Apr 21, 2019
“The Lord’s Doing” - Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
A young man went up to his boss and asked for the next day off to attend his grandmother's funeral. His boss said, “Sure, that’s fine. I’m so sorry for your loss. Just let me know if there’s anything that I can do.”
A couple days later his boss surprised the young man with an unexpected question. “Do you believe in resurrection from the dead?”
The young man hesitated for a moment, and then replied, “Yes.”
What the boss said next left him quaking in his boots. “I thought you might say that. You see, yesterday while you were off work, your supposedly dead grandmother dropped by here to visit with you!”
Today, on this Easter Sunday, we remember the most special resurrection ever. God’s Son was resurrected. Jesus the Christ. And today we gather to give thanks and to celebrate that resurrection. We do it because that resurrection changes everything. It changes us. It changes our reasons for living. Why, it changes the entire world.
Most of us know the story. On that very first Easter morning, some of Jesus’ closest friends and followers get up early to visit his tomb. Maybe to place some flowers in front of the huge stone that guarded its entrance. They go to pay their final respects to the One who has touched their lives so deeply and so profoundly.
When they arrive, the first thing they notice is that the huge stone has somehow been moved. Why, it would have taken a crane or a dozer to do that. They are filled with fear. But they take a deep breath, summon up every ounce of courage, and venture forth to investigate. They cautiously bend over and look into the tomb. Unbelievable. It is empty. There’s no sign of Jesus. His body is gone. He’s vanished.
They’re shocked. Greatly upset. They assume Jesus’ body has been stolen. Who could have done such an awful thing? This entire week had already been horrible enough without this happening. Then, they realize they aren’t the only ones there. They see two strange beings. Beings that don’t seem quite human. One of them speaks. “What’s wrong with you people? Why are you so upset?”
They all start talking at the same time. “Jesus’ body is gone. Someone has taken our Lord. We don’t know where they put him.”
“Calm down. Jesus is all right. Don’t you remember what he told you? If you did, you wouldn’t be looking for the living among the dead.”
They’re shaken to their core to learn that Jesus is no longer dead. That he is risen. That the tomb with its big stone couldn’t hold him. That death didn’t have the final word. That their beloved Jesus is alive and well. It seems they hadn’t really trusted that God could pull it off.
But the author of Psalm 118--which just so happens to be our reading for today--would not have been shocked by this. Not in the slightest. From personal experience, he knows about God’s nature and power. Knows that God is always at work. Creating order out of chaos. Making something out of nothing. Freeing captives. Returning exiles. Lovingly working to make things fresh and new. Always in the life and healing and forgiveness and hope business. Never ceasing to love.
Let us pray. Dear God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
So what can this Older Testament writer possibly have to say to us about the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Well, it turns our quite a lot. You see, the Psalmist is describing a time when God’s people are entering the temple to worship. Just like our coming to church this morning. And they are reminded of all that God has done for them. God has delivered them from bondage in Egypt. Has freed them from captivity in Babylon. Has done what seemed impossible. Has given them new life.
And as they get in touch with all God has done, they can’t help but burst into a celebration of thanksgiving and praise. It becomes a true service of worship. They praise God. Thank God. Celebrate life.
And isn’t that exactly what people in their right minds do when they remember all that God has done for them? Isn’t that what we do when we gather here for worship. Indeed! We praise God. We thank God. For everything God has done. For everything God continues to do. For everything God promises to do in the future. And by doing so, we declare that God is faithful. That God is true. That God can be trusted. In the words of the Psalmist, “God’s steadfast love endures forever.”
For the Psalmist, the LORD is strength and salvation. And not just for people in his day and time. God is that for all of us. Our strength and salvation as well. Yes, God is still with us. God is still for us. God does not give us over to death. No, God gives us life. Doesn’t desert us. Stays right by our sides. Watching. Caring. Loving. Forgiving. It’s the Lord’s work. It’s all the Lord’s doing, and it should be marvelous in our eyes.
But the Psalmist tells us so much more about whom and what we celebrate this Easter morning. We should pay close attention. You see, this ancient writer is on a roll. Just listen to some of his other gems of wisdom that he hand delivers to us this day.
-Number 1. God is the source of our strength.
-Number 2. God is the only reliable reality in the world.
-3. God comes through for us and delivers the goods.
-4. God turns our world right side up.
-5. God specializes in coming through with the unexpected.
-And number 6. God takes a rejected stone and turns it into the key cornerstone. The civil and religious leaders of the day tossed
that stone on a scrap heap, but God took it and lifted it up.
The psalmist then closes with these amazing words. Words that we would be wise to remember, treasure, and hold close to our hearts every single morning of our lives. Words to faithfully live by no matter what this world throws at us. Just listen to those remarkable words. “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
In 1799, the armies of Napoleon appeared on the heights above the town of Feldkirch, Austria. It was Easter Day, and the rays of the rising sun glittered on the weapons of the French army. A meeting of the town council was hastily called to decide what was to be done.
After much discussion, the dean of the church rose and spoke these words. “My brothers and sisters, it is Easter Day! We have been reckoning on our own strength. And our own strength will surely fail us. So, let us turn to God. Let us ring the bells, have worship services as usual, and leave the matter in God’s hands.”
And that’s exactly what all of them agreed to do. So, from the church towers of that besieged town there rang out joyous peals in honor of the resurrection. And the streets filled with worshipers hastening to the church to worship.
The French heard the sudden ringing of those bells with surprise and alarm. They concluded that the Austrian army must have arrived to rescue the town. So they hastily headed for the hills. And even before the bells had ceased ringing, not a Frenchman was to be seen anywhere.
Our lesson for this Easter boils down to this. The psalmist lets us know that we should turn things over to God. To trust God. To have faith in God. And leave everything in God’s hands. He assures us that they are capable hands. That God is more than up to the task.
He lets us know that God is mighty and powerful. That God loves. That God cares. That God is always with us. Always watching out for us. Always at work. And when God is at work, all things will always turn out well. That’s because God’s work leads to salvation and wholeness and peace and justice and joy. Now, what could be better than that?
Yes, in the time of the Psalmist and in our time, God continues to work. Creating. Bringing things to life. Making things new and better. Night and fear are over, and a new day is here. Desperation and hopelessness are over, and hope is here. Mourning and heartache are over, and joy is here. Death and evil are over, and resurrection is here. New life is here. That’s what Easter is all about.
It’s a day when something amazing and spectacular takes place. A tomb cannot hold Jesus. Death does not win out. It doesn’t have the last word. God does. So we can confidently proclaim with exceeding joy. Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed.
I close with this little story. It seems a pastor was out for a drive with his five-year–old son. They passed the local cemetery. There, the boy noticed a pile of dirt by a newly dug grave. In excitement, he yelled these words to his father. “Look, Dad, he got out. One of them got out.” Later, the minister reflected on how powerful his son’s words were. “Now, every time I pass a cemetery, I’m reminded of the One who got out. Yes, he got out. And truly, that changes everything.”
We gather this morning to worship God who has done all of this. Of course we’re not exactly sure why God cares so much about us and this world. It’s a holy mystery. But what we confidently know of this holy mystery is this. Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again. So truly, thanks be to God. Yes, thanks be to God. Amen.