Easter Sunday 2023

photo of dogwood in bloom in front of Bluemont Church

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry & Bluemont Churches

Easter Sunday, April 9, 2023
Matthew 28:1-15

At the beginning of worship:

The resurrection happened on the first of the week. It did not happen on the Sabbath, the holy day, but on what in the first century was a workday. Something new occurs. The Sabbath ends at sunset and before the sun rises, the women head to the tomb. God, in Jesus Christ, is resurrected and as Christians, we now hollow this day, the first day of the week, the day of resurrection.[1]

Before reading the Scripture:

We’re reading this morning from Matthew. We might think of this as the story of the resurrection, but that’s not right. None of the gospels tell us about the resurrection itself. Instead, we’re told of the encounters the women and disciples had with the resurrected Christ. The resurrection remains shrouded in mystery, for when the two Marys arrived at the tomb, Jesus was no longer there. Matthew always reminds us that from the beginning there was an effort to cover up what had happened. Listen.

Read Matthew 28:1-15

Once there was a man with a pet lamb. He fed it by hand and played with it every day. When hard times came, he was forced to take his pet lamb to the market to sell. Now there were three thieves who heard of the man’s plan and plotted to take it away from him in a clever way.

Early in the morning the man rose and put the lamb on his shoulder and began the journey to the market. As he traveled down the road, the first thief approached him and asked, “Why are you carrying that dog on your shoulder?” The man laughed, “This is not a dog, it’s my pet lamb and I am taking him to market.

After he walked a little farther the second thief crossed his path and said, “What a fine dog you have there. Where are you taking it?” Puzzled, the man took the lamb off his shoulders and looked carefully at it. “This is not a dog,” he said slowly. “It is a lamb, and I am taking it to market.”

Shortly before he reached the market the third thief met the man and said, “Sir, I don’t think they will allow you to take your dog into the market.” Completely confused, the man took his lamb off his shoulders and sat it on the ground. “If three people say that this is a dog, then surely it must be a dog,” he thought. He left the lamb behind and walked to the market. If he had bothered to look back, he would have seen the thieves picking up his lamb and running off with it.[2]

Are we like the man and the lamb?

Those of us who make up the Christian Church are often like the man with the lamb. We lose our focus by allowing other people’s opinions to shape our vision. To appease the world, some try to conform the gospel to science and popular opinion and end up not knowing what we believe.    

The gospel truth

The truth of the Christian faith is that God raised Jesus from the dead. It is not something we can prove. Paul himself, in the first century, admitted that it makes no sense outside of faith, that to non-believers it’s mere foolishness.[3] Our belief in the resurrection cannot be based on empirical evidence. The resurrection is about God’s power, but the story itself must be accepted on faith.  

Do people really know what we celebrate today? For some, the idea that Jesus laid in a tomb deader than a doornail and then raised from the dead is a scandal. It’s easier for them to believe the disciples stole the body. Or perhaps, today, it’s easier to believe in some silly bunny, a rabbit who should be the patron saint of dentists, bringing chocolates to the kids. 

What are we celebrating?

Or maybe Easter is about the rite of spring. As a child, we brought out our spring clothes on Easter. We took pictures of the family, generally in front of an azalea which bloomed in Eastern North Carolina this time of year. 

On Easter, girls once again could wear white shoes. They were allowed them to till Labor Day. Guys could wear lighter colored jackets. I’m not sure who the fashion police were back then, but many mothers lived in fear of them. 

Easter has become a holiday whom marketers embrace to sell candy, flowers, hams, and clothes. So, is it any wonder, according to a Gallup poll I heard many years ago, 25% of people in church on Easter Sunday don’t know what they were celebrating?  

Forgiveness and Hope: The Church’s gift to the world

Have we, followers of Jesus and members of his church become so lackadaisical that we no longer know what we are all about? Jesus Christ has given the Church two primary things to offer the world which no other organization has: FORGIVENESS AND HOPE. Forgiveness centers around the events on Good Friday, on Jesus’ death for our sin. As Peter wrote in his first epistle, “Christ bore our sins in his body on the cross that we might die from sin and live for righteousness.”[4]

Hope is based on the events of Easter morning itself, of the tomb being empty. It was there in those early morning hours the women and the disciples learned that God’s power is greater than all the powers of evil combined. God’s power extends over the grave. As Christ’s Church, we offer forgiveness and hope to the world, telling the gospel story repeatedly to each new generation.

The Two mary’s and the tomb

According to Matthew, the two Marys went to Jesus’ tomb early in the morning on the first day of the week. It was not yet dawn, but the Sabbath was over. But it was still dark. Anxiety, uncertainty, and fear lurk in the darkness. 

Did the women know what to expect at sunrise? It’s doubtful. Two of the other gospels tell us they planned to prepare Jesus’ body for its eternal rest, a required task.[5] Besides, psychologically, this ritual would help them put the death of Jesus behind them and allow them to get on with their lives.

Things happened quickly that morning. There’s an earthquake, then there’s an angel rolling back the stone. Ironically, the guards froze, as if they were dead. Matthew has fun here; the guards that are alive are as if they are dead, while the one who was supposed to be dead in the tomb is out and walking around.

