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Faith United Methodist Church
April 20, 2014
Easter Sunday
Rev. Krista-Beth Atwood

Scripture:  John 20:1-18, Colossians 3:1-4

Prayer of Illumination:

Open our ears to hear your Word proclaimed in this place.  Open our hearts to know your Love offered in this congregation.  Open our eyes to see your Presence blessing us in this moment.  Amen.

Sermon: Early Riser

Some might call me an ‘early riser.’  I get up around quarter of six, eat breakfast, run the dogs, do some exercise, and putter around the house until I come to work.  I don’t mind getting up early.  In fact, I kind of like it. It’s nice to be up before the world gets busy.  But I also enjoy sleeping-in when I have the chance.  Just ask Gary.  I can get pretty grumpy if my weekend beauty sleep is disturbed.

This morning, though, wasn’t an ordinary morning.  There was no puttering this morning.  I wasn’t just up at quarter of six.  Several of us gathered at Wheeler Homestead before dawn to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  Our “Alleluias” rang out even before the sun peaked over Mt. Mansfield.  With Christians all over the world we greeted the rising of the sun by celebrating the rising of the Son.

The tradition of the Sunrise Service isn’t as old as we might think, though.  The first Sunrise Service took place among Moravian Christians in 1732 in Germany.  Before that, Christians would often stay up the whole night before Easter celebrating what is known as the Easter Vigil.   In this way they could experience going from darkness to light, from death to life, as Easter dawned. Many Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Anglicans still do this.  We Protestants, perhaps wanting our sleep, changed the tradition, slightly, by gathering just before dawn ~ the same time Mary went to the tomb that first Easter morning.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

So we get up early… Some stay up all night…. We dress and gather on this morning…… Because Jesus was an early riser.  Jesus was up before dawn.  Even Mary, who arrived at the tomb when it was still dark, wasn’t early enough.  Jesus had already risen by the time she got there with her burial spices.  The stone was rolled away, his burial clothes set aside, the tomb empty.

So what happened between the time Jesus’ body was sealed in the tomb and when Mary arrived early that morning?  It’s not like Jesus just woke up from a nap.  Jesus had been brutally tortured and crucified ~ hands and feet nailed to a cross.  His friends saw him breathe his last breath.   As far as they were concerned, there was no hope.  His damaged body was taken down and laid in a tomb, finally at peace.  There was nothing more anyone on earth could do for him.

Yet that’s the point, isn’t it?  What happened to Jesus wasn’t within the normal course of human experience.  Jesus didn’t wake from a sound sleep or even recover from a coma.  He wasn’t resuscitated.  Jesus was raised from the dead.  As preacher Barbara Brown Taylor put it, “The resurrection is the one and only event in Jesus’ life that was entirely between him and God. There were no witnesses whatsoever. No one on earth can say what happened inside that tomb, because no one was there.”  Something happened between Jesus and God that caused Jesus to step out of the tomb renewed, eyes wide to the rising sun.

And, as we can imagine, this new development threw Jesus’ friends for a loop.   Stunned.  Frightened.  Amazed.   Mary, the first one to the tomb, was also the first one to see the risen Jesus.  “Mary,” he said to her after she mistook him for the gardener.  “Teacher!” she replied.  She was the one who took the news back to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”  In time they all got to see him, touch him, speak with him.  Wondering what this meant, Jesus reassured them that he had been raised for a purpose.  To bring them all ~ to bring us all ~ to eternal life, just as he had been telling them all along.

So, because Christ was raised, we are     raised, too.  As Paul wrote to the Christians at Colosse, “Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”  Written many years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, these words were meant to encourage Christians facing persecution in the early years of the church.  These words can also encourage us, today, to let go of the small, petty and hateful things we encounter in life and stay focused on God, who is love.

Our faith tells us that reality is greater than the familiar, visible, day-to-day life to which we so easily grow accustomed. We get used to the routine.  We get up, have breakfast, play with the dogs, exercise a little, go to work.  The next day we do it all again.  If not boring, it gets predictable.  Yet Easter has the power to change our perspective, if we let it.  Sara Dylan Brewer writes about Easter in her Gospel reflections, “Our vision changes.  When we take in the new life Christ offers we can see Christ’s presence everywhere.”  In the sunrise over Mt. Mansfield.  In our joyful Easter music.  In faces of friends gathering around the breakfast table.

The resurrection was something that happened in the dark of night in the deep recess of a tomb.  We don’t know any more about it today than did Mary, Peter or John so many years ago.  It remains a mystery.  To return to the words of Barbara Brown Taylor, “Resurrection does not square with anything else we know about physical human life on earth. No one has ever seen it happen.”  That we can’t explain resurrection means we are in good company.  No one can explain resurrection.  That’s kind of the point.

And whether we are early-risers or late-risers, whether we go to bed early or sleep-in, resurrection is for us.  We don’t have to witness it for it to effect us.  The resurrection was as much for Mary, who arrived early, as for Peter and John who showed up later.  It was as much for the Christians at Colosse, who knew of Christ decades after his resurrection, as for us who’ve come along centuries later.  Apart from Jesus, there are no early-risers or late-risers in the Kingdom of God.  We’ve all showed up just in time.  As Paul wrote, “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

So, Happy Easter!  And I encourage you to let Eater change you ~ not just for today, but for your whole life.  Look for Christ everywhere you go and, especially, in the unexpected places.  Live the resurrection.  Be open to the mystery.  We are Easter people!  For Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Amen.

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