Easter Sunday Sermon was given on April 21, 2019 by Rev. KJ Norris at Kerr Presbyterian Church. The manuscript is not a verbatim copy of the recording but the author and intent are the same.
Have you ever found rest to be not restful?
Like when you lay down on the couch and think: I’ll just rest my eyes for 5 minutes. But then you wake up and it’s been an hour and you are completely disoriented, not knowing if it is day or night, feeling like the world has passed you by and you have to catch-up. The nap meant to bring rest has not brought rest. It brought confusion and frustration.
Or holidays can feel like this for many of us. Perhaps we were given some time off from school or work or perhaps we took a vacation day for Good Friday or Easter Monday. We expect this time to be restful. But family comes in from out of town or we travel or do some spring cleaning and cook a special meal. And all of a sudden we find ourselves walking into Church on Easter morning thinking of all of the things still yet undone. The table isn’t set. The roast isn’t done. Oh, and I was supposed to donate those clothes—yikes where did the time go? The day of rest we had anticipated over the holiday is not restful.
Statistically, Americans are terrible at resting. According to the CDC, to be healthy we need to get more than 7 hours of sleep each night. But more than 1/3 of us do not get enough sleep on a regular basis. We are terrible at resting. Doctors warn that this contributes to all kinds of health challenges including “increased risk of developing chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and frequent mental distress.” https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0215-enough-sleep.html Plus, “Drowsy driving is responsible for 1,550 fatalities and 40,000 nonfatal injuries annually in the United States.” https://www.sleepassociation.org/about-sleep/sleep-statistics/
We need to rest. It is a part of being human. We were created for cycles of work and rest.
In reading through our gospel text this year, I was struck by a little phrase. In the midst of of the busyness of the Passover holiday, in the horror of the dramatic events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, in the moments before Easter Morning, something else happened.
Luke tells us, “On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.”
“On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.”
I cannot think of a less restful rest.
The women, we are told, had been a part of the ministry of Jesus from the very beginning. Joanna, for instance, is named in Luke 8, shortly after the calling of the 12 Apostles and before they were sent out to do ministry in Jesus’ name.
They had traveled along with Jesus all the way from Galilee, providing for his needs, praising him on Palm Sunday as he entered Jerusalem. Watching him breath his last breathe upon the cross. Joseph of Arimathea bravely went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body so that he would not be placed in a common grave along with other criminals who had no one to bury them. And the women accompanied him to the tomb.
Then, they were forced into an artificial kind of rest. The law demanded that they go home. That they rest.
The women had work to do. In their time, there was no funeral home director to prepare the body for burial. Instead, it was the job of family members, of women, to clean the body and add oils like frankincense to prevent the overwhelming smell of death.
The Lord Jesus Christ. The one who had shown all humanity what true love looked like. The one who had loved them and taught them and taken them seriously in a culture where few women were treated with respect–was now dead. The one who they thought would rescue them from oppression had been killed. The one who had healed many infirmities. Who had stopped many from wailing out of grief by bringing healing. Who had brought forgiveness and hope into so many lives–was now gone.
And it was there responsibility to show respect to the body. To prepare for the funeral. To show him love even in death.
And they could not.
They were sent home to rest.
What kind of rest is this?
If you have lost someone close. If you have every been kept awake at night by the grief of one whom you loved being absent from the house. If the worries of the world and the responsibilities given to you which you hold dear have ever kept you up at night. If you have ever been sent home or, as our kids can probably relate to, told to go to your room for a time-out, then you can relate to the women.
Forced into a rest that is not restful.
What is true rest? From where does true rest come?
“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they come to the tomb.”
The women couldn’t sleep. So they get up in the dark. And they journey out at first light.
The roast needs to go into the oven. The baby is crying. We are not sleeping anyway, might as well get up and do something useful.
On the first day of the week, at early dawn, they come to the tomb.”
But the world is not as they expect.
- The stone that they had seen put in place by several strong men is now rolled away
- They look in the tomb and the body is not there
- And then two angels appear dressed in dazzling clothes
And the angels do not bring new news, but old tales. Jesus predicted this. Jesus had told them he would be handed over and killed. Jesus had told them he would be crucified. Jesus had promised to rise again on the 3rd day. Jesus had said the sign of Jonah would be given. Jesus is alive.
The women cannot contain their excitement! They run back to the others and tell them what they had seen. And of course, no one can believe it. Jesus tried to prepare them for this, but there are something that we simply cannot be prepared for. Even if we know our loved ones will die. Even if we know our company is closing. Even if graduation approaches. We can never be fully prepared for what comes next.
But Jesus has risen! Jesus will appear over and over again to believers in the coming days. He will break bread with them. He will teach them. He will show them his hands and feet, the scars that prove he was crucified, dead, and buried, just as the creed professes.
And true rest will come.
How do we rest when it seems the world will never cease from war and turmoil?
How do we rest when bed next to us is so empty without our beloved spouse?
How do we rest when our children are sick and there is work to be done?
We rest in this: Jesus is alive.
Jesus is alive!
The tomb could not hold him. The powers of death could not hold him. Jesus is bigger than even the greatest enemy of humankind itself—death.
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Cor 15)
We can take rest because we know that God is bigger than sin and death.
We can take rest because we know that God is at work right now renewing all things.
Sin. Death. Evil. Violence. Injustice.
They will not have the final say.
Death does not have the final say!
When we are overwhelmed by the troubles of this world. When we cannot rest for our loved one is gone. When sickness overwhelms our bodies and keeps us from slumber. We can remember, this is not the end.
2 Corinthians says it this way: “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” (2 Cor 4:16-18)
Friends, on this Holy Easter Day, take rest. Find a moment to pray. Breathe in deeply. Know that you are loved. Loved by the God of the universe. Loved by us here in this room. Be at peace.
Know that what we can see happening in the world is not all that is happening. We can trust our loved ones to God. We can trust our souls to Jesus Christ. We can trust our futures to the work of the Holy Spirit.
Rest in God for Christ has risen. Resurrection has come. And resurrection continues to come. Amen.