The Earthquake and the coming of the end

Furthermore, the earthquake symbolizes the end of the old order. In Chapter 24, Jesus told the disciples there would be earthquakes before the end and we’ve now witnessed two earthquakes in three days![6] The end is upon us, having begun with the death and resurrection of Jesus. God’s kingdom replaces the older order.. We’re in the last days.[7]

The women are shocked with fear with not only the earthquake, but an angel descending from above and rolling away the stone covering the tomb. Notice, however, this isn’t the resurrection. The angel reassures them that Jesus has already risen and orders them to tell the disciples to meet him in Galilee. Think about this, the resurrection has already occurred. The stone rolled away just opens the tomb, its emptiness serving as evidence of the resurrection. 

Suddenly, the women’s lives are changed. They run and tell disciples, only to be surprised when Jesus appears to them. Jesus calls out to them, using a Greek word translated in most Bibles as “Greetings,” but a better translation might be “Rejoice!”[8] “Rejoice” conveys more feeling and power than “greetings” which is just a simple hello. Jesus’ words shock the women, and in awe, they kneel at his feet and worship him.

He gives the women the same instructions as the angel, with only one slight, but very important difference. “Do not be afraid,” he says, “go and tell my brothers that I will see them in Galilee.” No longer are Jesus’ followers just disciples, they are now his brothers.

Go! Run! Tell!

GO! TELL! RUN! These verbs used by Matthew create sense of movement and urgency to get the message out, to let the disciples know that God has raised Jesus Christ. The followers of Jesus had gone to bed on the Sabbath thinking that it was all over. Their friend Jesus had met his end on the cross. But on Easter morning, an open tomb shadows the cross and because of God’s love and action, the followers of Jesus once again have hope. 

GO! TELL! RUN! It’s imperative that the message gets out and is spread across the world. Jesus Christ is risen, today!

we accept the resurrection on faith

As I’ve indicated, we accept the resurrection on faith, not on empirical evidence. Obviously, Matthew is not interested in “proving” the resurrection. He tells the story from the eyes of two women, and you may remember that women in 1st century Palestine did not even have the right to testify in court. They would not have been considered creditable witnesses. The disciples were called to believe by faith. By faith they had left their former trades and followed Jesus and by faith they set out for Galilee to see the resurrected Lord. 

Like the disciples, we too are called to believe by faith. If we believe by faith, Jesus promises his presence and we will witness his glory.  

That first Easter began somewhat obscurely during the coolness of an early morning on the first day of the week. A few women, a disciple or two, and a few guards were all who experienced it and knew that something special had happened. 

Most everyone else in Jerusalem, as in the rest of the world, continue with their lives as if nothing happened. But soon the message spread. We are not told how the resurrection happens; only that it changed the disciples. It also has the power to change us.

GO! RUN! TELL! The urgency of those words still applies to you and me. Our troubled world needs to hear about God’s love and power. We may be hopeless like the disciples on that Holy Saturday. But because of God’s power, things can change. God is in control, and we see evidence of this when life is the darkest. Don’t believe the naysayers. Place your trust in a God who has power over the grave. It’s our only hope. Amen. 

[1]Frederick Dale Bruner, The Churchbook: Matthew 13-28), (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 779-780.

[2] William R. White, Stories for the Journey (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1988) 26-7.

[3] See I Corinthians 1:18-31.

[4] 1 Peter 2:24.                        

[5] The other gospels also include different women attending the grave, but they all include Mary Magdalene. Mark says they were to anoint the body (Mark 16:1; Luke says they came with prepared spices (Luke 24:1), John doesn’t mention spices and has Mary Magdalene coming to the tomb by herself.  

[6] Matthew 24:7. The first earthquake occurred during the crucifixion. See Matthew 27:51.

[7] See Bruner, 781-782.

[8] Douglas R. A. Hare, Matthew (Louisville: John Knox’s, 1993) p. 330.

Bluemont Church with blooming dogwood

A new day, but will we tell anyone?

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
Easter Sunday 2021
Mark 16:1-8

Sermon recorded at Bluemont Church on Friday, April 2, 2021

At the beginning of worship: 

Why do we come here this morning? Do we come because it’s the thing to do on Easter Sunday? To get all dressed up for church. Do we come because we’re excited about the empty tomb and wonder what will happen next? Or do we come because we realize how empty Easter will be if we allow the holiday to be completely commercialized?  

The Commercialization of Easter

A number of years ago, there was a cartoon on the opinion page of a newspaper that caught my attention. The words at the top read the “Commercialization of Easter.” Down below it showed a kid who had bitten into a giant chocolate Easter Bunny. The kid then looks into the bunny that’s empty on the inside and shouts, “It’s hollow!” He’s right. I often felt that way about those chocolate Easter bunnies. They’re deceiving. You think you’ve hit the chocolate jackpot and find it thinly disguised.

But think of this seriously. If today is just about Easter Bunnies and spring dresses and flowers (many of which were killed in the freeze over the past few days), the holiday is hollow. Yet, the boy’s also right in another way. For the tomb is hollow, which is another way to say it’s empty. An empty tomb and Jesus set free makes all the difference in the world. The empty tomb in which we hear the hollow echo of our voices, provides hope.

