Mark 16:1-8 * April 8, 2012 * Easter Festival * Pastor Pagels
In the name of our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, dear friends:
It was perhaps the greatest real estate bargain of all time, 825,000 square miles, all the land drained from the west by the Mississippi River. On July 4, 1803 President Thomas Jefferson announced that he had bought it all from France for $15 million, or about 3 cents an acre. The purchase doubled the size of the country overnight and continued America's expansion from sea to shining sea.
On that same day Jefferson gave a young army captain a fascinating letter. The letter gave him permission to draw on any U.S. agency anywhere in the world to take anything he wanted. It also gave the solider the right to ask any citizen of any nation for anything, and the letter guaranteed that the United States government would pay back every debt in full.
At the bottom of the page the president wrote: "I, Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States of America, have written this letter of general credit for you with my own hand, and signed it with my name." To this day it remains the most unlimited letter of credit ever issued by an American president.
That young captain walked out of the president's office with all of the power and promises of the United States behind him. He could get weapons from the armory, money from the treasury and supplies from the quartermaster. He could ask anyone anywhere for anything, and the federal government would pay for it. The letter in his hand represented a huge promise.
If you had a letter like that in your possession, how would you feel? Would you be excited to use it? Or would you wonder if it was actually going to work? "If I go down to the bank and ask for $10,000 will they give it to me? How about $100,000? How about $1,000,000?”
When people make promises to us, especially big promises, when tend to be cautious, don't we? From little on we teach our children that if it sounds too good to be true...it probably is. We want them to be careful because there is nothing worse than a broken promise, because broken promises can lead to broken hearts.
Broken hearted might describe how the women felt as they made their way to Jesus' tomb in the darkness on Sunday morning. Jesus had given them some huge promises. He promised them that he was the Son of God who had become man to be the world's savior. He promised them that he was the Messiah they had been hoping and praying for. He promised them that nothing could separate them from him, that nothing could snatch them from his hand. And they had believed him.
But then he died. No, he didn't just die. He was crucified like a criminal, and his lifeless body was laid to rest on a cold slab of stone. The women were on their way to anoint his body with spices, a loving but futile attempt to postpone the inevitable process of decay. Their Lord was dead, they thought, and all of his promises had died along with him.
Except for the fact that Jesus had predicted all this. He told his followers that he was going to Jerusalem. He told them that he was going to be arrested and crucified. He told them that three days later he would rise from the dead.
Maybe the women didn't remember what he said. Maybe they were having a hard time making sense of what he said. Maybe they couldn't get beyond the fact that Jesus was dead, and a dead savior is no savior at all. A dead Jesus has no power. A dead Jesus can't keep his promises. A dead Jesus is like me giving you a piece of paper saying that you can go down to the bank and take as much money as you need. I can make all the promises I want, but nothing will happen.
On Easter morning the women were so disheartened that the only thing on their mind was moving the stone so that they could see their Lord and say their final goodbyes. But when they reached the tomb they saw something else, something that made them gasp. The stone had been rolled away. The grave was standing open. The burial linens were folded neatly on that stone slab, but there was no body.
"Don't be alarmed," said an angel sent from God to calm their fears and comfort their hearts. And then he said: "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him" (6).
"You are in the right place. You aren't seeing things. This is where the dead Jesus was, but the living Jesus is not. He kept his promise that he would rise from the dead. And now he wants you to tell his disciples that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. "There you will see him, just as he told you" (7).
Just as he told you. Those words are significant. Jesus had told his followers about all these things because he knew what was going to happen. He knew why had come into the world. He knew why he needed to suffer and die and rise again. And we should know too because in his Word God tells us. The trouble is that we don't always want to hear what God has to say.
There is a part of us that would like to have Easter Sunday without Good Friday. We like the Easter baskets and the Easter flowers, but we don't like the thought of an innocent man suffering. And we like it even less when we are reminded why he suffered. I don't want to look at the cross because the cross confronts me with my sin. I don't want to see Jesus dying on the cross because it forces me to see how destructive my sins really are.
