EASTER WORSHIP 2020

Dear members and friends of First Presbyterian Church of Janesville:

This is the first time in my life that I have not been to an Easter Sunday worship service and I know it will be a strange feeling. I’m sure that is true for many of you as well. Following is an Easter Sunday worship service. I know that this is nothing like the “real thing” but perhaps it will be meaningful and inspirational to you.

Even though we are not together for worship I hold our church and its members in prayer each day that we will be strengthened and comforted by the presence of God in our lives. May you experience the joy of Easter in some way as we go through this time of separation.

Blessings always and be well – Pastor Lee

THE CALL TO CONFESSION
God has opened to us the gates of righteousness that we may enter through them. Confident in God’s love, let us confess our sin.

THE PRAYER OF CONFESSION
lord Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit we have been raised from the waters of baptism to share in your glorious resurrection. Yet we have not lived as Easter people. We are unsure of your promise, confused about your will, and afraid in the face of danger. Like Mary we weep at the tomb but do not recognize your presence. Call us by name, risen Lord, that we may know your confidence. Whenever we are tempted to fear death, give us courage to confess your Easter victory. Whenever we are distracted by petty conflicts, keep our minds on your reconciling love. Whenever we are overwhelmed by the power of evil, reveal again to us your triumph over the destructive powers of oppression. Forgive us our sin and let our lives be a testimony to your salvation through the love of God and by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen. THE WORDS OF ASSURANCE Sisters and brothers, know that God who raised Jesus from the dead has not given us over to death. In the name of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven. Amen.

HYMN                                                                                  “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today”
                                                                                       Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
                                                                                             All creation, join to say Alleluia!
                                                                                  Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
                                                                                   Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!

THIS IS THE DAY: Luke 24:1-12
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.

Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Those are the well known words that greet us on Easter Sunday morning. Easter Sunday is a day of joy throughout the Christian world and to a large extent to the secular world as well. For Christians Easter Sunday is the day that we remember the resurrection of Jesus and the assurance that sin and death have been conquered and that physical death is just a transition from this life to the next. For the secular world Easter is a time of Easter baskets, colored eggs, candy and perhaps new spring clothing.

For the preacher Easter, like Christmas, Pentecost, and other “holy days” is the easiest and the hardest worship service to prepare. These days are the easiest because there are the built-in themes of the day. For example, on Easter you have the empty tomb, lilies, sanctuaries arrayed with beautiful flowers and the theme of the resurrection. At Christmas you have a newborn baby, beautiful sanctuaries with trees, candles and other decorations and the theme of the birth of a savior.

Now the down side of these celebrations is that you have heard it all before. Every year you hear Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus and at Easter you hear about the resurrection of Jesus. You have heard it all before so how can I tell you something you don’t already know?

It was somewhat easier to do an Easter service on April 1, 2018 because that was April Fools’ Day. You could work some of that into the sermon. Since 1700, 320 years ago, Easter has fallen on April 1 only 11 times. The last time (before 2018) that Easter fell on April 1 was more than 60 years ago, 1956. Easter will fall on April 1 again in 2029, 2040, 2108 and 2170.

I didn’t go out any further with dates because some of us may not be here after 2170. The Easter story is one of surprise and it has the wow factor. For the most part we like surprises because they are usually fun and joyful experiences.

A pastor tells of driving home with his five year old son one day and driving past a cemetery. A grave had been dug and the dirt from the grave was next to it. The little boy looked at it and said, “Look dad, one got away.” And that is true in the case of Easter, one did get away. One got out of the tomb and made a way for us to do the same.

And there is the wow factor of Easter. One of the most spectacular characteristics of the Hollywood film industry are special effects. How many times have you seen a movie and said, “Wow! How did they do that?”

If you are a James Bond fan you may know that the biggest stunt explosion in movie history was in the 24th Bond movie, Spectre. It’s even listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. It’s an impressive scene. It took over 2,000 gallons of kerosene, 300 detonators, 24 explosive devices and a mountain of dust and debris to fake this spectacular explosion.

