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Sermons for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, & Easter:

          John 20:1-18 or Luke 24:1-10  -  "The Good News of Easter"
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As I look around, I see great events playing out on the world stage: Democracy is being brought to regions of the world that never really understood the dignity of individual citizens or the joy of liberty. World health organizations are working around the clock to stem the tide of SARS a disease which if not fought might become another black plague. An unprecedented ability to communicate ideas and beliefs to any part of the world and to any person in the world is quickly becoming commonplace. And the ability to move produce and goods around the world makes it possible as never before to bring significant relief to regions of the world that suffer. These world-shaping events are so important. They are literally changing the course of history. And as I watch, I wonder. I wonder what I am doing here in this pulpit. If the real action isn't out there doing the world shaping. And then I am reminded of two things.

First, I am reminded that no event in history has shaped the world like the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 

And Second I reminded of this simple fact about life. Life does not go on forever. There is death. Every one of us must face our mortality. There is no military victory, no medical cure, no global village that can prepare any individual to answer the ultimate questions in life. And this morning I stand to proclaim Hope, the hope of His Resurrection. There is death. Yes. But life is in Jesus Christ, the hope of our resurrection.

 

Friends, you have come here this morning with a sense of anticipation and longing. There are sobering questions on your mind and much hangs in the balance. Is there hope? Is there new life? Is there reason for joy? The answer to your questions has arrived this day. It is here waiting for you. It is a three-word message: Christ Is Risen! Good news for the depressed. Good news for those who have lost loved ones. Good news. Good news to those who have lost their joy, Christ is risen.

 

Consider with me this morning the implications of Easter.

 

1. First, because of the Resurrection the disciples were changed.

2. Secondly, because of the Resurrection our view of death has changed.

3. Because of the resurrection, our view of Jesus has changed.

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John 13:1-17,31b-35  -  Maundy Thursday: Seeing Ourselves In The Disciples
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We come together this evening to recall in our hearts and minds the events that occurred on Thursday of what the church calls Holy Week, the last week in the life of our Lord. One-third of all the events that we have about Jesus’ life occurred during this week: Reminding us of the great significance of these last days. The disciples have gathered in a home, whose we are not sure, but we do know that it had a furnished second floor.

As they gather they participate in what is called a Seder meal, one of the highlights of the Passover week. The Passover festival, of course, had been done for centuries before Jesus came on the scene. It commemorated that time when the Jews were in bondage in Egypt. Moses warned Pharaoh to let his people go, but Pharaoh hardened his heart. So God sent a death over the land of Egypt, but miraculously this death passed over the homes of the Jews. Thus, the season of Passover was given birth.

The meal itself was a symbolic one reminding the Jews of the sufferings of their forefathers and the power of God's deliverance. The foods that were eaten were symbols to remind the Jews of their captivity in Egypt. Apple sauce was eaten to remind them of brick mortar and the fact that they were forced to make bricks with no straw. A bitter herb is eaten to remind them of the bitterness of their captivity. It was this symbolic Seder Meal that the disciples were partaking of that night in the upper room.

It was at the conclusion of that meal that Jesus himself added two more symbols. He took a loaf and broke it and gave it to his disciples saying: Take eat, this is my body which is broken for you, do this in remembrance of me. Then he took a cup with wine. He drank from it and gave it to his disciples saying, “Drink ye all of this, for this is my blood which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sin.” Thus was born our sacrament of the Lord's Supper, out of the experience of an ancient Jewish custom.

Leonardo da Vinci by his famous painting has forever impressed upon on our minds the last supper of our Lord. The scene that he depicts is that moment when Jesus announces his impending betrayal. The disciples look at one another with great shock, all, that is, except Judas, who refuses to look Jesus in the face and clutches his money to his breast. I wonder as we look at those disciples around the table if we can see ourselves. For me they represent all that is good and bad about our humanity.

Maybe we can see ourselves in Matthew...

The rest of this brief 10-minute sermon looks at 10 of the disciples sitting around the Passover Meal and how we can see our own frailties and sinfulness reflected in them.

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         Luke 23:33-43  -  Good Friday: The Three Crosses
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The Cross. It struck fear in the hearts of the world. It was Rome’s means of controlling the people. According to Roman custom, the penalty of crucifixion was always preceded by scourging; after this preliminary punishment, the condemned person had to carry the cross, or at least the transverse beam of it, to the place of execution, exposed to the jibes and insults of the people. On arrival at the place of execution the cross was uplifted. Soon the sufferer, entirely naked, was bound to it with cords. He was then, fastened with four nails to the wood of the cross. Finally, a placard called the titulus bearing the name of the condemned man and his sentence, was placed at the top of the cross. Slaves were crucified outside of Rome in a place called Sessorium, beyond the Esquiline Gate; their execution was entrusted to the carnifex servorum (the place of the hangman). Eventually this wretched locality became a forest of crosses, while the bodies of the victims were the pray of vultures and other rapacious birds. It often happened that the condemned man did not die of hunger or thirst, but lingered on the cross for several days. To shorten his punishment therefore, and lessen his terrible sufferings, his legs were sometimes broken. This custom, exceptional among the Romans, was common with the Jews. In this way it was possible to take down the corpse on the very evening of the execution. Among the Romans, though, the corpse could not be taken down, unless such removal had been specially authorized in the sentence of death. The corpse might also be buried if the sentence permitted. It is remarkable that all of this the Bible records with the simple words, "And they crucified Him." (Mark 15:24).

 

It is interesting that Jesus is responsible for the abolishment of the cross as a means of capital punishment. In the early part of the fourth century Constantine continued to inflict the penalty of the cross on slaves guilty of, in the old Latin, delatio domini, i.e. of denouncing their masters. But later on he abolished this infamous punishment, in memory and in honor of the Passion of the Christ. From then on, this punishment was very rarely inflicted and finally the practice faded into history. But, oh, how history has remembered.

 

As the week of Jesus' Passion now closes, it is well for us to reflect upon the cross. Martin Luther said, “Man must always have a cross.” Jesus said: Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Every one of us does have a cross to bear, but which one? Is ours the cross on the right, the left, or the center? Let us review for a moment this scene on Calvary.

 

1. The first cross represents the cross of rebellion.

2. The second cross represents the cross of repentance.

3. The third cross, that of Jesus, represents the cross of redemption.

 

 

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eSermons.com offers thousands of illustrations like the one below:

What Is Unique About Christianity?

The story of Jesus sitting and debating the Law with rabbis reminds me of another debate that took place in a comparative religions conference, the wise and the scholarly were in a spirited debate about what is unique about Christianity. Someone suggested what set Christianity apart from other religions was the concept of incarnation, the idea that God became incarnate in human form. But someone quickly said, “Well, actually, other faiths believe that God appears in human form.” Another suggestion was offered: what about resurrection? The belief that death is not the final word. That the tomb was found empty. Someone slowly shook his head. Other religions have accounts of people returning from the dead.

Then, as the story is told, C.S. Lewis walked into the room, tweed jacket, pipe, armful of papers, a little early for his presentation. He sat down and took in the conversation, which had by now evolved into a fierce debate. Finally during a lull, he spoke saying, “what's all this rumpus about?” Everyone turned in his direction. Trying to explain themselves they said, “We're debating what's unique about Christianity.” “Oh, that's easy,” answered Lewis, “it's....

 

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sermons.com presents Leonard Sweet