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A sermon by Keith Herron, Pastor, Holmeswood Baptist Church, Kansas City, Mo.

Easter Sunday

Luke 24:1-12

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Acts 10:34-43; I Corinthians 15:19-26

Interesting, but the Bible never uses the word “Easter” unless you include Acts 12:4 in the King James Version of the Bible when it gets it wrong and mistranslates the Jewish word for Passover.

Easter is sometimes called, “a moveable feast,” because it is not fixed in history but in the moon and the stars. The Council of Nicaea (325 CE) established the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the full moon following the March equinox, meaning it can fall on any Sunday between March 22 and April 25. This has been an on-going debate since the second century. Even in our own time some have argued for a fixed date (i.e., the second Sunday of April, or the first Sunday after the second Saturday, etc.); but alas, Easter is still guided by the heavens.

But if the Bible doesn’t use the word Easter, neither does it mention “the eighth day.” We have to turn to church history for that. Instead of Sunday or Easter, the early Christians turned to calling this day, “the eighth day,” or as the Revelation of John called it, it was “the Lord’s day.”[1] It had a deep meaning to those early followers of Jesus as they gathered to break the bread and drink the wine and to give thanksgiving. They were convinced God’s creative activity extended beyond the seven-day week, and so the first day, Sunday, was imagined as the eighth day of God’s work.

There was a spirit of expectation that drove the eighth-day thinking that grew out of the post-resurrection appearances of the Lord. These provided not only the proof of the resurrection, but also the lively expectation that the risen Christ would be present with Christians as they gathered.[2]

Dorothy Bass explained the eighth day this way: “Christ’s rising on (the) first day, meant that God was beginning a new creation … the 7-day week could not hold the fullness of (God’s creative) time, and so the first day, which embraced eternity as well as its own 24 hours, spilled over. The first day, therefore, was also the eighth day.”[3]

What would happen in us if we had that kind of expectation, whether real or symbolically? What kind of new spirit would enliven us, giving us energy and imagination if every time we gathered, we imagined Jesus was present while we worshiped?

Admittedly, the story of Jesus’ resurrection is a big story. Maybe the story is too overwhelming for us to believe. Maybe the power behind the story is greater than our small sense of self we hold for ourselves … more power than we can claim.

Tom Long tells the story he heard from one of his friends about the man’s little son who was a great fan of Captain Kangaroo and Mister Rogers. The boy faithfully watched both TV shows and one day it was announced that Mister Rogers would appear on the Captain Kangaroo Show. The boy was ecstatic! Both of his heroes, together on the same show! Every morning the boy would ask, “Is it today that Mister Rogers will be on the Captain Kangaroo Show?”

Finally, the great day arrived, and the whole family joined the little boy to watch. There they were, Mister Rogers and Captain Kangaroo, together on one show. The boy watched for a minute, but then, surprisingly, he got up and wandered from the room.

Puzzled, his father followed him to his room and asked, “What is it son? Is anything wrong?”

“It’s too good,” the boy replied dreamily. “It’s just too good.”[4]

Maybe that’s how it is for all of us. The betrayal, the suffering, dying, the empty tomb, and the news of the resurrection, the news of Jesus’ victory over death is just too good to believe, too much to assimilate all at once.

The great son of Missouri, Reinhold Niebuhr, would attend Easter worship somewhere where there was great music and high liturgy believing that no preacher was up to the task of preaching about Easter or Christmas. The mystery was too lofty for mere words and needed instead exalted music and incense and candles.

No matter what you think about Easter, it doesn’t take much to realize the whole earth is showing signs of an amazing explosion of rebirth. This is what King Solomon described in Song of Solomon when he observed, “Look around you:  Winter is over; the winter rains are over (and) gone! Spring flowers are in blossom all over. The whole world’s a choir – and singing!” (Song of Solomon 2:11-12, The Message).

The move from winter to spring is so startling; I’m tempted to believe that if we could be quiet enough and listened hard enough we might be able to hear the actual sounds of spring bursting open. The woods stripped bare of their leaves last fall are now filled with the hydraulic sap surging with life-giving sustenance for a new growing season. The sap forces the buds out of every fingertip of the tree’s uncountable limbs. Surely that can’t be done without making a racket! The bark is ripped open and the buds squeeze through until they take over every limb seeking the warmth of springtime.

Or how about the jonquils and the lilies that crack open the earth’s mantle preparing for a brilliant springtime show of color and joy? It’s as if the whole earth is redecorated from its drab palette colors of brown and gray and tan until God unleashes a furious array of colors almost overwhelming to the senses.

What we’re seeing is the greening of the creation! Once dormant in death, the earth lives again! That which has gone asleep is now coming alive and regenerated with the power of life. It’s as if God has been telling the story of creation, sin and redemption from the very beginning of creation, bearing witness every morning, every season, across the arc of our lives and across time itself.

Put simply, the resurrection of Jesus is about transformation. It’s both promise and reality. It is about the transformation of creation by the grace and mercy of God. Transformation is possible because of the forgiveness expressed in the Cross.

John Buchanan tells how his wife lost her older brother on the first Sunday of Lent. He had been a father and a husband and an educator and an athlete. He was a grandfather and even a great-grandfather and his death hit her hard. But then her father also died in this same season. She sat by his bedside on the last night, holding his hand and not knowing what to say to him. Buchanan asked her, “What did you do?”

“I ran out of things to say,” she explained, “so I sang all the Easter hymns I could remember, and I whispered, “Easter’s coming, Daddy, Easter’s coming.”

It was Jesus’ deep faith in God who was with him that gave him the resources to face his fears. The fears within him did not reign or rule over him, nor did they reduce him to a victim. Jesus was able to center himself on the will of God and the Providence of God to go forward until the end. Then he lay in death for three days. The followers of Jesus encountered the resurrected Jesus in power and authority. He walked among them and shared himself freely and the reality overwhelmed them with joy and freedom.

And they were no longer afraid. The fear that had dominated them at the crucifixion was now gone. They went into the city and awaited the promise of the Spirit. And on the Day of Pentecost, they preached with abandon the truth that Jesus, who had been publicly crucified as an innocent man, had been raised from the dead.

For many years in the past, an Easter sunrise service was held on the rim of the Grand Canyon. Thousands of believers and near-believers gathered in the darkness to revisit the experience of that wondrous moment when the stone of the tomb was rolled away. A giant boulder was rolled into place along the rim’s edge prior to the service, and at just the right moment it was given a nudge to symbolize the rolling of the stone away from the tomb that held Jesus in death.

That great stone would fly free for the longest time until it crashed loudly down into the canyon, rolling and cascading down the long slope until at last, it came to a rest at the bottom. The sound of the crashing rock was deafening until it stopped but then it echoed off the far wall for several more seconds as the hushed crowd listened and imagined that moment when Jesus was free to emerge from the tomb. For many of us, the boulder announces our own resurrection as well.

The early church came to know the power of this kind of testimony as they understood inexplicable mystery and power of the Eighth Day.

Christ the Lord is risen today.  Alleluia! Alleluia!

[1] Revelation 1:10

[2] David B. Capes, “The Eighth Day,” The Center for Christian Ethics, Baylor University, http://www.baylor.edu/christianethics/index.php?id=15344, 21

[3] Dorothy Bass, Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000, 55, quoted in David B. Capes, “The Eighth Day,” The Center for Christian Ethics, Baylor University, http://www.baylor.edu/christianethics/index.php?id=15344, 17

[4] Thomas G. Long, “Empty Tomb, Empty Talk (Luke 24:1-12),” Christian Century, 4/4/01, 11

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