Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: “The LORD’s right hand has done mighty things! The LORD’s right hand is lifted high; the LORD’s right hand has done mighty things!” I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done.
“What are you looking for?” Amazon.com has a suggested list of items for you to buy next, because their computer algorithms think they know what you’re looking for. “What are you looking for?” Google’s auto-fill feature will try to finish whatever you start typing, because they’re pretty sure they know what you’re looking for, too. “What are you looking for?” If someone asked you that question out of the context of a search engine or a supermarket, would you even know how to answer them? I’ll bet you could manage to tell them something. I’d also bet that the something you’re looking for can’t simply be bought, shipped, and sent to your door in two days’ time. So we keep searching; casting about in the world, constantly looking to find something or someone to fill the void. The world has no shortage of suggestions for what you should be looking for – kind of like Amazon and Google do. The world has plenty of ideas of something that will fill the void in your heart. How about your career? Make that the thing. Or how about the stability of your family? Why not make popularity your goal? Or beauty? Or money?
John D. Rockefeller was the 19th century baron who established Standard Oil and grew it into the largest and most profitable company on the planet. He was the world’s richest man. When I think of Rockefeller, I picture him as the real life version of Scrooge McDuck, diving into a swimming pool full of gold coins, having storehouses and boatloads of money just lying around. In the estimation of just about anyone in the world, he had found the “it” he was looking for, whatever “it” was. But when he was asked, “How much money is enough?” Do you know what his answer was? “A little bit more.” Just like success, career, and popularity, many people usually think that money is the short path to fulfillment and to find what you’re looking for. But to borrow a phrase from the well-known, 20th century “theologian,” Mick Jagger, “I can’t get no satisfaction!” And his buddy Bono concurs, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” It seems other people can relate with our struggle. Unfulfilled. Unsatisfied. Unable to find what we’re looking for.
We live in a world of seekers – everybody’s looking for something. We’re looking for guidance. We want support. We crave fulfillment. We seek security. We are absolutely desperate for hope, but it seems that just about everyone’s search is coming up empty. What were you looking for and what did you expect to find when you came to church this morning? Some nice music? A tasty breakfast? Little plastic eggs? Maybe. But maybe you were hoping to find something more – something to stop the pain; something to hold on to; something to give you hope in what always seems like a hopeless world. But will your search just turn up empty?
I wonder if that’s how those women felt on the first Easter morning, when they made their way to the tomb. Luke tells us, On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. What are you looking for, ladies? Those friends of Jesus had seen him die, and they didn’t have time to give him a proper burial, so they thought they’d come back after the Sabbath and perform this one final act of love for their fallen friend. They came to the tomb looking for a corpse, but didn’t find one. What are you looking for, ladies? The women were hoping to find a body onto which they could unload their spices. Little did they expect to find a place for unloading their sin and sadness. Remember, they had watched Jesus die. They saw the place where he was buried. They were walking to a grave, and so they knew what to expect. They were looking for the inky black darkness of the grave, but were confronted by the radiance of heaven itself. What are you looking for, ladies? They thought they knew. They sought the silence of death, but instead their ears were graced to hear the very first Easter sermon. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them... “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you. You heard the angel messengers! This is what Easter is all about – the crucified One lives again! Jesus is alive!
Pump the brakes, preacher. Did you just say a dead person came back to life? Well, technically, I didn’t say it, angels did. And they were just quoting Jesus himself – if you don’t want to listen to me, that’s one thing; if angel messengers aren’t sufficient, that’s another thing; but don’t ignore the Son of God. Take his word for it. Remember how he told you…The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again. On that first Easter morning, the women came to the tomb looking for the body of their friend, but they found a whole lot more. They found that every word Jesus spoke was the truth and every promise he made would be fulfilled. They found the quintessential Easter truth: death is not the last word. The dead don’t stay down when Christ Jesus is in the mix. The women didn’t find what they were looking for on Easter morning, and thank God they didn’t! If ever there was good news worth sharing, this was it!
Then they remembered his words. When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others…But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Those poor ladies! They had come to know for a fact that Jesus is, indeed, the Resurrection and the Life and they went to share the news with eleven fearful men, and their reaction is about what we’d expect: they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Has that ever stopped being the case? On Easter Sunday you could walk into any number of churches that call themselves Christian, and listen as they quietly try to explain away the absurd notion that, first of all, the Son of God died, and secondly, that he came back to life. They’ll put forth a flowery oration about how Easter Sunday is little more than a metaphor for newness of life – just like the trees are blossoming and flowers are blooming in Spring, so we, too, can have a new handle on life because everything is bright and shiny on this beautiful Spring day. And you can have all of that without a resurrection from the dead. So maybe Jesus just rose in a spiritual sense? Maybe the resurrection just means that the idea of Jesus lives on in our hearts? You’ll hear a lot of that around Easter time, and it’s little more than hearing about the resurrection of Christ and deeming it to be nonsense.
