3 Easter Proper C3
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
John 21:1-14 Sermon
April 10, 2016
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal, With One Voice, & the Lutheran Book of Worship):
LBW 131 "Christ Is Risen! Alleluia!"
TLH 201 "Jesus Lives! The Victory's Won!"
WOV 671 "Alleluia, Alleluia, Give Thanks To The Risen Lord"
TLH 191 "Christ The Lord Is Risen Today"
"A MESSAGE WITH AN EXCLAMATION POINT"
TEXT (vs. 12): “Jesus said to [the disciples], 'Come and have breakfast.' Now none of the disciples dared ask him, 'Who are you?' They knew it was the Lord.”
There's a story I've told many times; in fact, almost every funeral director I've met has heard it from me, and you may have as well. I tell it because it tells a profoundly true story all of its own.
A pastor had accepted a call to a small rural parish in South Dakota. It was a rather new experience for him, because he had grown up and attended church in Detroit. After his graduation from seminary, he served congregations in Chicago and in Arizona. Things were going fairly smoothly for him in his new surroundings, even though he was working through several areas of culture shock.
He had been at his South Dakota congregation less than a year when it came time for his first funeral. Spring had just begun and things were beginning to sprout and bloom; and the brown of winter was being replaced by the new green growth of spring.
The funeral service went without a hitch. This pastor had conducted numerous funeral services in his previous congregations, so he was fairly well experienced.
When it came time for the committal service at the cemetery, something happened that the pastor had never experienced before. One by one, the men went up to the grave site to pay their “last respects,” the pastor thought.
But what the pastor observed startled him. Each man knelt down at the grave and looked under the casket into the open grave below. They would pause a little bit, then get up and walk away, and the next person in line would do the same thing. He had never experienced this before.
Perplexed by this seemingly “new funeral custom” by the South Dakotans, the pastor approached the funeral director after the service. What was the meaning of this strange practice of looking under the casket into the open grave?
The mortician smiled, and gave this explanation to the pastor: “Pastor, I can tell that you're not from around here. You have to realize that most of the people around here are farmers. What they were doing was checking for sub-soil moisture.” These men were looking at a grave in an entirely different way.
It's only been a couple weeks since we celebrated Easter. The one picture we see is the same one that the disciples saw. They saw an empty tomb and a living Jesus. The empty tomb was not women expected to see on that first Easter Sunday morning. The tomb was open, the body was gone, and the burial linens were neatly folded and sitting there. What had happened?
Let’s dial the clock back a bit, and recall what happened on Good Friday. Just before Jesus died, he said, “It is finished.” By that, Jesus meant he had finished his work as Saviour of the world. He had “paid in full” for your sins and mine.
Our Easter celebration comes with exclamation points. We say, "He is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!" And there are three of those exclamation points used at each of those phrases.
But let's add one more; let's add one to the Good Friday words, “It is finished!” And it was certainly there three days later. It came with an empty tomb and a rolled away stone! It came with the announcement from angelic messengers! It came from the very place where Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had laid the lifeless body of Jesus. The exclamation point for our Christian faith came on Easter morning. And it came to the disciples on the shore when Jesus appeared for the third time as he cooked breakfast for his disciples. The grave had a new meaning. And even as Jesus and the disciples enjoyed their quiet breakfast on the shore, the exclamation point of his resurrection fairly shouts and echoes in the empty tomb.
If there were no empty tomb, then you and I would have a God who doesn’t keep his promises. Jesus himself said in John chapter 2, verse 19: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” The empty tomb was the exclamation point in the Easter story. Jesus was fully and completely alive. There could be no doubt.
More than once, Jesus told his disciples as recorded in Mark chapter 9, verse 31: “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” Twice before now he proved this to his disciples. And now he appears on the shore cooking breakfast for his disciples. He adds yet another exclamation point to his resurrection.
What if there was no exclamation point depicted by the empty tomb? St. Paul covered that “what if” scenario almost 2,000 years ago. The apostle came to this conclusion in 1 Corinthians chapter 15, verses 14 & 17: “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” In other words, without the exclamation point provided by Easter and Christ's appearance afterward, then our Christian faith falls like a row of dominoes. Then we would have to be, as Paul describes in 1 Corinthians chapter 15, verse 19: “…pitied more than all men,” because then we’d be living a lie.
But we have a faith with an exclamation point, as Paul writes in Romans chapter 1, verse 4, that Jesus “Declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.” And a little further on, Paul writes in Romans chapter 4, verse 25 that “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” Jesus’ empty tomb shouts that our sins have been paid for in full, and it shouts, our eternity in heaven is guaranteed. Because of Jesus’ empty tomb, Easter has taught us to look at a grave in an entirely different way.
