Do You Believe It?
Easter Sunday, April 4, 2021
Pastor Mark Aune
Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace. Amen
I do not know what it is like for you but for me, Easter feels different this year. It feels like I have a new sense of clarity of my own need for Easter.
I have a deeper awareness of the Easter message and how God’s power is reveled in the empty tomb.
The question for today is do you believe it?
Do you believe in the resurrection?
I suspect you have had doubts about it. Maybe you had doubts about it this past year, or this past month or even this past week. If you have, you would not be alone.
It is not an easy question to answer because it is a matter of death and life.
The death part of the equation is easy. Death is the loss of something or someone and we have no shortage of that. I do not need to name these things as you already know what they are in the context of your own life and your own family circle.
And yet, this is going to sound strange to some of you when I say this, but I think we have become more aware of the reality of death in our midst and the reality of death in our lives, especially in this past year.
That is not necessarily a bad thing because when we are aware of and experience death and loss, it brings clarity to the power of life, the joy of life, and the value of life that God gives to us. And that is a good thing.
One of the things I like best about the Easter story in Luke 24 is just how aware the women were of death when they go to the tomb early on the morning of the first day of the week. They were honest about the death of Jesus. They had seen it with their own eyes. They felt the loss and pain in their own hearts.
So, on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. At this moment, as they go to the tomb, death is all they believed in because it was all they knew.
But what they also did no know in that moment was believing in the resurrection does not happen until they go into the tomb.
They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6 Remember how he told you.
The tomb is empty. The women see it, then they hear it from the angels, and they believe it.
Do you believe in the resurrection?
Do you believe the tomb was empty on that first Easter morning?
I want to share a story with you this morning. It is about Uncle Harold. Harold is my wife’s uncle. A brother to my wife’s mother. He was a remarkable man. A businessman, a deeply committed follower of Jesus, a man of great integrity and character. I loved Harold.
Harold died in 2019. It was the second time he died. I share his story with you as it is told by Harold’s daughter Kay, a pastor and a chaplain.
My dad had a massive heart attack on February 14, 1984. He called it the day his heart broke. As he was getting ready for work that day, he started to experience chest pain and so 911 was called for him. He was taken to the hospital where they treated him all day and we (the family) were able to be with him that evening.
During the night, his heart arrested, and they needed to use the paddles to bring him back. It was at this point that my dad said that he literally looked down on his body and what the doctors and nurses were doing to him. Then he found himself drawn into a place of warmth and light and peace.
As he was being drawn in, he saw that he was approaching a figure and soon he recognized that he was in Jesus’ presence—fully at peace. They had a conversation, and in that conversation, Jesus asked my dad if he wanted to stay or return to his life on earth.
My father responded to the question by saying that he felt that he wanted to go back so that he could take care of my mom so that, if this happened again, she was in a secure place and would be able to function well without him. And soon he found himself revived in his hospital bed.
(My dad’s dad [my grandpa] had multiple heart attacks and died from heart failure and my father always thought that he would face the same reality and die fairly young.)
Dad went on to share this story only with my mother because he did not want to face anyone who might challenge his experience. Mom told me this story. Then mom and dad bought a townhouse so that if he were to pass away, she would not have to worry about a lawn or snowplowing and he got his will and finances all in order. He also had quintuple bypass surgery in the fall of that year and adopted a strict diet and walked four miles a day. He kept up that routine for many years.
My dad did indeed come back to care for my mom as he lived for more than 35 years beyond his one and only heart attack and he cared for her through more than ten years of her struggle with Alzheimer’s Disease. He died as the result of an accident and not heart disease. But the one thing he would say to anyone over all those years was that he had no fear of death and looked forward to being with the Lord.
I did not hear Harold’s story until the day of his funeral when Kay shared it with me. What strikes me as important in Harold’s experience is what he does after his visit with Jesus.
The resurrected Jesus empowered him to do the work he was called to do and the work he wanted to do. Without any fear of what was to come. Total freedom to care for his wife and make sure all was well with her and that is what he did for another 35 years. Faithfully and diligently.
To believe in the resurrection is to believe that God is calling you to work as well. To care for those closest to you. To care for yourself. To serve your neighbor.
To face each day like it will be your last day on earth and to live in a manner by which you are totally at peace about what will happen to you after you die a physical death.
Imagine the freedom this promise gives you.
The angel at the tomb is speaking to you and me this morning. “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.
Do you believe in the resurrection?
It is a fundamental question that we answer each day of our lives.
We answer the question by the way we live our lives and the manner by which we give our lives away.
Each day we remember his words. We remember the cross. We remember the death. We remember the empty tomb. We remember and believe in the resurrection.
It is not an idle tale.
It is the truth. The truth that sets us free.
For this hope, this promise, this new life in Christ, given to us every day, we say thanks be to God. Amen