Taft and Coffin 

Supposedly, back early in last century, William Howard Taft, the President of the United States, and Henry Sloane Coffin, one of the great preachers of the time, discussed the League of Nations. In case you don’t remember, the League of Nations was an attempt after the First World War to establish a United Nations type of organization. In discussing the League’s demise, Taft reportedly said to Coffin, “You ought to know that in this world the best things get crucified; but they rise again.”[1]

Personally, I don’t think that’s always true. It goes against logic, which makes Easter all the more important. I believe and know that Jesus was crucified, died and was buried, and he rose again. And that’s why I come here on this morning. That’s why we worship on the first the day of the week. I hope this is why you come. We come because the tomb is empty. Christ is risen. Even though it seemed on Friday that evil had its way, as it so often does, we come here this morning to celebrate good over evil, life over death.

Sunrise, a few weeks ago

After the Reading of Scripture: 

Mark has an interesting way of telling the Easter story. Just after the sun rises, two women, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome, come to the tomb for the sole purpose of anointing Jesus’ body. They want to prepare the corpse for its eventual decay. They’re ready with spices and bandages. They do this because they were friends of Jesus; in a sense they were a part of his earthly family. It’s their duty and also a way to say goodbye and to put this part of their life behind them. Furthermore, because Jesus died late on the day before the Sabbath, he had to be quickly placed in the tomb before the Sabbath began at sunset. So, there wasn’t time to prepare the body for the grave.

Not everything could be done on Friday 

These women are going to do what they were not able to do on Friday. Yet, they head to the tomb with faith, for they know someone will have to roll away the stone. Along the way they discuss this problem. But they are unable to come up with an answer.

The Surprise at the Tomb

 Then, when they reach the tomb, they find the unexpected has happened. The stone has already been removed. And when they look inside, instead of finding Jesus, they see a young man who obviously is an angel, a messenger from God, dressed in white. Mark tells us they were alarmed, which seems to be an unnecessary bit of information. Of course, they are alarmed. We’d be, too. The dead don’t rise from the grave. 

This young man acknowledges that they are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who had been crucified. Certainly, those who suffered on the cross don’t rise from the grave. Yet, that’s what he said has happened. Jesus has been raised. They are to go and tell the disciples that Jesus will meet them in Galilee. 

A Natural Reaction

And what do the women do? Scared to death, they flee, and they don’t tell anyone what happened. That, by the way, is the original ending of the book of Mark.[2] And it’s where I am ending the text we’re wrestling with today. 

Mark’s gospel verses John’s

There is a reason Mark’s gospel contains the least favorite resurrection story. Most of us prefer John, with its beautiful language and storytelling. There, we’re told Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb alone, before sunrise. It’s still dark. She comes, probably wanting some quiet time with Jesus, only to find the stone rolled away and Jesus missing. She runs and tells the disciples. Next, there’s the foot race between Peter and John. 

While Peter and John check out the tomb, Mary Magdalene hangs around outside. A strange man comforts her. She takes him as the gardener. But when this man calls Mary by name, she recognizes him. Out of a deep devotion, she calls him Rabbi… Jesus has made his first resurrection appearance.

Attempts to “Clean Up” Mark’s Ending

But Mark, he ends his story with the women running away and so distraught that they cannot tell anyone. It doesn’t seem right. A century or so later, in the end of the second and early in the third century, we have two additional endings of Mark’s gospel. One is short, the other is long. The long one contains a number of interesting appearances of Jesus along with a commissioning that speaks of them handling snakes and drinking poison, something not mentioned in the other gospels and certainly not done in most Presbyterian Churches. 

Why Did Mark End His Story this Way?

Why did the original ending of Mark leave us with frightened women who can’t tell what happened?[3] Did Mark run out of time to finish his gospel? Perhaps he suffered an early martyrdom. Dragged away with his pen still wet? Or perhaps he meant to end the story here, leaving us hanging. That’s a common literary technique. Movies do this. The reader is left to ponder what happened. 

The Caine Mutiny

Some of you may remember the book, movie or Broadway play, “The Caine Munity.”[4] In was about the crew of a minesweeper in the South Pacific during World War 2. The captain, acting irrationally, forces the other officers aboard the ship to relieve him of command. This results in their court-martial. 

There was a remake of the play, which I saw in 2003. The original movie and play concluded with the acquittals of the officers and the reaction of others crew members at a party afterwards. But in this remake, the play ends after both the prosecution and defense rests their case. In the remake, it’s left up to the audience to decide the guilt and innocence of the defendants. 

Mark’s Saying, It’s Up to Us

In a way, the original ending of Mark’s gospel is like that. We’re left to wonder, to finish out the story. Do we believe it? And, if so, does it make any difference in our lives?

Where Jesus’ Meets Us

Another way to understand the ending is to consider what the women were told. They were to tell the disciples that Jesus was going to meet them in Galilee. Why Galilee, we might wonder? Well, Galilee is where they’re from. They’re tourists or pilgrims in Jerusalem. They grew up in Galilee. It’s where they work, and their families are at. In other words, Galilee is their ordinary life. 

