This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Author: Rev. Ken Gehrels of Ottawa, Ontario
[NOTE - the introduction to this sermon comes before the bible reading. If your congregation is not comfortable with that, please feel free to move the reading to the beginning and adapt the message as needed.]
Well, I did it. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think it was the most foolish thing in the world. I went to the local hardware store, spent hard earned money on a brand new product, came home, and buried it.
Yup, dropped it right into the ground, shoveled dirt over it, and walked away.
Indeed, you’d think it was the absolutely strangest thing in the world - except that you know already exactly what I was doing, don’t you?
I’d bought seeds - flower seeds, and a few vegetable seeds - brought them home and planted them. My family. We all enjoyed it.
That’s because we all know what’s supposed to happen. Plant the seeds now in the damp earth. And in time a wonder of nature will occur.
So we did it.
Well, you’ll never guess what.
(“And all God’s people said...... what?”)
Know what I’ve been able to do the last few days?
I’ve been able to water little plants under my bank of lights.
This whole seed thing – it really works.
Tomatoes, marigolds, morning glories, cucumbers, nasturtium.
[name whatever plants you happen to like to grow]
Growing quite happily, thank you very much.
All because the seeds went into the ground.
Recently we celebrated Easter. We celebrated the historical truth that Jesus Christ was the seed of human eternal life. He sacrificed his life. Died. And was buried - dare we say, he was “planted” into a garden tomb.
Well, you’ll never guess what.
The disciples couldn’t guess.
The guards at the tomb couldn’t guess.
The religious and political leaders couldn’t guess.
Three days later Jesus rose from that tomb.
Very much alive.
To live forever.
To live in His body.
That’s what we celebrated on Easter.
And it’s the seed story that we contemplate this morning.
Because, you see, what happened to Jesus oh so long ago is something that God promises will happen to each one of us who believe in Him.
Our lives - yes, WE - will be like seeds.
We will be planted.
And then - in an amazing miracle of life - we will come back to the surface,
The Bible uses the seed metaphor to teach about bodies that die, are buried, and which through a divine miracle will one day rise up in new, perfect life. Let us hear the Word of God and meditate on this amazing Good News - Gospel.
1 Corinthians 15:3-5,16-24, 35-58
Friends, one of the harsh realities that confronts us in human life is death.
I made a discovery this past week while preparing for this message.
Let me share it with you. Do you know what the death rate is here in [name of your community]?
Are you ready for the startling news?
Live here and you will die - I guarantee it.
That’s how life goes.
For everyone. It’s the harsh reality.
Brothers and sisters, the amazing truth of Easter, and the message of 1 Corinthians 15, is that this very harshness has had it’s edge removed by Jesus.
In fact, the very power of death has been siphoned off.
Because of Easter.
Because Jesus rose from the dead, death itself has been crushed.
As the sign in front of one church recently said,
Death lost. Jesus lives!”
In 2 Corinthians 5:8 we read that those who die as believers in Jesus experience an intermediate state where we are “away from the body and ... at home with the Lord.” That’s heaven.
Our bodies rest, and decay in the dirt.
Our souls live in the rest and peace of God’s presence in heaven.
But that is not the end of the story. No more the end than the planting of a seed is the end of the gardening story. And so we don’t stop there.
We don’t stop with thinking of heaven. For Christ is raised.
He is the first fruits of those who have died. He sets the trend for all who believe in him to follow. He blazes the trail that we will later walk across.
And what a trail it will be.
What a glorious existence that will be.
Like the seed - in some way the plant is connected.
But better, oh so much better.
You know, the little boy had it right. At school his first grade class was studying plants. They’d put the seeds into the ground, and witnessed the miracle of new life. The wonder of all this was firmly in his little mind. As I heard the story, he went to a funeral soon after that, including the grave side ceremony. Some days later, he was in the car with his mom when they past the cemetery. He piped up:
“Hey, mom, isn’t that where they plant people?”
When you stop to think about it, that’s actually pretty good theology; good Pauline eschatology. Not bad for grade one, eh?
Perhaps you’ve heard the story about the matron of the family unit who was coming towards the end of her life. She had the rare privilege of being able to talk about her last wishes with her family. As the children gathered round, with a weak voice and a smile she shared how she’d envisioned her funeral happening. Hymns, scripture readings.
And then she said - “When you hold the wake, make sure there’s a fork in my hand.”
“Mother, a fork?
“Remember what I would tell you after Sunday dinner? When we’d clear the table, what did I say?”
“Keep your fork for dessert, the best is yet to come.”
“Son, when people see the fork in my hand, tell them -
- the best is yet to come.”
And friends, that best isn’t even heaven.
