Relief: “Then They Remembered His Words…”

Pastor Joe Skogmo

St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Lowry, MN

Easter Sunday | 04.21.2019 | Luke 24:1-12

Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber tweeted this out last year:

clergy & church workers, here’s our yearly reminder: Jesus will rise from the dead even if you forgot to print out the right hymns, even if the lilies arrive already wilted, even if the whole choir gets food poisoning. Nothing will keep the stone from rolling away. You are loved.

Nothing will keep the stone from rolling away. You are loved. What a relief. I remember reading that and experiencing immediate freedom. Church isn’t about succeeding or failing, because Jesus has already won!—and there is such freedom and relief in that.

I reflect on this because there is a “relief” moment in the resurrection story today.

For the women in today’s Gospel, it was remembering the promise of the resurrection that gave them powerful relief. In v.1 they were grieving. They were partaking in a bereavement ritual – bringing spices to the tomb. In v. 5 they experienced confusion and terror…but then…in v. 8 something happened. It says, “Then they remembered his words…” They remembered Jesus’ promise that on the third day he would rise again. Encountered by this promise they were changed, they were transformed, and they LEFT the tomb.

Today we, too, remember, and the remembrance of the resurrection promise is our relief: the relief of God’s love and mercy and the relief of God’s power over death – the relief that the anxiety and darkness that can consume our lives will not have the final word, the relief that we face none of these things alone, the relief that these things cannot keep down the love, presence, and power of Christ. NOTHING can.

Jesus rises from the dead no matter how many mistakes you’ve made, no matter whether or not you think you deserve it, no matter how much you fear that you’re not acceptable or worthy. No matter the infidelity, the inconsistency, the incapability, or indifference you display, “Nothing will keep the stone from rolling away. You are loved.” We remember that today.

Because of Christ’s victory, we remember that this life isn’t about what we need to do in order to be worthy of, better for, or accepted by God—it is about what God has already done in Christ Jesus. The resurrection, which does not depend on us, makes it abundantly clear that you and I are accepted and worthy now and forever!—there is no killing that. We remember that today.

Jesus rises from death no matter how insurmountable the things that threaten you seem. No matter the cancer, no matter bankruptcy, no matter the stress, aging, anxiety, hate, evil, illness, dying, or death…“Nothing will keep the stone from rolling away.” All that God stands for—love, mercy, redemption, justice—cannot be killed. You are loved. We remember today.

To be sure, this promise and this celebration of Easter, I know, does not mean life is all of a sudden made easier, or that problems are solved, threats neutralized, illnesses cured, and evil eradicated. The promise of the resurrection doesn’t promise any of that, at least not immediately. Rather, Easter celebration is about acknowledging that life is hard, difficult, brutal, and sometimes dark, but in remembering the power of Jesus’ love and presence we can still be given life in the midst of it all. Easter is about acknowledging the difficulty and trauma of life, and remembering in the midst of it all, “Christ is Risen,” and, therefore, the threat of all life’s difficulty “is not all that it appears to be.”[1] That is transforming.

Upon remembrance of Jesus’ victorious love and the relief that comes with that remembrance, like the women in our story, we can then transcend the power of the tombs in our midst. Clinging to the promise, the difficulties of life can be traversed. They can be lived through with strength and with peace, because we have with us the power of the Risen Christ. That’s how the resurrection not only saves us from death in the end, but it gives us life before death now. By the resurrection we can live life fully, courageously, and at peace.

That is the sequence, by the way, of the picture on the cover of your bulletin: Cross, Empty Tomb, Fish – death, resurrection, new life. Much is symbolized by that fish: sustenance, thriving, freedom, serving, discipleship, joy, identity, purpose.

So here you have it again: sisters and brothers, Jesus—his body, his vision, his love, his mercy—defeated death in the resurrection. Love beats hate. Mercy beats judgment. Peace beats violence. Hope beats fear. Life beats death in the kingdom of God. And I hope that truth encounters each you today and emboldens you and you, like the women in the gospel, can depart from the tombs in your life that loom. I hope that while on whatever crosses you’re hanging that, ultimately, you remember that where there is death, God can create new life.

This is the promise of the resurrection and in remembering it, we can be transformed to live differently.

Live differently in that we stop trying to become something finally, but live freely and boldly because we are something already—we are people of the resurrection.

Live differently in that we stop living in insurmountable fear from the various things that threaten us because in Christ Jesus these things do not define, these things have no ultimate power. We are people of the resurrection.

That’s Easter. Frame your day and your life with that. Like the disciples in today’s account, remember his words, and remember the relief of his victory. Every single day…remember that you are people of the resurrection. Amen.

     [1] Matthew Skinner, “Podcast #287 – Resurrection of Our Lord,” Sermon Brainwave, Workingpreacher.org, http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=395.

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