And where does Jesus meet us? For some, it happens in church, but most often, I suggest, Jesus meets us where we live and work. In other words, Jesus meets us in the ordinary. 

Ann Lamott’s Conversion

One of the most moving conversion stories I’ve heard is from Ann Lamott. In her book, Traveling Mercies, she writes about being totally down and out. It was 1984 and she lived on a small houseboat in the San Francisco Bay. Because the father was married, she recently had an abortion. A few days after the procedure, something went wrong. She began to bleed. Instead of seeking help, she drank and did drugs and wanted to die. 

Throughout this time, she felt someone sitting at the foot of the loft where he had her bed. She turned on the light to see and no one was there. But she was sure it was Jesus, watching over her. He was gone in the morning. However, for the next few days, she felt as if Jesus was following her like a cat. And, like a cat, she knew if she ever let him in, she could never get rid of him. After about a week, she relented. She accepted Jesus into her life.[5]

Jesus Will Meet Us in Galilee

Jesus meets us in the Galilees of our lives. Like Lamott, we may be down and out. We may be filled with grief. Or we may be looking for direction. And then Jesus shows up. Sometimes, like with Lamott, he’s by himself. Other times he shows up through the actions of another believer who reaches out to us. And Jesus offers hope. The tomb is no longer the end. Life is beautiful and continues on. “Come, follow me, let me show you,” he says. 

The Empty Tomb Gives Hope

We gather here today as Christians have gathered over the millenniums, because the empty tomb gives us hope and provides us with possibilities of what life is all about.  We gather because once we look into the empty tomb, our lives are changed. No longer do we need to look back, like the women did when they were ready to anoint the body with spices. 

We can now look forward into a new and exciting future that God is creating. On Easter, we’re reminded not to only enter the tomb in sadness, but to pause and look around in awe and then leave amazed at what God can do.   

Power Over Death

God’s power extends over death, so we no longer have to be afraid of dying. God’s power extends over evil, so we no longer have to be afraid of what might happen to us in this frightening world. God’s power extends over our lives so that we don’t have to live in fear that we’ll mess us.  Do not be afraid, the angel to the women, for the tomb is empty. Halleluiah! Christ is risen! Amen.  

 [1]As quoted by Richard Dixon in the Presbyterian Outlook, 15 January 1996.

[2] There are several possibilities according to Bruce Metzger: 1. The evangelist intended to close his Gospel at this place. 2. The Gospel was never finished. Or 3. The Gospel accidentally lost its last leaf before it was transcribed. See Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (1971, United Bible Societies, 1975), n7.  

[3] For a detailed treatment on Mark’s ending, see Morna D. Hooker, The Gospel According to Saint Mark (London: A & C Black, Publisher, 1991), 391-394.

[4] Herman Wouk, The Caine Munity, 1951. It was made into a movie in 1954 (Staring Humphrey Bogart) and as a 2 act Broadway play in 1954. The adaptation I saw in 2003 was at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. 

[5] Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith (New York: Anchor Books, 1999), 48-50. 

“I Have Seen the Lord!”


Jeff Garrison
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
John 20:1-18
Easter Sunday, April 12, 2020


Throughout Lent, we have been looking at pieces of art from around the world as a way to get into the Scriptures for each Sunday. We’re going to continue this tradition through the Easter Season. Today, we are looking at another artwork from the country of Cameroon, as the artist imagines Jesus and Mary Magdalene looking like the people of that country. Let’s think for a moment about what Mary Magdalene is thinking up to this point in the story:

          I’ve stuck by Jesus ever since I encountered him that day on the road, long before we came to Jerusalem, when he freed me of those seven demons that had tormented me.[1] I gave him what I had to support his ministry. I followed him from Galilee to Jerusalem. This past week has been overwhelming, from the glorious entry into Jerusalem, beginning with the waving of palm branches and the shouting of Hosanna. Whenever I could be close to Jesus and listen to his teachings, I was there. I heard him teach in the temple about giving to Caesar what was Caesar’s  and giving to God what was God’s, and about the generosity of the poor woman with two coins, whom most ignored, but whom Jesus lifted up as an example of faith. I was there, in the background at the dinners, and I followed Jesus as he was led away like a criminal. How a man who had freed me of such evil could be considered a criminal and a threat to the nation, I’ll never understand. I watched in horror as he was beaten and mocked and then led to the hill of death, where they crucified him. I couldn’t believe what was happening.

          I’ve had a hard time sleeping the last two nights. I kept wanting to be with him again, but I know he’s dead. When the birds began to sing in the predawn hours, I decided to get up and head to the tomb. I wasn’t prepared to find it empty, and Jesus’ body gone. I wondered where they had taken my Lord, and ran and told the disciples. Afterwards, as I was wandering around lost, I couldn’t believe my ears. He called me by name, “Mary.” Things are never going to be the same…[2]

Now let us listen to today’s lesson as I read from the 20th Chapter of John’s gospel.[3]

         We have spent all of Lent looking at the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry: From the entry into Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday, to the teachings at the temple and the various dinners and then the betrayal that led to Jesus’ death. On Friday, we appeared to be the end of the story. Jesus is dead. His lifeless body is sealed in a tomb as the sun is going down on the day for preparing for the Sabbath. Everyone returns to their homes or where they’ve been staying. I’m sure Caiaphas, the chief priest, and Pilate, the Roman governor, along others in leadership positions are glad to be done with this rabble-rouser. They may have even rested well on the Sabbath. Others, like the disciples and those who had followed Jesus were troubled. But they, too, felt it was over. They saw Jesus’ limp body be taken from the cross. But, as we know, the story doesn’t end.

