Sermon for the Resurrection of our Lord – April 17, 2022
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
A few months ago my wife and I watched the historical drama 1883. It masterfully depicts a group of pioneers heading west from Texas to Oregon. When they begin their journey, many of these pioneers have their wagons weighed down with all kinds of unnecessary items. Before they try to cross the Brazos River, Sam Elliott’s character, Shea, demands that they dump those unnecessary items which will only weigh them down. He discovers that people were trying to bring all kinds of heavy, fancy furniture, nice chairs, ornate vanities. One guy was even trying to bring a piano! As important as these things seemed to them, they would only weigh them down. They would literally sink them. If they wanted to step into the new life they were seeking in the West, they would need to lay them down.
The women who came to the tomb on the first Easter morning were carrying some things they didn’t need to be carrying. They came to the tomb on Easter morning carrying spices. These weren’t little two-inch canisters of cinnamon or curry powder or tarragon like we have in our kitchens. We’re talking several pounds of spices, likely transported in heavy, cumbersome clay jars. These were spices to be used to prepare a body for burial. They were a dense compound of aloe and myrrh – essentially the embalming fluid of the ancient world. These women carried the extra weight of those spices to the tomb expecting to complete the unfinished business of the past Friday. They carried those spices to the tomb expecting to prepare Jesus’ lifeless body for its final burial.
In addition to the weight of those spices, the women came to the tomb carrying other heavy burdens too. They carried the weight of grief. They carried the weight of sorrow. They carried the weight of hopelessness. It was a heavy burden to bear. It threatened to sink them.
When the women got to the tomb, they discovered they didn’t need those spices after all – because when they got to the tomb, the body of Jesus wasn’t there! This confused them at first, but just then two men in dazzling white appeared. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” they asked. “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?”
Jesus had told his followers everything that would happen. He told them clearly. He told them three times! Jesus told them in no uncertain terms: “I will be handed over to sinners, I will be crucified, and on the third day I will rise.”
And he was indeed handed over to sinners. He was indeed crucified. And it was now the third day. Everyone seems to have forgotten what Jesus said would happen on the third day!
And so these women were carrying things they didn’t need to carry. They were carrying those heavy burdens unnecessarily. They were carrying those spices because they hadn’t remembered what Jesus said. They hadn’t remembered his promise. They hadn’t remembered that Jesus said he would rise again on the third day. If they’d only remembered his Word, they could have left all those heavy spices at home, along with all the other burdens they were carrying.
We gather today for a great celebration. It is Easter Sunday. It is the Third Day. This Easter feels particularly good as we are emerging out of a pandemic and are able to celebrate in ways we haven’t been able to for the past two Easters. It feels like a time of resurrection. It feels like a time of rebirth and new life.
But even so, I can’t help but wonder how many of us have come here today carrying a heavy load of spices. I can’t help but wonder how many of us are packing around things that we don’t need to be packing around. I wonder if we were to scratch beneath the surface of all those nice Easter pastels, how many people we would find who have come here today carrying heavy burdens.
So many of us continue to carry the burden of our sin, our brokenness, our failures – past and present. We are weighted down by the persistence of our shortcomings. We are often weighted down by the knowledge that we are not the kind of people God calls us to be. Heck, we aren’t even the kind of people we ourselves want to be! As St. Paul said about himself, “I do not do the good I want to do, but I do the very thing I hate.” The same could be said for each of us. We are all broken in one way or another. We are all sinners. As St. Paul put it, “…all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Or as St. James put it, “We all stumble in many ways.” Our sin, our constant stumbling through life has a way of weighing us down.
Another heavy jar we continue to carry around is the jar of hopelessness. We often look at the world around us with its never-ending problems, with its steady stream of tragedies, with its conflicts and its callousness, and its is easy to lose hope. What hope do we have in a world plagued by corruption and violence? What hope do we have in a world where responsibility and righteousness are often sneered at as the naïve relics of a bygone era? What hope do we have living in a culture which has gone off the rails in so many different ways? What hope do we have in a world where God continues to be driven out and put on a cross? It is easy to be weighed down by hopelessness over the state of our world.
We are often weighed down by fear as well. Whether it is low-grade anxiety or a paralyzing panic, it is a burden on our shoulders. What will tomorrow bring? What does the future hold for me, my family? How am I going to make it?
Other times we carry a heavy clay pot full of grief. People we love get sick. People we love die. Grief is an understandable and inevitable and normal thing to carry, but it weighs us down nonetheless.
So what burdens are you carrying this morning? What is weighing heavily on your heart today?
As we gather here on this Easter Sunday, we hear Good News. We find that there are a lot of things we’ve been packing around that we don’t need to be packing around. Like the women at the tomb, we find that we’re carrying burdens that we don’t need to carry!
We don’t need to carry the burden of our sin. Our sin was nailed to the cross with Jesus, who rose again to give us newness of life. We are forgiven! We are loved! We have been reconciled to God forever! We can leave all our sin, all our shortcomings, all our failures at the foot of the cross and begin to walk a little lighter.
We don’t need to be weighted down by hopelessness either. The resurrection tells us that God isn’t done with this world yet! God hasn’t given up on it! The world, the devil, and our sinful selves might try to drive God out, putting him on a cross – but he comes back! God hasn’t given up in this world, and we shouldn’t either.
We don’t need to carry around that jar full of fear. Instead, we can remember Jesus’ promise to us. We can remember he said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” We can remember he said, “Do not be anxious about anything, for God will provide what you need.” We can put our future in his hands, confident that all things work together for good for those who love God.
And that heavy clay pot full of grief? Even that starts to feel lighter as the Good News of Easter starts to sink in. For the empty tomb tells us that even death – our greatest enemy – has been defeated. The Good News of Easter is that Jesus has been victorious over death, and that he promises to share that victory with us, granting us eternal life with him. And so, although we grieve, we do not grieve as those who have no hope.
“Remember what he told you,” the angels said to the women. And in remembering, their sorrow was turned to joy, their confusion was turned to amazement, and their fear was turned to boldness. In remembering, they became witnesses to the best news the world has ever heard. In remembering, they realized they didn’t need to be carrying those heavy spices, or those heavy burdens, any longer.
Dear friends, Christ has risen from the dead, and so you don’t need to be carrying them either.
Don’t let those heavy things you’re carrying drag you down. Don’t let them sink you.
Lay them down on this joyful Easter morning, so that you can step into the new life he has in store for you.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church