Easter Sermon: The End?

  • There’s a great phenomenon in the music recording industry. It’s sort of like a secret between artists and their most faithful fans. This phenomenon is known as the hidden track.[1]
    • Other names: “secret” or “ghost” tracks
    • Bonus song of sorts – “piece of music that has been placed on a [recording] in such a way as to avoid detection by the casual listener”
    • Techniques for including a hidden track on an album
      • With records – double groove (groove laid down right next to another one)
      • Most common technique nowadays – burying it at what should be the end of the album
        • Lots of short, silent tracks between last listed song and hidden track – dozens of tracks only a few seconds long
        • Extra-long last track – last listed song and hidden song are the same track, but there’s a long period of silence between them
    • Allegedly originated with the Beatles on Abbey Road album – song “Her Majesty” wasn’t initially listed (though it is now)
    • Now, I remember the first time I found a hidden track on one of my CDs.
      • Story of listening to CDs mowing the lawn → We had a LOT of lawn at our house, so I had all sorts of time to listen to this music. Besides, it’s really hard to change a CD while you’re bouncing along on a lawnmower! So I would just let it play.
        • Surprising – unfamiliar music on what should have been a familiar CD?!
        • Thrilling – novelty of the whole “hidden track” idea automatically made it greatest song ever!
        • Inspiring – I just had to tell people about this amazing, life-changing discovery! I had to tell my parents … and my little brother … and my friends … and, frankly, anyone who would sit still long enough to listen!
  • Now, with this in mind, think for a minute about how the disciples must have felt that first Easter morning.
    • Jesus ministry and teachings had provided music of their lives for 3 whole years … but they had watched him be crucified. With their own eyes, they had watched him die!
      • All gospels make it clear
        • Matthew and Mark: About three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” … Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last.[2]
        • Luke: Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said that, he breathed his last.[3]
        • John: When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.[4]
      • The disciples had seen Jesus take his last breath, seen his body taken down from the cross, wrapped in the strips of cloth for burial, and laid in the tomb. They had heard the grating thud as the stone was rolled in front of the entrance to that tomb. It was over. It was done. The end.
  • But it wasn’t the end!
    • Gospel accounts: 3 days after his death, Jesus was raised from the dead → Those who loved him had gone to the tomb to mourn for him, and instead of a sealed burial chamber, they found the stone at the entrance rolled away. They found an empty tomb, grave clothes that had been laid aside, and angels to tell them that Jesus wasn’t dead after all. And they found him – they found Jesus himself – in all his resurrected glory. Imagine how surprising … how thrilling … how inspiring this was for them!
      • Appeared to his disciples again
      • Sat with them, broke bread with them, taught them, stirred their hearts again
      • Spent time among them for a while
    • This is the good news that we celebrate this morning and, truly, every time we worship – Jesus Christ defeated death and rose from the grave to bring us God’s grace and the promise of eternal life! Alleluia! There is joy in this news. There is blessing in this news. There is hope in this news.
  • But doesn’t it also feel a little bit like the resurrection is an ending?
    • Find resurrection story at the end of all the gospels
      • Matthew – ch. 28 of 28
      • Mark – ch. 16 of 16
      • Luke – ch. 24 of 24
      • John – ch. 20 of 21
    • And our celebration of Easter comes sort of at the end of the busiest time of the church year.
      • Advent → Christmas → a couple week’s respite (other celebrations like Epiphany and Baptism of Jesus) → Ash Wednesday → Lent → Holy Week → Easter … Phew!! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! … And now, for the most part, we have a much less active calendar ahead of us – a little “church-year down time,” if you will.
  • But the resurrection wasn’t really an ending either. Yes, it brought a close to Christ’s physical time here on earth, but for all of his disciples – from the original 11 all the way down throughout history to us here today – the resurrection is just the beginning.
    • Ps: The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.[5] → Jesus is that stone. He was rejected and cast aside out by those in power, falsely convicted and crucified like a common criminal. But in what they thought would be an ending, we found a beginning – the cornerstone of our faith, that piece from which the entire foundation emanates.
    • See this in gospel accounts, too → after the resurrection, during his time with the disciples before being taken back up into heaven, Jesus charged them to continue God’s work
