Pastor Kyle Bitter - Easter Sunrise - Sunday, April 4, 2021

Text: John 20:1-18

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Hopeless. Seems like that word would be good description of the people in today’s gospel – at least before they realized what had happened! Put yourself in Mary’s shoes for a minute. Mary and her friends had been with Jesus through the good and the bad – and sometimes it seemed like they were the only ones. Ceaseless energy and support for Jesus and his mission – even when his own disciples had wavered. They had thought he was the Messiah. They had seen the miracles. They had heard his teaching. But now he was dead – just another prophet in the long tradition of prophets being murdered by the very people they’d come to serve. Once his body was anointed one final time, it would all be over. And Mary’s hopelessness can be seen as she comes for that very task. She hardly seems to realize she’s talking to angels – instead, she sees insult heaped on top of injury. The empty tomb must mean Jesus’ body has been stolen! Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”  “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” (John 20:1-2, 11-13 – NIV84). Hopeless, and Mary wasn’t the only one.

Think about Peter. Jesus had been his whole life for the past three years, and Jesus had always been so patient with him. Peter’s habit of speaking and acting before thinking had caught up to him before, but this time there would be no opportunity to make amends. He had promised that he would be there for Jesus no matter what happened, but when the moment arrived his fear overwhelmed his courage and he’d denied knowing Jesus. Worse yet, Jesus knew what Peter had done. All Peter could remember was that look of sadness in the courtyard, but it was too late to apologize. Jesus was dead. It was hopeless.

And without the message of Easter, that’s the same conclusion you and I’d have to arrive at when considering our lives. Hopeless. Without the message of Easter life right now is as good as it gets. There are times of goodness and blessing, but also times of hardship and turmoil. And, there’s the ongoing struggle with our own flaws and shortcomings. We constantly make mistakes, and then there’s the guilt and shame of knowing we’ve been selfish, hurt others, and caused problems more often than we’d care to admit. We will be answerable to our maker for all that when our lives are over, and it won’t be good. And speaking of lives being over, death is always hanging out there. Every time we attend a funeral of another family member or friend, every time you notice the aches and pains of aging, every time you hear news of disaster, accident, death, and disease, it’s a sad reminder that your day is coming too. Death is inevitable, and life seems like just a slow spiral downward until you arrive at that day. Without Easter, it’s hopeless.

But, Jesus has risen from the dead, and that changes everything! For Peter, it started when he heard rumors that the tomb was empty. Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen.”  (John 20:3-7 – NIV84). Peter didn’t fully appreciate what had happened just yet, but by the end of the day he would see Jesus face to face and hear the good news that his sins were forgiven! His time with Jesus wasn’t going to end with that look of disapproval, because that sin had been paid for, along with all the rest of them! Easter brings hope to the hopeless! And it wasn’t just Peter.

“[Mary] turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t recognize that it was Jesus. “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it that you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). (John 20:14-16 – NIV84). Mary wouldn’t need those embalming spices! Jesus was alive! Following him had not been a hopeless pursuit – because even death had no power over him! Easter brings hope to the hopeless!

That’s true for you and me too. Life takes on an entirely different perspective when you know that Jesus rose from the dead. This is not as good as it gets – this is just the beginning of what Jesus has in store for his people. Even though the effects of sin still reverberate throughout our world, Easter proves that things are not out of control. Jesus is the Son of God, and he retains authority even over his own life! Everything else that happens will fall into alignment with his good and gracious plans. And his good and gracious plans are designed with us in mind. You don’t have to carry around that burden of regret and guilt and shame over mistakes you’ve made – it’s all been forgiven, and Jesus’ resurrection proves it! Before he died, Jesus said, “it is finished,” and Easter proves that it was indeed finished! The bible says that the “wages of sin is death,” and with all sin paid for, death couldn’t hold Jesus! That reality extends to you and me and our loved ones too. Jesus promised, “because I live, you too will live,” and the life he has in mind is an eternity in heaven where all the effects of sin will finally be gone, where we will be reunited with family and friends who have gone home before us. Easter brings hope to the hopeless!

When Mary realized what had happened, she couldn’t contain her joy – she couldn’t keep it to herself. John writes that [she] went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18a – NIV84). We have gathered today to rejoice for the very same reason – Easter brings Hope to the Hopeless! May God use our celebration today to bring hope into our lives, no matter how much reason there might seem to be for hopelessness. Easter brings hope to the Hopeless! Amen.