So what are you looking for? Is this what you came looking for this Easter? Because thinking Easter is a bunch of nonsense isn’t just a problem for the world out there. It’s a very real temptation for the hearts in here. I hear you tell me that Christ’s resurrection means that death has been defeated, and through him I have nothing to fear…but who can really say what death means? I get it, and it’s a nice thought that Jesus’ resurrection means that sin has been taken away, but sometimes my own personal feelings of guilt overwhelm me so much that Jesus’ promise can’t possibly be true. Preacher, I appreciate the uplifting thought that the resurrection of Jesus gives sure hope and powerful purpose to my life, but I feel so defeated, so often. You don’t know the mess of my family, the damage of my sin, the darkness of my depression. Maybe the disciples were right, and this whole Easter business is what it sounds like – a bunch of nonsense. Have you ever found yourself there? Like your sin was too great for God’s forgiveness; like your death was too final for Christ’s resurrecting Word; like your situation was too far gone and that your life is too far beyond God’s loving reach? Have you ever found yourself there? Then you need Easter Sunday – and not just a metaphor or an illustration or an idea. A metaphor or an illustration of new life doesn’t have the power to do anything. The Apostle Paul had it right, if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. But, Christ has indeed been raised – not just as a metaphor or an idea, but really, physically, bodily walked out of his tomb from death to life.
And since Jesus lives, Easter Sunday speaks an unconditional promise from the only One who can speak unconditionally. This “nonsense” of Easter is the entirety of Christian truth and every bit of it hangs on the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Jesus lives, and since Jesus lives, he comes with a promise in the gospel with words that seem like nonsense. In what other venue will you hear someone say, In the name of Jesus, I forgive you all your sins, and you know he speaks the truth because he was delivered over to death for our sins and raised to life for our justification (to declare us to be right with God). Easter Sunday means that God comes with water and word in Baptism to connect you to the very real death and very real resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Jesus lives, and since he lives, he comes to you with words and gifts that seem like complete nonsense, but to you, dear Christian, this is the precious food of heaven – My body, my blood, for you. Jesus lives, so when he says that death isn’t the end, you know he means it. Jesus lives, and since he lives, you too can look forward to the day when the Son of God stands at your grave and speaks his funeral sermon, Get up! Come out! You’re mine!
Do you see what Easter means? It means a whole new life – and not just a possibility or a potential or an idea or a metaphor! Jesus didn’t come to suffer, die, and rise in order to make bad people better. Jesus came to suffer, die, and rise to make dead people alive. The cosmic shift that the Son of God brings about with his resurrection from the dead is not to come and move you from vice to virtue, but to bring you from death to life in him. Easter means that you have certainty – you have the certainty that your sins are forgiven, forgotten, forever in Christ; the certainty that all your guilt has been removed before a holy God; certainty of God’s truth to drive our your doubts; certainty of joy as you live for Jesus now; certainty of your own bodily resurrection when the last trumpet sounds; and the certain hope of eternal life forever in heaven. How do you know? Because Jesus lives. And since Jesus lives, he lives to make good on every one of his promises for you.
What are you looking for this Easter? I guess that depends on whether or not Jesus really rose from the dead. If Christ has not been raised, the best you can expect from today is some candy, a picture with a creepy bunny, and an afternoon nap, if the kids cooperate. If Christ has not been raised and forgiveness of sins and victory over death aren’t that big of a deal to you, then there’s really no pressing need to come and worship Jesus again any time soon. But Christ has indeed been raised, so I’ll tell you what you’ll find in his promise of the gospel. In Christ’s resurrection, you have forgiveness for your sins. In Christ’s resurrection, you have life in place of your death. You have joy for your today and hope for your tomorrow. In Christ’s resurrection, you have freedom from your guilt and peace that passes all understanding – because he lives, you too shall live. So, really, it’s the wrong question to ask, isn’t it? What are you looking for? Because Easter isn’t really about you finding anything. It’s about Jesus giving you everything – his holiness covering you, his life to defeat your death, his promise of eternity with you right by his side. The resurrection of Christ guarantees the “It is finished!” that he spoke from the cross. Sin is covered, death is conquered, Satan is condemned, Christ is risen, he is risen indeed! Alleluia!
To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen