Opening Prayer: Psalm 16
16 Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
2 I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”
3 As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones,
in whom is all my delight.[b]
4 The sorrows of those who run after[c] another god shall multiply;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names on my lips.
5 The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
6 The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
7 I bless the LORD who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.[d]
8 I have set the LORD always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being[e] rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.[f]
11 You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Opening Hymn: #322 “Up from the Grave He Arose”
Low in the grave he lay,
Jesus my Savior,
waiting the coming day,
Jesus my Lord!
Up from the grave he arose
with a mighty triumph o’er his foes;
he arose a victor from the dark domain,
and he lives forever with his saints to reign.
Hallelujah! Christ arose!
Vainly they watch his bed,
Jesus my Savior,
vainly they seal the dead,
Jesus my Lord!
Death cannot keep its prey,
Jesus my Savior,
he tore the bars away,
Jesus my Lord!
Hymn: # 304 “Easter People”
Easter people, raise your voices,
sounds of heaven and earth should ring.
Christ has brought us heaven’s choices:
heavenly music, let it ring.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Easter people, let us sing.
Fear of death can no more stop us
from our pressing here be low.
For our Lord empowered us to
triumph over every foe.
Alleluia! Alleluia! On to victory now we go.
Every day to us is Easter,
with its resurrection song.
When in trouble move the faster
to our God who rights the wrong.
Alleluia! Alleluia! See the power of heavenly throngs.
Mark 16:1-8 English Standard Version (ESV)
16 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. 6 And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
(Pray) May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my mind be pleasing to you, O’ Lord. Amen.
Something is in the way. Something is always in the way. There is a barrier which separates us from all of the things which are good and life sustaining. This barrier is not created by God. God is not trying to keep us from all that would make us truly happy and joyful. The barrier is sin. Sin is our willful, rebellious; defiant thoughts and actions which separate us from all that might do us good. When our chief focus is me, me, me, instead of love of God and love of our fellow human beings we miss the mark. That is the definition of sin; in Greek, hamartia, to miss the mark. Sin keeps us from all that is good. Sin keeps us from a loving relationship with God the Father, through God the Son which made possible through grace by God the Holy Spirit. God is reaching out to us. God is always reaching out to us. Even when we turn away and forget the promises we made to God before one another in this very space God is still reaching out to us. Even when our love fails, God’s love remains.
Adam and Eve – willful disobeyed God and sinned by eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When their love failed, God even found a way in their punishment. God promised temptation would not always hold it’s sway over us. Yes, the serpent (temptation) would bite our heals, but we would stomp temptation’s head. The ability to turn away from temptation is a gift from God.
In Genesis 6 when the world had become so detestable that God decided to wash it clean God saved a man who was in right relationship with God. God spared Noah and Noah’s family and promised to never destroy the world again by flood. The rainbow is the sign of that promise, and a reminder God is always working to set the world back to right.
When humanity had again populated the globe, sin was again a problem. This time God meant to work through humanity to restore creation. We were set to be caretakers of each other and care takers of creation. God chose an man well past child baring years and his wife who was barren. God chose Abram and Sarai and made a promise to Abram.
Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3).
To remove the barriers between humanity and God that all of creation might be blessed God chose this one old man and his barren wife to be the mother and father of nations; Abraham and Sarah.
God kept God’s promise and Abraham’s family grew. However, circumstances both environmental and political found Abraham’s family – the descendants of Isaac, and Jacob bound in slavery in ancient Egypt. In ancient Egypt Jacob’s descendants had become idolatrous worshipping Egyptian gods as well as their own Lord God Almighty. God broke the chains of slavery, sin and doubt. Through 10 plagues and the parting of the Red Sea God rescued God’s chosen family. No institution of man, no chains of slavery, no military or army; not even the sea could keep God from destroying the barriers between God’s self and God’s chosen family. God did all of this through a man with a speech impediment. Moses was God’s spokesman, advocate and prophet before God’s chosen people and Pharaoh. It was not through Moses’ abilities, but God’s mighty hand of salvation which brought Israel’s children through adversity and into the Promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey.
King David, through whom God made an everlasting covenant that one of his house would always sit on the thrown of Israel. David was not perfect in his walk with God. Although, David was a man after God’s own heart, David was human and David made mistakes. God kept God’s promise and the line of David’s throne was left unbroken after the fall of Jerusalem and the last remnants of Judah were drug off into slavery in Babylon. The promise was kept. David’s family line survived and prospered until one day, into the line of David the Christ was born to Mary and Joseph.
Throughout all of Biblical history there has been a barrier between us and God. The barrier has been sin, and willful disobedience to the upward call of God through Jesus Christ. God sent God’s only Son, Jesus Christ to make the choice Adam and Eve failed to make in the Garden of Eden. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed these words, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). When God made it clear this was the path Jesus was to take that the sins of all humanity across time and space would be paid for in full, Jesus was scared. Jesus was tempted. And yet Jesus still made the choice to put God’s will first. Jesus paid the price for our sins. To pay that price Jesus was arrested, beaten, spat upon, thrown into a pit, tried in the middle of the night, convicted of a crime for which he was not arrested and for which He spoke the truth. Then Jesus was handed over to the Romans, who stripped Him and beat Him, and canned Him, and scourged Him. The Romans wove together a cruel crown of thorns and forced it onto Jesus’ head. They put a ragged Pretorian’s cloak on Jesus and led him out to His people. Once there the Romans exposed his nakedness to all of the people. Jesus’ own people rejected the King of kings and Lord of lords once again and shouted Crucify Him! Crucify Him! Crucify Him!... Reluctantly the Roman governor Pontius Pilate agreed. Jesus was forced to carry His cross to the place of the skull and there they crucified Jesus until He died.
Jesus was laid in a freshly hewn tomb and had been there three days when the women came on Sunday morning to tend to His body. They expected a barrier. To protect a tomb from robbers and wild animals a large stone was often rolled in front of tombs. The women wondered how they would move it, or if they could find someone to move the stone for them. These women were apparently little prepared for the fact God removes the barriers between us and God. The stone was rolled away. Jesus was not there. Up from the grave He arose. Jesus. My savior and your savior. Up from the grave he arose with a mighty triumph over the powers of temptation which lead to fear, doubt and disbelief. Jesus triumphed over the powers and principalities from the dark domain, and He lives forever with the saints to reign.
My brothers and sisters Easter has not been cancelled. Our true celebration in this house of worship may be put on hold, but no barrier, no pandemic, no powers political or military, tyrannical or medical can prevent God from rolling away the barriers between ourselves and God if we will just turn from our selfish wrong doing and believe the good news. The Good News is Jesus Christ really is the Son of God, both fully human and fully God, and more than that Jesus is God. Jesus died to pay the price for our sins because of God’s great love for us, and this gift is ours to keep and to connect us to all that is good and wonderful if we will repent, just turn from our wrong doing and believe the good news Jesus Christ.
Jesus already paid the price. All we have to do is turn back to God, and believe. This is the good news. There is no barrier God cannot cross, and God has not crossed because Jesus already died to cross it. The tomb is empty. Jesus is not there. Jesus is risen. Rejoice my brothers and sisters for we are an EASTER people.
In the name of Jesus Christ,
Our Closing Hymn is #297 “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”
When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of Glory died,
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.
See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were an offering far too small;
love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.
As it was in the beginning,
it is now and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen