“The Happy Ending”

Sermon – 04-04-21 – Easter Sunday – Cycle B
Scriptures: Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-18
Sermon Title: “The Happy Ending”

Most of us like happy endings. Happy endings in books. Happy endings in real life. Happy endings after the weeks of Lent. It is Easter Day! The day of resurrection. Jesus lives after dying an awful death. Awful or awe-ful? Downright awful on that real Friday! Upright awe-ful on the third day which happens to be a Sunday – a day after the Jews’ Sabbath from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown.

The birth of Christianity. Thereafter, Sunday became the Holy Day of each week for the followers of Jesus. Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday! Each Sunday can be a little Easter for Christians. Easter Sunday revitalizes our faith. Easter Sunday and the season of Spring coincide. Did God plan it that way? Jerusalem was thick with Jewish pilgrims whose faith has them coming to this Holy City to get rid of their sins – to park their sins on the altar of sacrifices. To bury their sins with the dead carcasses of sacrificial animals.

It goes way back to the days in Egypt when God tells the Israelites, the Jews, to use the blood of lambs to spread on their door frames to spare their oldest boy child from death, while God is killing all of the first-born sons of the people of Egypt. God is doing this so that the Pharoah will let the Israelites leave this place of slavery and experience freedom. It is called Passover. The angel of death will “pass over” the houses with animal blood on the door frames and not kill the oldest male child of the Israelites. Only the oldest male Egyptian children will die..

To this day, people of Jewish faith remember and celebrate Passover. So it is in the year of the death of Jesus. The ultimate way to celebrate is to come to Jerusalem to the temple. The city is swarming with people. Roman soldiers and governors occupy the city at the same time. It is not a dull, quiet place. Neither is it a happy place. Emotions are high as the sky. Poor Pilate!

Pontius Pilate is the fifth governor of the Roman province of Judaea, serving under Emperor Tiberius from the year 26 to 36 AD. He is not of the Jewish faith. He sees no wrong in Jesus.
BUT there is Caiaphas. Joseph ben Caiaphas (c. 14 BC – c. 46 AD), known simply as Caiaphas, in the New Testament, is the Jewish high priest who, according to the gospels, organizes a plot to kill Jesus. He famously presides over the Sanhedrin trial of Jesus. But according to some law, Caiaphas says that the Jews cannot kill Jesus. The order has to come from the civil court which in this time and place is Pontius Pilate.

Pilate is stuck in the middle of this situation. Is this all part of God’s plan that this Roman governor is in this place at this time and becomes part of the history of the Christian faith? Well as it is probably God’s plan, the decision is made and we have this awful cross scene. Jesus actually dies. He is actually buried by two people, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, who are afraid to be known as Jesus-followers while Jesus lives, but who come forth boldly to claim the body and bury the body in a previously unused tomb. END OF STORY

Pontius Pilate must be overwhelmed with sorrow, or so I assume. The disciples have disappeared except for John, as far as we know. They are filled with loads of sorrow and a sense of having wasted three years of their lives in such a foolish way. Yet, they re-gather in fear. Where they re-gathered is of little consequence, I think. If we had read Mark’s version, Jesus sends the message to meet him in Galilee. In Luke’s version, Jesus appears to two disciples (not of the eleven closest disciples) who are walking to the town of Emmaus which is near Jerusalem. He accepts their invitation to eat with them, then he disappears.

These two disciples then hurry to Jerusalem where they find the eleven disciples gathered in a room in fear of being sought by the Jews. Also, God has them gather there to share their experiences. These two disciples share their story as they hear the other sharings. Then Jesus appears with them – no door opening, just appears. Yet he is not a ghost, he eats with them and blesses them. John says, “When the disciples saw the Lord, they became very happy.”

Then comes the powerful part. John writes that Jesus says, “I am sending you, just as the Father has sent me.” Then he breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (Obviously this is pre-COVID – Jesus breathing on the disciples! It is also pre-Pentecost when the Holy Spirit comes upon all the gathered people in little flames and a mighty wind.) John goes on to mention forgiveness in a way that is puzzling to me. But in Acts 10, which Janice read, we have these words from Peter while preaching to the crowds just after Jesus ascended into heaven, “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. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

How does this happiness feeling apply to us today, during COVID, during strife and violence around us? We sometimes try to explain the difference between happiness and joy. But today, I am proposing that we think of them as the same.

There are times in our lives when we either never felt the presence of Jesus or we feel separated in our relationship with Jesus. He may as well be dead according to how we feel. Or there are times when we are like the disciples in the locked room. We are afraid of happenings in our lives. We are full of despair. We don’t know which way to turn so we curl our bodies into a ball under covers and never want to come out.

But God the Father, and God the Son Jesus, and God the Holy Spirit find us in our hiding place and put our bodies in motion to stand in the light and to start moving. Before we know what is happening, we feel refreshed, revived, renewed and amazingly happy. God gives us happiness in unexpected ways. Sometimes by an idea to solve a problem. Sometimes the problem disappears without any help from ourselves. Sometimes a word is spoken or a deed is done by a person and our lives feel bright and happy and joyful. Sometimes we are that person who speaks the word or does the deed and someone else’s life becomes happy.

Happiness and joyfulness sometimes disappear under problems and situations. This Easter happy ending does not guarantee continuous happiness or easiness. There are waves of disappointment and pain. But this happy ending is anchored in Jesus Christ who never leaves us, who is alive and well and is our constant companion on earth. Praise be the time when we will enjoy the ultimate happy ending in heaven! Amen

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