in dark and in secret. “When I entered the cave hoping for a glimpse of celestial brightness,” she writes, “it never occurred to me that it might be so small. But here it is, not much bigger than a mustard seed — In everything I need to remember how much my set ideas get in my way.” (Ibid., p. 131).

* * *

John 20:1-18
They did not yet understand

The account of Jesus’ resurrection in the Gospel of John could possibly be subtitled, “Breathless in Jerusalem.” There seem to be as many people running in John 20 as you might find in a local park on Sunday morning. Mary Magdalene finds the open tomb and then sprints to tell Peter and John, who both begin racing to see what has happened. They are not certain what to think, as John says, “for as yet they did not understand.”

Something similar happened Monday when the first fire alarms were sounded at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Mass was being celebrated, and most who heard the alarm were not sure what to do. As visitors were being ushered out of the cathedral, a police officer approached a priest and said, “This is no joke; you’ve got to get out.” Within minutes, the entire cathedral was engulfed in flames.

Insight: Just as Parisians attending mass in Notre Dame were caught off guard by the sounds of fire alarms, Mary, Peter and John were caught off guard by the news the angel’s had shared. Both situations illustrate a typical response of not completely understanding what was happening.

* * *

John 20:1-18
Why are you weeping?
The angel’s questions to Mary almost seem off-putting. “Woman, why are you weeping?” the angels say to her, seemingly oblivious to the obvious fact that their encounter was, after all, taking place in a graveyard. Mary is confused and grieving, just like many of those who gathered outside of Notre Dame on Monday to sing, watch, and pray. Grief is a natural response, as former President Barack Obama tweeted. Calling the cathedral one of the world’s great treasures, Obama said,”It’s in our nature to mourn when we see history lost — but it’s also in our nature to rebuild for tomorrow, as strong as we can.”

Insight: Why do we weep? Tears are the body’s natural response to grief. Yet for both Mary Magdalene and the people of Paris, the hope of resurrection faith provides an invitation to “rebuild for tomorrow, as strong as we can.”

by George Reed

Call to Worship:
Leader: O give thanks to God who is good.
People: God’s steadfast love endures forever!
Leader: God is our strength and our might.
People: God has become our salvation.
Leader: This day God has acted!
People: We will rejoice and be glad!


Leader: Alleluia! Christ is risen!
People: Christ is risen indeed!     
Leader: We cannot hide him with bunnies and chicks.
People: He comes and works among us.       
Leader: In all the ways life triumphs over death, he rises!
People: Christ is risen indeed!

Hymns and Songs:
Christ the Lord Is Risen Today
UMH: 302
H82: 188/189
PH: 113
AAHH: 282
NNBH: 121
NCH: 233
LBW: 130
ELW: 369/373
W&P: 288
AMEC: 156
STLT: 268

The Day of Resurrection
UMH: 303
H82: 210
PH: 118
NNBH: 124
NCH: 245
CH: 228
LBW: 141
ELW: 361
W&P: 298
AMEC: 159/160

The Strife Is O’er, the Battle Done
UMH: 306
PH: 119
AAHH: 277
NCH: 242
CH: 221
LBW: 135
W&P: 290
AMEC: 162

Thine Be the Glory
UMH: 308
PH: 122
NCH: 253
CH: 218
LBW: 145
ELW: 376
W&P: 310
AMEC: 157

In the Garden (I Come to the Garden Alone)
UMH: 314
AAHH: 494
NNBH: 116
NCH: 237
CH: 227
W&P: 300
AMEC: 452

Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain
UMH: 315
H82: 199/200
PH: 114/115
NCH: 230
CH: 215
LBW: 132
ELW: 363

Christ Is Alive
UMH: 318
H82: 182
PH: 108
LBW: 363
ELW: 389
W&P: 312
Renew: 300

O Sons and Daughters, Let Us Sing
UMH: 317
PH: 116/117
NCH: 244
CH: 220
ELW: 386/387
W&P: 313

Surely the Presence of the Lord
CCB: 1
Renew: 167

CCB: 45
Renew: 136

Music Resources Key:
UMH: United Methodist Hymnal
H82: The Hymnal 1982
PH: Presbyterian Hymnal
AAHH: African American Heritage Hymnal
NNBH: The New National Baptist Hymnal
NCH: The New Century Hymnal
CH: Chalice Hymnal
LBW: Lutheran Book of Worship
ELW: Evangelical Lutheran Worship
W&P: Worship & Praise
AMEC: African Methodist Episcopal Church Hymnal
STLT: Singing the Living Tradition
CCB: Cokesbury Chorus Book
Renew: Renew! Songs & Hymns for Blended Worship

Prayer for the Day/Collect
O God who is life that is eternal:
Grant us the faith to see you bringing new to life to eath
so that we may behold the face of the Christ;
through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.