      • Matthew – Great Commission: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.[6]
      • Mark: And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.”[7]
      • Luke: He said to them, “… Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in [the Messiah’s] name to all nations.”[8]
      • John: [Jesus] said to [Peter], “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”[9]
    • Also see this continuation of work/the story in Acts passage today
      • Background: passage is Peter’s sermon to Cornelius, the gentile, Caesarean centurion convert → just following = Holy Spirit fall upon all who hear Peter’s words (Cornelius and all in his house), they believe, and Peter baptizes them
      • So as Peter begins to teach Cornelius about faith in what we read today, he gives him this summary of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection. And yet in all of this explanation, Peter only gives a few short words to the death and resurrection itself: They put [Christ] to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day[10] → This is a pretty short sermon, so Peter doesn’t waste words on non-essentials. Everything that he talks about provides a crucial element to faith. But he doesn’t simply stop at the death and resurrection. “Jesus died. Jesus was raised. Have faith, and go about your business as usual.” Nope.
      • Peter goes on to explain that this apparent-ending isn’t really the end at all: [Jesus] commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead.[11] → makes it clear that the resurrection is just the beginning, that there is still work to be done
        • Work for the disciples
        • Work for us
  • Represents dramatic shift in the lives and purpose of the disciples
    • Up to this point, the disciples’ role has been to witness to the work – Peter in Acts: That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem.[12] → They were there alongside Jesus watching and listening and experiencing God’s power and compassion through Jesus’ words and actions … but for the most part, their role was a passive one.
    • But now the Messiah had risen! Everything had changed, and the world needed to know about it. And whose job was it to let them know? – Peter: He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead.[13]
      • Inspiring words for the first disciples and the early church
  • Also inspiring words for us today → We are still commanded to preach to the people. We are still commanded to testify that Jesus is the one ordained by God as the Savior of all. We are still the ones with voices to speak God’s word and feet to carry us to the places and people in this world who have need of that word in their lives. And the world still needs to know.
    • I know it isn’t always easy.
      • Culture more and more resistant to organized religion
      • So many different pockets of Christianity spreading messages that conflict with one another about who they think God loves and doesn’t love, who they think God accepts and doesn’t accept
      • Pluralistic society – find blessing in diversity but can sometimes feel like we’re not supposed to express our own personal convictions for fear of stepping on someone else’s toes
    • But just like those early disciples, we are not alone in our mission.
      • A little later in Acts: Those who were scattered because of the persecution that took place … traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch … The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number became believers and turned to the Lord.[14] → God was with them, protecting them, guiding them, giving them the strength and the courage and the words that they needed.
      • Find this conviction in psalm, too: The Lord is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. … I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord. … I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.[15] → In this, we hear the joy of the message that we share – salvation! – as well as the reassurance that God is with us as we continue on.
      • Scholar: This psalm points us toward celebration – not only for the personal benefits we receive through the resurrection, but for the redemption and restoration of the whole community. God raised up this Jesus so that we might all revel in new life.[16] → In the resurrection, we find not an ending, but new life. We find not the end of the story, but a whole new story that is just beginning. It’s a story full of surprises, thrilling and inspiring and full of hope. And it’s a story in which we get to participate each and every day. Alleluia! Amen.


[1] Basic information from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hidden_track

[2] Mt 27:46, 50; Mk 15:34, 37 (wording from Matthew, Mark reference is almost identical).

[3] Lk 23:46.

[4] Jn 19:30.

[5] Ps 118:22.

[6] Mt 28:19-20.

[7] Mk 16:15.

[8] Lk 24:46, 47.

[9] Jn 21:16.

[10] Acts 10:39b-40a.

[11] Acts 10:42.

[12] Acts 10:37-39a (emphasis added).

[13] Acts 10:42 (emphasis added).

[14] Acts 11:19, 21.

[15] Ps 118:14, 17, 21.

[16] Kimberly Bracken Long. “Easter Day – Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 2. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 361.

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