Too bad the Guinness Book of World Records wasn’t around in Jesus’ day. Because no Hollywood special effects can match the earth shaking, tomb opening visit from the angel on Easter morning. In fact, the shockwaves of joy from that morning are still being felt all over the world. It is the most joyful event in the history of humanity.

Charles Spurgeon was a famous British pastor who was serving in a very proper church in London in the late 1800s. Spurgeon was known for his sense of humor. Sometimes in the middle of preaching he would just roar with laughter. Some members of his very proper British congregation got upset about this. One day, a few men pulled him aside and confronted him about his outbursts of laughter. Spurgeon said, “Oh, gentlemen, if you only knew how much I held back, you would commend me.”

In today’s Bible passage we see the events through the eyes of the women who first visited the tomb. Imagine their surprise when they discovered that Jesus “got out.” There is a cartoon of the women after they had visited the tomb on Easter morning. One woman is kneeling and weeping in joy, the other one is looking at her basket full of spices and says with a scowl on her face, “Well, I certainly hope you kept the receipt for all these burial spices.”

I doubt any of the women worried about the cost of the spices that morning. I doubt they were worried about anything. They had just witnessed the most important moment in history, and they were determined to share the good news. Surprise! He is alive!

Easter is important because it marks the moment when life overcame death. That is why we hold Easter in such high esteem because the resurrection marks the moment when life overcame death.

Professional golfer Paul Azinger was diagnosed with cancer at age 33. He wrote about that experience: “A genuine feeling of fear came over me--I could die from cancer. But then another reality hit me even harder: I’m going to die eventually anyway, whether from cancer or something else. I am definitely going to die. It’s just a question of when. Suddenly everything I had accomplished in golf became meaningless to me. All I wanted to do was live.” And that’s when he remembered something that his friend Larry Moody told him: “Zinger, we are not in the land of the living going to the land of the dying. We are in the land of the dying trying to get to the land of the living.” That’s what Easter is all about.

Listen to the angel’s words again, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” We’re not in the land of the living going to the land of the dying. Easter reminds us that we are in the land of the dying on our way to the land of the living.

Paul Azinger wrote about how his perspective on life changed as he underwent his cancer treatments and then returned to the PGA tour. He wrote, “The only way you will ever have true contentment is in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I’m not saying that nothing ever bothers me and I don’t have problems, but I feel like I’ve found the answer to the six-foot hole. I know I’ll spend eternity with God and I have a promise that as a child of God He’ll help me deal with anything. He promises to offer me contentment regardless of what life brings, even cancer.” The resurrection marks the moment when life overcame death.

The resurrection also marks the moment when hope overcame grief. The power of death and loss and grief can destroy a person. It can make us lose all hope.

Pastor Stephen Brown says he was devastated after his younger brother, Ron, died suddenly of a heart attack. Ron was only in his forties, a popular district attorney, a terrific father. Stephen never even got the chance to say goodbye.

Several weeks after Ron’s death, Stephen decided to visit his brother’s grave. It was a cold, rainy afternoon in late winter. Ron’s grave was not yet marked, and Stephen couldn’t find it. As he trekked through the mud, his grief overwhelmed him. Standing in the rain, Stephen began sobbing. “God, this has been the worst month of my life, and now I can’t even find my brother’s grave.”

Suddenly Stephen sensed a presence near him, as though Christ had drawn alongside to help. These same words that the angel spoke came to mind like a burst of light: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?’ “Those words comforted me,” Stephen later wrote, “and I haven’t been back to the cemetery since. I don’t need to go back. The One who loved Ron and knew him came to me in my grief. He promised never to leave, and that has made all the difference in the world.”

Even death cannot destroy the hope of those who believe in Jesus Christ. The resurrection marks the moment when hope overcame grief.

The resurrection also marks the moment when we have to make a decision. Will we leave here like the women, bursting with joy and telling everyone we know about the eternal life offered through knowing Jesus? Or will we leave here like Peter, who saw the empty tomb and the grave clothes and just walked away unconvinced?