         John begins the 20th Chapter with several statements about time. It’s early. It’s the first day of the week. In the first chapter, John’s gospel has an echo of Genesis. Both start the same way, “In the beginning…” John takes that well-known phrase from the opening chapter of Scripture and applies it to Jesus. Jesus, the Word, was with God at the beginning of creation. God is doing something new. As in the seven days of Creation, when God created heaven and earth, we now have a new week. In the first week of Creation, God created humanity, the crown of creation, on day six. Now, on day six, God once again does his triumphant work, reconciling a sinful humanity with the divine through the sacrifice of God’s Son. That’s Good Friday. God rests on the seventh day, the Sabbath, our Saturday. And then, on the first day of the new week, in those early morning hours, God begins a new age.

          As Paul proclaims, Christ is the first fruit of those who died.[4] With the resurrection of Christ, God is beginning to do something new. N. T. Wright explains in his essay on John 20, the Easter story is more than just God putting a happy ending to a really bad week. Easter is the beginning of God’s new creation. The work of the Father in creation, and the work of the Son in redemption, are complete.[5] It’s now the eighth day. We’re in a new era.

         The reports of this new era start with a restless Mary Magdalene going to the tomb while it’s still dark and seeing that it’s open. Of course, her experience, as is ours, is that once you are dead, there’s no coming back. So she runs to tell the disciples. Two of them, Peter and probably John, race each other back to the gravesite.[6] And there they find an empty tomb, with the linen cloths that had wrapped Jesus’ body left behind. But none of them know what to think. In verse 8, we’re told that the faster disciple believed, but what did he believe? The next verse seems to indicate that he only believed the tomb was open, and that Mary’s report was factual. They did not understand that Jesus must rise from the dead. So instead of hanging around, they head back to bed.

        Mary hangs around. We get a sense of what she is thinking when she answers the angels who want to know why she’s crying. “They’ve taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.” Mary Magdalene still believes that Jesus is dead. She assumes, because she can’t imagine otherwise, that some grave robber broke into the tomb and took the body away. In her mind, this is a terrible deed. It would be a terrible deed. You don’t mess with dead bodies. Even our military prosecutes soldiers who desecrate enemy dead. After all, once they are dead, they no longer pose a threat and are no longer enemies.[7]

Mary Magdalene, who has a front row seat at what God is doing, can’t imagine what’s happening. Even when she first sees Jesus, she assumes he’s the gardener. After all, dead men don’t walk around. She thinks the gardener may even be responsible for removing Jesus’ body. It’s only when Jesus calls her by name does she realizes that what has happened is more marvelous than she could ever imagine. John has already told us that the Good Shepherd knows his sheep by name.[8] And Jesus knew Mary, and when she hears her name, she recognizes him.

In Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, he is always assigning his followers with a mission. Jesus assignment for Mary Magdalene is insightful. Go and tell my brothers…” he says. The disciples are elevated; instead of disciples, they’re now brothers, on equal terms with Jesus. Furthermore, Mary is lifted up into this family, for Jesus tells her that he’ll ascend to “my Father and your Father, my God and your God.” Having been called by name, Mary Magdalene is now a part of Jesus’ family.[9] She runs off to obey Jesus, going to the disciples and saying “I have seen the Lord!” Could there ever be a more wonderful proclamation? Their world would never be the same.

         This is an Easter unlike any we’ve experienced before. Instead of being together, wearing new clothes, bringing flowers to decorate the cross afterwards while kids hunt Easter eggs, we’re all separated as we strive to stop this virus that has unleashed death upon the earth. In some ways, we’re like the disciples, who were essentially hiding on that first Easter. Yes, Mary was out, as well as Peter and John for a short period, but once they saw Jesus’ body is gone, they head back to where the rest of the disciples are hiding. In fact, if you keep reading, you’ll see the disciples were not only hiding, they were behind locked doors.[10] But this time of isolation didn’t last for them, nor will it last forever for us. Sooner or later, things will go back to some kind of normality.

We will once again be able to gather and to enjoy each other’s presence. Yes, we’ll once again show off Easter bonnets and hunt eggs and flower a cross. But we won’t be able to go back to exactly the way things were, and that’s okay. This was true for the disciples, too. They didn’t go back to those carefree days of traveling around Galilee with Jesus. But that was okay, too, because they were experiencing something new and even better. They got to tell the world the good news.

          This is the meaning of this “great pause” we are living through right now.[11] In a way, we’re given a gift. We have the time we need to ponder what’s important in our lives. And if we can hold on to what’s important, what we value and cherish, our lives after things return to normal will be much richer. Friends, use this time, this gift, to grow closer to our Lord and to learn to depend upon him. And if we do that, we can be like Mary Magdalene, so when our Savior through the Holy Spirit calls us by name, we’ll be ready to answer. Amen.



[1] Luke 8:2

[2] Inspired by John 20 and an article on Mary Magdalene in Frederick Buechner, Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who (New York: Harper and Row, 1979), 101-103.

[3] In the worship service, the Reverend Deanie Strength will do the opening monologue of Mary Magdalene’s thoughts and read the Scriptures.

[4] 1 Corinthians 15:20

[5] N. T. Wright, Surprised by Scripture, (New York: HarperOne, 2014), 209.

[6] While John’s name is not given, it is generally assumed that he is the other disciple.

[7] For such rules from all nations including the United States, see https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/customary-ihl/eng/docs/v2_rul_rule113

[8] John 10:3.

[9] Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012), 1152 & 1154.

[10] John 20:19.

[11] The term “great pause” comes from Julio Vincent Gambuto, “Prepare for the Ultimate Gaslighting,” April 10, 2020, https://medium.com/@juliovincent/prepare-for-the-ultimate-gaslighting-6a8ce3f0a0e0.

The Resurrection

Jeff Garrison 
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
Easter Sunday, 2019
1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Resurrection Day! The most holy day in the Christian calendar as we celebrate the risen Christ! And what a glorious day we’re enjoying.

Today I begin a series on the resurrection, working through Paul’s final essay in 1st Corinthians? Some scholars divide 1st Corinthians into five essays.[1] Paul’s first essay, which consist of the first four chapters, focuses on the problem of divisions within the church. His answer is unity through the cross. So Paul begins this letter talking about the cross. His final essay is about the resurrection. Paul covers the bases in 1st Corinthians, from Good Friday to Easter Sunday.

The 15th chapter of 1st Corinthians provides the most detailed treatment of the resurrection found in scripture. In the gospels, we read first-hand accounts of Jesus’ resurrection. Here, Paul explores resurrection theology and its implication.

The focus of our faith is that Christ rose from the grave.  Yes, it’s important that he paid the price for our sin on Friday.  But if there is no resurrection, what difference would it make?  The reason Friday can be called “Good Friday” and not “Black Friday” or “Sad Friday” or “We are Doomed Friday” is because Christ rose from the dead.  And he promises the same to those who believe and follow him.

Fredrick Buechner visualizes the resurrection this way:

“Remember Jesus of Nazareth, staggering on broken feet out of the tomb toward the Resurrection, bearing on his body the proud insignia of the defeat which is victory, the magnificent defeat of the human soul at the hands of God.”[2]


The resurrection is victory over all that is evil and corrupt. It’s a victory over all that’s wrong with this world. It’s a victory over death! The cross is not the final word. We deserve death for our sin, but God cancels what is owed and through Jesus Christ, offers us life. Let’s hear what Paul has to say: Read 1st Corinthians 15:1-11)

It was about this time of the year that Elvira showed up at church one Sunday morning. It was during my first year as a pastor in Cedar City, Utah. She was a frail woman and asked that we pray for her son, Carl, who was battling cancer. We did. Over the next few weeks she kept coming and I got to know her better. She was living in an adult foster home as her daughter, who’d moved her from Nebraska to the daughter’s home in Utah, couldn’t deal with her anymore. I also learned that she had not seen her son in years, even though he was now living in Las Vegas, just a three hour drive away.

A few months later, her daughter who lived in St. George, about fifty miles away, came to see me. “I need to explain my mother,” she said. I felt she was looking for me to relieve her of guilt for having placed her mother in this adult foster home. She got more than she’d bargained for that afternoon. When she left my office, she more troubled than when she had arrived, and I can only credit it to God. For you see, as she was telling me about her mother, she started to talk about her good-for-nothing brother, the one for whom we’d been praying. She couldn’t understand why he mattered so much to her mother. As she talked, things began to click in my mind.

“Wait just a minute,” I finally interrupted. “Your brother, Carl, does he also go by Doug.” There was a period of silence. She turned pale. I had my answer. It was awkward.

His name was Carl Douglas and he had lived in Virginia City when I was a student pastor there. In the five or so years in between, I’d lost track of Doug, but I had been with him when the doctor had given him the bad news that he had cancer. When I last talked to him, it was in remission, but had come back with a vengeance. I’d been praying for this friend, without knowing it, for months. And now I was sitting across from his estranged sister. Unlike her, I had only good memories of her brother. New Year’s Eve 1988 was one.  It was a Saturday and we both had plans for the evening, but when I was in the church practicing my sermon I heard water running and after checking found there was a busted pipe in the heating system, underneath the organ. Doug came right down and we spent a couple of hours fixing the pipe so that we might have heat for Sunday. That was only one example. He was known of his kindness, for being quick to offer a hand to those in need.

Soon after this meeting with his sister, I was in Las Vegas and was able to see Doug. He was pretty sick and knew he was going to die, but he was in good spirits and happy to see me and to hear about his mom. He asked me to officiate at his funeral. I agreed. A few weeks later, he rebounded a bit and some friends brought him up to Cedar City where he was reunited with his mother. We all had lunch together. It would be the last time Doug saw his mother. He died a few weeks later.  His sister still didn’t want anything to do with him, even in death, so when I drove down to Vegas to officiate at his funeral, I took his mother along. Since Doug had lived there for less than a year, there were only a dozen or so people at the service—his mom, his son, and a few friends.

A few months after the funeral, Elvira arranged to move back to Nebraska. When I think about all this, I’m amazed. I see God’s hand at work. What was the probability Elvira would end up in a church in a distant city where the pastor knew her son? There was actually a good chance her son could have died and she’d never seen him or even been able to attend the funeral, or even know of his death. Thankfully, she was able to see him and attend his funeral. God enjoys working to bring about surprises and joy!

This all happened 25 years ago. I doubt Elvira is still with us. She wasn’t in the best of health and in her late 70s at the time. But in a way, she got to experience a “resurrection” of her son and that’s something special. And the best of it. It was only an appetizer to the resurrection to come.

If you look at the first verse of this chapter, you’ll see that Paul begins this section of his letter by reminding the Corinthians of what he had proclaimed to them, what they had received, and upon which they’d taken a stand. One has to first hear the good news, then accept it, internalize it, believe it and share it. It’s all necessary to complete this process of being saved. But some in Corinthian must not have taken those last steps. They’d heard the gospel preached, they listened, but they never lived it, they never internalized it and now they are beginning to question the whole concept.

Imagine hearing this letter (there were only a few people back then who could read and furthermore, with only one copy of the letter, most people would be listening to it). Think about what it was like when it was being read. You listen. Some in the room maybe getting nervous for they’ve denied the resurrection.  They’re feeling the point of Paul’s pen.

In the middle of verse three, Paul cites an early creed of the church. A creed is a summary of the faith. Sometimes we recite the Apostle’s Creed, but this creed is even shorter. It testifies to five things:

Christ died for our sins.
His death was accordance to scripture.
He was buried which indicates that he really was dead, not just passed out.
He then rose from the dead on the third day and finally,
He appeared to a whole bunch of people.


From the very beginning of the church, this creed testifies to the importance of the resurrection for understanding the faith. Without it, the church has no reason to exist.

The listing of those to whom Christ appears is interesting.  Paul acknowledges that he’s a latecomer. Paul also doesn’t mention the women at the tomb, instead starts his list with Cephas or Peter. Some scholars have suggested this is because Paul is a chauvinist, but that’s probably not the case. Instead, if we went back to the beginning of the letter, you’ll see that one of the divisions in Corinth involved those who followed Peter instead of Paul. Most of these believers were Jewish, which is why Paul uses Cephas, Peter’s Jewish name. We also know that Paul and Peter had significant differences. By beginning with Peter, Paul may be trying to mend fences. Besides, the Corinthians know Peter, but they probably didn’t know the various Marys and others who were there at the grave.

In the spirit of mending fences, Paul tacks on Christ’s appearance to him at the end of his list. He humbles himself, acknowledges that before this appearance he didn’t believe. He had persecuted the church. When Christ appeared to him, he was most undeserving. But it’s that way with grace; we’re all undeserving (that includes you and me). Paul does mention that he has worked harder than anyone for Christ, yet even that he credits to the grace of God.

N. T. Wright, an insightful theologian from the British Anglican community says this:


“Jesus’s resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord’s Prayer is about.” [3]

We pray, “Thy kingdom come,” and the kingdom begins as Christ is raised from the grave. The cross is important, my friends, but the resurrection is what makes our life of faith worth living. In it, we have hope, for we know that our God loves to surprise us with joy.  In the same book, Wright also writes:


“The message of Easter is that God’s new world has been unveiled in Jesus Christ and that you’re now invited to belong to it.”

In other words, because of the resurrection, we’re now invited to live as God intends as we join God in his work of transforming the world—a transformation that begins with the open tomb on Easter morning. Everything will be changed. Jesus has defeated death and inaugurates the reclamation of the earth for God’s purpose.

           Will we believe? Will we allow ourselves to be transformed? God is working miracles in this world. I shared one such miracle at the beginning of the sermon. God wants to reconcile the world, not just to himself, but between mother and son, brothers and sisters, friends and enemies. Will we accept God’s invitation to proclaim the good news? Will we accept the invitation to hop up on the bandwagon and follow Jesus, out of the grave and into life? Let us pray:


Almighty God, who gives life to the dead, we thank you for Jesus’ resurrection and pray that you will help all of us to be his faithful disciples, sharing his life and his hope to a confused and lost world. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.



[1] See Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians (Intervarsity Press, 2011).

[2] Frederick BuechnerThe Magnificent Defeat

[3] N.T. WrightSurprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church


Easter Sunrise Services

Easter Sunrise Services are held at Landings Harbor Marina this Sunday (April 21) at 6:30 PM.  Below is an article that appeared in The Skinnie, March 16, 2018.



The Sun Will Come Up

The wake-up call came at 4:30 AM Sunday morning.  I am staying at a hotel right across from Old Salem in present-day Winston Salem.  Washing the sleep out of my eyes, I hear the music playing from the street down below.  It was been warm when I left home in eastern North Carolina, but a cold snap descended on Saturday. I dress as warmly as possible, pulling on multiple layers.  I realize I don’t even have gloves with me.