I want to hide my face from the cross, but if I do I will miss something very important. The cross causes pain, it caused Jesus great physical and emotional pain, it makes us painfully aware of our sins, but it was a part of God's plan. It shows you the depth of God's love. God loved you so much that gave up his Son for you. Jesus loved you so much that he gave up his life for you. Every time you have doubted him. Every time you have disappointed him. Jesus died on the cross to pay for all sins, every sin, your sin and my sin.
But he didn't stay dead. He came back to life, just as he told you. This was God's plan, this was God's promise from the beginning. And because he made good on that huge promise we can rely on every other promise of God, the promise that he will forgive our wickedness and remember our sins no more, the promise that he will hear and answer our prayers, the promise that he will be with us every day and that he will make everything work out for our good.
Living on God's promises is what Easter is all about. Living our lives based on the promises of God is what being a Christian is all about, but living on those promises doesn't mean that life will always be easy.
Remember the young soldier who walked out of the president's office with that letter. His name was Meriwether Lewis, and he and his friend William Clark were preparing to explore the 825,000 square miles that President Jefferson had purchased. They had all the power and promises of the United States government behind them, and so they were able to procure everything they needed to carry out their mission: guns and horses and soldiers and supplies.
They left with everything they needed for the journey, but none of those things made the trip any shorter. In front of them lay thousands of miles of unexplored territory, and it took them over two years to cross rivers and plains and hills and mountains until they finally reached the Pacific. Those years of exploration taught them that big promises don't make the journey shorter, but they do give you everything you need along the way. Kind of like the journey we call life.
Whether this is your first time worshiping with us or your third time at St. John's this weekend, we are glad that you are here today. To celebrate Easter, to hear the huge promises of God, to know that the resurrection of Jesus is God's guarantee that you can find a life worth living no matter where you are on your journey. We need that. We need to know that because not every day is like today. Life isn't all about Easter dresses and chocolate bunnies. Real life isn't always pretty. Our lives are filled with the ugliness of disappointment and failure and worry and guilt.
Maybe there are some days when you feel like Lewis and Clark trying to cross a continent. After many months on their expedition they had followed the Missouri River to its source in the Rocky Mountains, and they thought that on the other side they would see gentle slopes leading down to the ocean. They were wrong. When they reached the top they looked out and saw more mountains, mountains that were so high the snow never melted. The challenge they faced was greater than they originally thought.
Do you know the feeling? Have you ever spent all kinds of time and energy working to overcome a difficult challenge, and just when you thought you were getting over the hump you looked up and all you could see were more mountains. Maybe it was something in your personal life. Maybe it was a personal relationship. Maybe you are staring up at one of those mountains right now.
Big promises won't make the journey any shorter, but they will give you everything you need for the trip. And when the going gets tough, when you get tired, when you are tempted to give up, look to those promises. Live on those promises. Listen to the promise that Jesus gave his disciples the night before he died. He said: "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 17:33).
There is no mountain in your life that is too big for Jesus. He is bigger than every problem. He has overcome every obstacle. And he promises that he will use the challenges in your life for your good. To bring you closer to him, to make you more like him, to finally bring you home.
A life worth living isn't a life without problems. A life worth living is a life that has been liberated from its problems. Because of Easter you are free. Because Jesus lives you are free to live in peace regardless of your past. Because Jesus lives you are free to live in hope regardless of your present circumstances. Because Jesus lives you and I can look forward to a glorious future.
Two years and four months after walking out of the president's house, Lewis and Clark's party looked up and saw the other side of the continent in the distance. It was Clark who wrote this immortal line: "Ocian in view. O! the joy."
Brothers and sisters, in a few minutes you will walk out of God's house, but you won't be leaving empty handed. You carry with you the unlimited promises of God, the promises of joy and peace and hope and a life that will never end. All of those things are yours because Jesus lives! Your living Lord and Savior is with you, and he will be with you every step of the journey until you reach the country that knows no end, the life worth living forever. Heaven in view! Oh the joy! Oh the joy that is ours because Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.