One of the most surprising elements to the story of the first Easter is the initial reaction of the disciples to the women’s testimony about finding the tomb empty. Luke tells us that they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. There was one exception. Peter, says Luke, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

What a tepid response to such a dramatic event! The resurrection demands a greater response than that. It is the decisive moment in human history. Jesus, who claimed to be the living embodiment of the one true God, died. After three days, he came back to life. There is no other belief system on earth that teaches this about their founder or prophet or god. The resurrection serves as the foundation of the Christian faith and the Christian church. Without the resurrection, all we have is a nice philosophy for living. If the resurrection is a lie, then the Christian faith is a lie. If the resurrection is a lie, then death is the end of the story for every one of us. If the resurrection is a lie, then you have no reason to get up and come to church. If the resurrection is a lie, then millions of Christian churches across the world should close their doors for good. If the resurrection is a lie, then all the hospitals and orphanages and homeless shelters built in Jesus’ name should close their doors. Ultimately, what do they have to offer? But it isn’t a lie. It’s real. It’s true. And it is the most important truth known to humanity.

A young woman for years kept house for her father and mother. Morning, noon, and night she got their tea out of a can which had a picture of the rock of Gibraltar on the lid. Later in life she was able to take a trip to Egypt. On the way, one bright morning, she looked through her porthole of the ship and saw the rock of Gibraltar--the same rock she had seen on that can of tea all those years. “I almost cried out,” she said. “I kept whispering to myself, ‘Then it’s real! It’s been real all the time!’”

That’s how we will feel on that day when the dead in Christ shall rise . . . It’s real! It’s been real all the time! Christ is risen from the dead and because he lives, we shall live too.

Pastor Ray Pritchard tells of a sermon preached over 100 years ago by a man named T. DeWitt Talmage of New York City. Talmage illustrated our coming resurrection by referring to what was then a new-fangled invention called a phonograph. He spoke of how a person’s voice could be recorded and preserved on a cylinder and then played back again and again even after the person had died. Then he asked this question, “If man can do that, cannot God, without half-trying, return the voice of your departed?” But if God can bring back the voice, then why not the lips and the face and the body and bones? He concludes with this wonderful sentence: “If man can do the phonograph, God can do the resurrection.”

And God can. And God did raise Christ from the grave. And God will raise those whom we love who are in Christ. The resurrection is real.

In his classic novel, The Robe, Lloyd C. Douglas has a character called Marcellus, who had become fascinated by Jesus. He wrote letters to his fiancée Diana in Rome. He told her about Jesus’ teachings, about his miracles, then about his crucifixion and his resurrection. Finally, he informed her that he had decided to become a disciple of Jesus. In her letter of response, Diana said, “What I feared was that it might affect you. It is a beautiful story. Let it remain so. We don’t have to do anything about it, do we?”

And the answer to her question is, Yes, we do have to do something about it. We have to decide: is the resurrection the truth or a lie? If it’s the truth, it marks the most important moment in human history. And it calls us to a very special kind of life here and now--a life following Jesus.

When Jesus was born, a host of angels announced it and sang his praises. But the only ones who heard it were a few poor shepherds working the night shift. When Jesus rose from the dead, only two angels showed up to announce it, and they told it to a handful of grieving women. Only a few will accept the message of Jesus. Only a few will experience the reality of the resurrection. And only a few will go tell everyone they know, “Jesus is alive!” Will you be one of them?

PRAYER
Gracious God, we marvel at the mystery of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. We have a sense of awe by Jesus’ obedience, astonished by the depth of his love for us and are amazed by the display of your power over the forces of sin and death. You are a God of wonders and surprise. You restore that which has been lost, bringing new life from that which is old, create beauty from sin and ugliness and offer healing and hope where there appears to be only sickness and death. Gracious God, we need to have these words written in our hearts and minds in the midst of the virus that is affecting people throughout the world. May a cure be found soon and through the care of medical workers may affected people be cared for in a way that will bring healing. Your miraculous power continues to work in our lives and in our world. Set our hearts aflame and open our eyes that we may recognize your presence in every person, in every situation, in every place. We lift in prayer our church, it’s mission and ministry and ask for guidance and strength in our daily lives. May your hand of comfort, peace and healing be upon those who have any kind of problems this day. We are a community of faith and as such we pray together the prayer that Jesus taught us:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.

THE BLESSING And now may the love of God, the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you now and forever. Amen.