As we look at our text for today, the scene is a rather serene one, hardly one where we would add an exclamation point. It is early morning, and the disciples were out fishing. They weren't expecting to see Jesus; after all, he had appeared twice before. But here he was, on the shore, cooking breakfast for his disciples.
There are several important things for us to learn from this. If we think about our relationship with Jesus and what his resurrection means for us, he meets us right where we are, right now. The men were showing all of the signs of a hard night's work. Peter had removed his clothes and was in the water. None of them were expecting to meet up with Jesus that morning.
Jesus didn't come with a sound of a trumpet and arrayed in majesty like he will on the last day. There was nothing overtly spectacular about this scene, only Jesus cooking breakfast on the shore. Well okay, there was the miracle of putting 153 fish into their net, something reminiscent of an earlier miracle. That of course would have been one of those reassuring signs for the disciples, that it was really Jesus with them.
Jesus always appeared at just the right time, and the time was right. His timing was impeccable. The disciples were supposed to go and be "fishers of men," as Jesus originally told Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Wherever people could be found, these men knew the Holy Spirit would gather them and turn their hearts toward Jesus and what he promised. God's power could not be underestimated.
Maybe the situation in our Gospel lesson today wasn't one where we might be inclined to use an exclamation point. Rather, the empty tomb is what punctuated the whole scenario. The empty tomb fairly shouts the words recorded by Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 15, verses 20-22: “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” And then we hear the words of Jesus in John chapter 14, verse 19: “Because I live, you also will live.” Jesus’ promise is guaranteed.
And if we look at an Old Testament reference, the empty tomb shouts to us the words of Job chapter 19, verses 25-27: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another.” These are words that I've spoken at many funerals, a type of victory chant from Job, that Christ assures us can be our own exclamation point to our lives.
This is what the empty tomb shouts to us: “It is finished!” Hold that confidence in your head and heart the next time you sit in a funeral home, shoulders slumped, handkerchief in hand, staring at the open casket of your loved one. If Satan uses that casket to whisper his lies, “Your loved one is gone. You’ll never see them again,” send the devil packing with the confident confession of St. Paul as recorded in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4, verses 14; 17-18: “We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. . . . We will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.”
If at the graveside doubt and fear well up when the pastor crumbles a handful of dirt on the casket and says, “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” roll the doubt and fear away from your heart. Let them lie next to the stone rolled away from Jesus’ tomb. It’s time to look at the grave in an entirely new way. It's time to see the exclamation point that Jesus uses to punctuate his promise.
“It is finished!” It wasn’t just the empty tomb that shouted this message that first Easter morning. Angels shouted it in Luke chapter 24, verses 5-6 when they told the women who came to finish the embalming process, “Why do you look for the living amongst the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” It was definitely time for them to look at the grave in a whole new way.
Jesus himself added an exclamation point to his work when he appeared to Mary, to the women, to Peter, to the Emmaus disciples, to the twelve, to the men out fishing, to the five hundred, to James, and later to Paul. Every time our Lord shared the greeting “Peace be with you,” he reiterated his resurrection promise.
We could go on and on with examples from Scripture of the various exclamation points of Jesus' resurrection. The whole Gospel message, the forgiveness of sins and the restoration of life through faith in Jesus Christ became the life witness of the apostles, evangelists, and other disciples. By their simple faith, by their devotion to their Lord, each one in his or her own way used Jesus’ words from the cross as the victory shout of faith: “It is finished!”
Remember those farmers from South Dakota? They looked at a grave in an entirely different way than a lot of people would. Where some would see just a dark and foreboding six foot hole in the ground, they saw something else. Where some people would look and see death, they looked and saw life.
That’s the way a Christian looks at a grave as well. An unbelieving world sees death and the grave as an enemy, as a blind leap into the abyss of the unknown. But the Christian knows better. The Christian looks at the grave through the eyes of faith. The Christian sees their own grave in the same way as they see Christ’s grave: it was empty, with the certain hope of resurrection and eternal life.
Every Sunday when we confess the words of the creed, we are declaring our faith in Christ’s resurrection and ours too. “On the third day he rose again from the dead,” “On the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures,” “I believe in the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” That’s the way we look at a grave differently than the unbelieving world. For us, that grave means new life.
Maybe those disciples out fishing that morning didn't see the exclamation point coming, but it was certainly there. Jesus was there for them at just the right time. They believed, and they witnessed.
And now, we are living exclamation points when it comes to God’s promises. We demonstrate this in everything we say and do. In every way, we give testimony to the sure and certain hope that we have. Because Christ lives, we too shall live.