Home Moravian Church Photo credit: Brian Leon of Ottawa on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND


By 5 AM, I am outside the hotel, walking with strangers, heading to Home Moravian Church.  On most street corners, we pass brass quartets playing Easter music, calling people to come.  By the time I reached the church, thousands are gathered, waiting in front of the steps of the church.  A cold wind blows and the dark sky spits snow. In the distance, we hear the brass playing. We shuffle around trying to stay warm and waited. The anticipation of the crowd is high as we have all gathered to participate in the second oldest Easter sunrise service in North America.  The honor for the oldest sunrise tradition belongs to the Moravians of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, who began holding such services in 1754.


It was still dark when a light comes on inside the church foyer.  Then massive wooden doors fly open and the pastor steps out, raising his arms and shouting, “Christ is Risen!” We respond, “He is Risen Indeed!”  The Pastor and his assistants step out of the church and we follow them down Church Street to God’s Acre, the community’s cemetery.  God’s Acre is actually many acres, large enough to hold the thousands who have gathered.  We pack in and wait as the sky becomes lighter gray.  A few stray flakes of snow still fall.

God’s Acre, Old Salem (with Winston Salem skyline in background) Photo credit: Flasshe on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Then it starts.  All those brass quartets unite and they march in from behind us playing Easter hymns.  As they move to the front, we stand and began to sing.  The ministers pray and read scripture. The pastor offers a brief message about the hope of the resurrection.  Somewhere behind the gray clouds, the sun rises.  A new day begins. The benediction is pronounced and we head our separate ways.

Arriving back in the hotel, I stop by the restaurant for breakfast.  The place is packed with those coming back from the service.  The poor lone waitress is running around trying to serve everyone.  Most of us just want hot coffee and are willing to wait to eat as we warm up.  She apologizes and says the management had forgotten that it’s Easter Sunday and hadn’t scheduled anyone else to work the shift.  Several of us help out, taking turns making and serving coffee as she takes and delivers our orders.


The Moravians of Old Salem have been celebrating Easter Sunrise at God’s Acre since 1772, picking up on a practice that begin in Europe in 1732.  In the town of Hernhut, which is now in the Czech Republic, the young men of the church gathered in the cemetery during the night and waited for dawn by singing hymns of the faith.  The services are simple with hymns, prayers, scripture and a brief message that is all done to the glory of God.  The sunrise service is now an established tradition within the Moravian Church and one that has been adopted by many other Christian denominations.


Of course, those Moravian young men were not the first to be up at sunrise on Easter.  That distinction goes to the women described in the gospels who headed out before sunrise to anoint Jesus body before the tomb was sealed. They were shocked to find the grave open and Jesus’ body missing.  As the events of that day unfold, they learn of his resurrection, an event that gives hope to Christians to this day.


I first attended an Easter sunrise service as a high school student.  It was held in a cemetery off Greenville Sound, east of Wilmington, North Carolina.  Unlike the year I was at Old Salem, the skies were clear.  And just as the sun broke over the horizon, its rays reflecting off the water and bring warmth to the marsh grass, several ducks took the skies, their calls and the flapping of their wings drowning out the voice of the preacher. Even they celebrated the new day.  In the years before seminary, I would attend many such services at a variety of locations. The message was always the same.  Christ has risen!


Sunrise from Virginia City Cemetery

For obvious reasons, sunrise services seem to be more popular in the American South, but as a seminary student pastor, I brought the tradition to Virginia City, Nevada.  There, we gathered on “Boot Hill” on a cold morning.  The temperature was in the mid-20s and the wind was blowing hard over Mount Davidson. But we witnessed a glorious sunrise, the rays racing up Six Mile Canyon.  Afterwards, we enjoyed coffee and warm pastries back at the church.


In my first call to a church in Ellicottville, New York, a community known for skiing, we partnered with Holiday Valley, the local ski resort, to host the service on a deck outside a clubhouse.  It was even colder than at Virginia City, but most of us were dressed appropriately, wearing ski bids and parkers.  A young woman volunteered to provide music on a keyboard.  We started with a song and were going to close with the traditional hymn, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.”  As we began to sing, she missed note after note and I looked over to see what was wrong.  The keyboard had frosted over between hymns and her fingers were sticking to the keys.  Afterwards, with hot drinks and donuts inside the lodge, we had a laugh over the situation.  The next year, she brought a blanket to lay over the keyboard.


This year, Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church will hold a Sunrise Service for islanders at Landing Harbor Marina on Easter Sunday, April 1, beginning at 6:45 AM.  Sunrise is at 7:12 AM.  We shouldn’t have to worry about fingers sticking to the keyboard or shuffling around to stay warm in freezing weather, but you may want to come prepared with bug spray, a jacket and a lounge chair.  We’ll gather in the darkness and the service will conclude shortly after the sunrise.  If it is raining, the service will move to Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church, located at 50 Diamond Causeway.  There, in Liston Hall, we can experience a virtual sunrise on a video monitor while enjoying dry conditions.  Last year, a large crowd enjoyed a glorious Sunrise and everyone is invited again this year.


For more information, call Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church at 598-0151 or go to the website, www.sipres.org.

Sunrise Service 2018