Heaven is wonderful. But it’s only the in-between time. It’s a time of waiting for our disembodied souls. It’s a place of waiting for the body seed, which has been planted, to sprout.
When will that germination to new body life happen? Look at 1 Corinthians 15:23 -
Christ has already obtained that perfect body.
We receive ours when He comes back to earth at the end of time.
And what will that be like? There we go to verse 35 and following. Paul uses the seed idea. Essentially he says that like you’d be off on a wild goose chase trying to figure out what a tomato plant will look like by examining the seed, same deal with our present earthly bodies compared to the glorious bodies waiting for us.
There are DNA similarities. The coding for the plant lays as potential within the seed. But the way they look and function is very different. Or, says v.39, just as fish and birds and animals and people are all different, even though there are resemblances, so there are huge differences between the present bodies and the glorious bodies that are to come.
Consider verse 42 and following:
Changed from perishable to imperishable;
from dishonor to glory;
from weakness to power;
from natural to spiritual.
Our bodies will be changed
from bodies that grow weaker and wear out
to bodies that will live in strength forever
from bodies that are rather frail, even homely and embarrassing
to bodies that will be radiant and perfect
from bodies that are weak
to bodies that are powerful
from bodies that have real limitations
to bodies that will have supernatural capabilities beyond what we could even dream or hope.
Perishable, dishonor; weakness, natural – not the most wonderful terms to describe our present bodies.
And how well we know it.
In little ways we relate as we wake up and find muscles aching that hadn’t ached a few years ago.
Or we now need glasses to read.
Or a cane to walk.
Perhaps in big ways we relate:
We have to keep popping tylenol 3's just to keep going.
We wrestle with an undiagnosed disease.
We’re recovering from a heart attack.
We have a loved one with mental illness.
Dishonor, weakness, natural - words from our scripture reading.
If you can relate to these words, please, grab hold of the precious truth of Easter! Hang on firmly to the gospel promise; the promise that the glory which Jesus experienced at his resurrection will one day be ours when we experience resurrection.
Same eternal life.
As He is, so we shall be.
Incredible.... but true. Says the Bible, "when he appears, we shall be like him..." (1 Jn 3.2). Philippians 3.21 says that Jesus "will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body." Which means that if we want a glimpse of what is in store for us in the Resurrection we can look to Jesus. Hence today’s reading from Luke 24.
There’s a very real tie between the old and new bodies. It’s very much a flesh and bone body. Jesus ate to prove it. And says so. Very real. Very human.
And yet there’s something different.
Luke 24:51 tells us that space was no obstacle.
John 20:26 tells us that doors were no barrier.
There was a change in how he appeared because we read of some of his closest friends not really recognizing him.
His disciples walking to Emmaus.
His disciples eating breakfast with him on the beach.
And yet - when God opens their eyes to see past the changes - each of them recognize Him. As I believe we will, with glorious open eyes, be able to recognize each other in the New Creation.
Remember: As He is, so we shall be.
What a promise!
What a future!
What a hope to keep us going!
All because of Easter!
because of Easter’s victory over death
three quick thoughts.
Number one -
As we wait for the Resurrection, remember that these bodies of ours, which the Lord considers important enough to resurrect, are important. They are valuable. They matter.
And so we seek to treat them as such. Our own bodies, and the bodies of others. We treat them with dignity. We value them. We respect them. Caring for our bodies. And remembering this about the bodies of others:
They’re not objects for your consumption.
Or for you to beat on.
God has high esteem for our bodies.
Enough to rescue them for all eternity.
So we need to respect them, too.
About these bodies - Take Care!
Number two -
When these valuable bodies begin to cause pain and problems, when we suffer in these bodies, brothers and sisters, take courage!
Pains, frustrations and limitations we now experience in our bodies won’t last forever. And they won’t have the last word.
Cancer, schizophrenia, osteoporosis, down’s syndrome will all be beaten.
About these bodies - Take Courage!
Number three -
When, finally, that inevitable day comes when we have to carry a still body to the cemetery, let us Take Comfort!
And take comfort.
As you stand at the side of the grave of a fellow believer, take comfort that their life, ended in faith, has not vaporized into a whisp of nothingness.
Their souls rest in peace with Jesus.
And when He returns, they will be resurrected in bodily form.
As He is, so they shall be.
Friends in Christ, I said at the beginning that the death rate in our community is 100%. Guaranteed.
Actually, that’s not quite true. Because, you see, if Jesus comes back first, those who are still alive will miss death. And how wonderful that would be!
But for the rest of us who live in faith, we can -
leave here with your head held high.
Because, as I said at the beginning – the seed thing.... it really works.
Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!