We praise you, O God, because you are life that never ends. We celebrate the eternal life your bring us. Help our unbelief that we may perceive the life you are bringing among us so that we may see the face of Jesus. Amen.

Prayer of Confession
Leader: Let us confess to God and before one another our sins and especially our disbelief in the spiritual and the eternal.

People: We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. We are so caught up in the scientific and the western view of life that we forget about the spiritual. We proclaim what is physical as real and what is spiritual as ‘other worldly’. We have sold our souls for what is fleeting and unsubstantial. Help us to hear once again the joyous refrain of Easter.  Renew our faith and open our hearts to your living presence among us. Amen.

Leader: Christ is alive. God is still at work among us. Receive God’s loving grace and share God’s life with others.

Prayers of the People
Praise and glory are yours, O God, because you are the true life that is holy and eternal. In you there is no darkness and no death.

(The following paragraph may be used if a separate prayer of confession has not been used.)

We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. We are so caught up in the scientific and the western view of life that we forget about the spiritual. We proclaim what is physical as real and what is spiritual as ‘other worldly’. We have sold our souls for what is fleeting and unsubstantial. Help us to hear once again the joyous refrain of Easter.  Renew our faith and open our hearts to your living presence among us.

We thank you for your presence among us as you bring new life. Out of the broken you bring wholeness and healing. Out of death you bring new life.

(Other thanksgivings may be offered.)

We pray for those who find themselves lost and without hope. We pray for those who see only death and destruction around them. Help them and us to perceive your new life giving Spirit at work among us.

(Other intercessions may be offered.)

All these things we ask in the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ who taught us to pray together saying:

Our Father....Amen.

(Or if the Our Father is not used at this point in the service.)

All this we ask in the Name of the Blessed and Holy Trinity. Amen.

Children’s Sermon Starter
Talk to the children about the symbols of Easter, even the eggs, bunnies and chicks as being signs of life. New life that God makes known to us.

Bethany PeerbolteCHILDREN'S SERMON
How the Cross Absorbed Our Sins
by Bethany Peerbolte

Children will see how the cross absorbed our sins. This lesson can be replicated at home too! Consider making a few cut outs of paper towel crosses to send home so the kids can do it too. This object lesson is mostly about the visual. The words can be tweaked to fit your context.

Materials needed:
Plate/bowl (clear will help kids see the action better)
Colored water ~1 oz (the darker the water color the better)
Dropper/small cup
Piece of paper towel cut into the shape of a cross (the bigger the better, and make sure it is the good absorbent stuff not the cheap brands)

You may find it easier to do this on a table. That will also help others in the congregation see the action as well. Once kids are gathered around you, say something like:

Happy Easter everyone! It is wonderful to have you up here with me because I have something really amazing to show you. (Pull out a piece of paper towel *not the cross yet*) Who knows what this is? You are right it’s plain old paper towel. Who likes cleaning up a messy room? What if you didn’t make the mess, do you like to clean it up then? I brought this because Easter can get messy. Easter is the day we celebrate Jesus saving us from our sins. 

(Put out the bowl.) You see the world was once perfectly clean like this bowl. There was no sin in it. Then the first humans made a choice God had told them not to, and sin came into the world. (Put a few drops of the colored water in the bowl.) Sin is all the words, all the actions, all the thoughts that aren’t loving. Jesus said when we hate someone even if we just think it in our head, it is a sin. (Add a few drops of colored water.) Jesus said when we lie, or don’t listen to our parents, or don’t help someone in need, we sin. (Add more colored water.) 

Jesus saw the mess sin was making in the world and wanted to help us. Jesus went to the cross (pull out cross paper towel) to absorb all the sin that was in the world, and all the sin that would be in the world. Jesus did not make the mess, but he chose to clean it up for us. (Place the bottom edge of the cross in the colored water while holding the cross upright in your hand. The colored water should start to absorb and climb up the cross.) Jesus took our sin away by dying on the cross, and three days after he died, it was the first Easter Sunday. Jesus’ friends went to the graveyard where his body was and found out he was alive! They were the first ones to say He is risen! which we have said a lot today, too. 

Look at all the mess the cross has cleaned up! Let’s say a prayer to thank Jesus for helping us clean up the mess of sin. 

Gracious God, thank you for cleaning our mess. We are excited to celebrate Easter, and the forgiveness you have given us. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The Immediate Word, April 21, 2019 issue.

Copyright 2019 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to The Immediate Word service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons and in worship and classroom settings only. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.
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