Please note that in our home congregation we make use of responsive readings. Feel free to delete or adapt them as would be most edifying for your congregation.
PH - Psalter Hymnal
SANC - Sing! A New Creation
MP - Maranatha! Music Praise Chorus Book 3rd Edition
GATHERING IN GOD'S PRESENCE
Hymn: Here, O Lord, Your Servants Gather" PH 251 v.1,2,4
Leader: The grace of the Risen Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
All: And also with you.
Leader: Jesus said, "Because I live, you also will live."
Hymn: "I Serve A Risen Saviour" PH 405
Oh Lord of Life, Victor over Death,
We give you thanks for the deep, hope that you give to our lives.
And we rejoice today because of your Presence that is here with us.
Thank you for the strong knowledge that nothing -
- absolutely nothing -
nothing in the past,
nothing in the present,
and nothing in the future
- absolutely nothing can separate us from your great love.
Meet us today through your Spirit.
Renew our faith.
Strengthen our hope.
Give life to our love.
In the name of the Risen Saviour we pray,
concluded by the hymn: "Majesty" MP212
Prayer Of Confession
All: Almighty God, you have raised Jesus from the grave
and crowned him Lord of all.
We confess that we have not bowed before Him
or acknowledged His rule fully in our lives.
We have gone along with the way of the world
and failed to give Him glory.
Forgive us and raise us from sin,
that we may be your faithful people,
obeying the calling of our Lord Jesus Christ
who rules the world
and is Head of the Church, His body.
Assurance Of Pardon
Pastor: Though we face death in sin
God makes us alive together with Him
When He forgave us all our sins
Erasing the record that stood against us.
He nailed it to the cross.
He triumphed over sin and evil.
He makes us new.
He brings us life.
Thanks - deepest thanks - be to God!!
Hymn: "Oh, How Good Is Christ The Lord" PH 401
God's Holy Will For Living - Ephesians 5:8-14
Leader: Though your hearts were once full of darkness,
Now you are full of light from the Lord.
Let your behavior show it!
All: This light within us produces what is good and right and true.
We will seek to do what is pleasing to the Lord.
We will take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness;
instead, we will rebuke and expose them.
Leader: Yes, it is shameful even to talk about the things
that ungodly people do in secret.
But when the light shines on them,
it becomes clear how evil these things are.
All: When the light of Christ shines into our lives, evil is exposed.
The pure way of Life is revealed.
We hear the call of God -
"Awake, O sleeper, rise up from the dead,
and Christ will give you light."
Leader: So be careful how you live,
Not as fools but as those who are wise.
All: We will make the most of every opportunity
for doing good each day that God gives us.
Hymn: Lord, I Lift Your Name On High" SANC 157
GROWING IN GOD'S WORD
Prayer Of Illumination
God of life,
your Spirit raised Jesus from dead.
Your Spirit inspired the prophets and writers of Scripture.
Your Spirit draws us to Christ
and helps us to acknowledge him as Lord.
We ask that you will send your Spirit now
to give us deeper insight, encouragement, faith, and hope
through the proclamation of the good news of Eternal Life.
RESPONDING WITH GLADNESS
Hymn: Love In The Grave Christ Lay" PH 396
Prayers Of The People
Hymn: "Protector Of My Soul" MP 38
LEAVING INTO GOD'S SERVICE
Dedication To Easter Living
All: I believe in the Jesus who healed
and the Jesus who was arrested.
I believe in the Jesus who was abused
and the Jesus who abused not in return.
I believe in the Jesus who was called a traitor
and the Jesus who was a peacemaker.
I believe in the Jesus who was falsely accused
and the Jesus who turned those accusations back on his accusers.
I believe in the Jesus who was crucified
and the Jesus who forgave his crucifiers
as they watched the breath of life leave him
I believe that the Jesus who was buried on Friday
is the Christ who arose on Sunday,
and because I believe this,
I affirm Jesus to be the Christ, Son of the living God, Savior,
liberator, long-awaited Messiah, King of kings and Lord of lords.
I gladly proclaim the day of Christ's resurrection
to be the Easter for all generations.
Glory to God—our Savior lives!
Parting Prayer Blessing
May God our Father's endurance and encouragement surround us,
As followers of Jesus Christ
That in our lives and with our mouths
we may give whole-hearted glory to our Lord.
Triune God, grant your blessing to be with us all. Amen.
Hymn: "Alleluia, Alleluia" PH 402 v.2,4
Leader: Let us proclaim the mystery of our Easter faith -
All:v Christ has died!
Christ is risen!
Christ will come again!
Pastor: The peace of the Lord go with you.
All: And also with you.
Invite the congregation to exchange a word of peace and greeting as they leave the Sanctuary