I Was There, So Were You–by the Grace of God

Easter Sunday’s sermon, 4-4-2010

The lyrics from Thursday night’s hymn, “Were You There,” are still running through my mind.  The question is asked, and I wonder how would I have answered if I had been there.  The witnesses to the crucifixion, the burial, and the resurrection easily answered that question as they told the story.  But today, in the 21st century, can I answer that question?

I was there, by the grace of God.  When God made the decision to send Jesus Christ to join men and women on the earth, he was demonstrating his grace.  The people of Moses just were not getting the message and were straying from the Old Covenant, the Ten Commandments he delivered to Moses.

God had sent messages before; but over the thousands of years, his people were not keeping those ten rules.  Through his grace, God decided to simplify his message and sent his Son to teach it to us:  Love one another.  One easy commandment for each man or woman, adult or child, rich or poor, Jew or Gentile—the list goes on—to live by.

The story of Easter lives through the years because it is one so exciting and promising that no one can keep quiet about it.  The eyewitnesses’ stories of Jesus’ resurrection shared the first time lit a fire that continues to burn.  The story is so real, so important, and so personal that each year it is told I feel as though I was there.  By the grace of God, I know that I was there.
Typically, when we hear that saying, “There, by the grace of God, go I,” we connect it to hearing something negative happening to someone.  We feel relief that it was not ourselves in the situation.  The phrase “by the grace of God” connects us to our faith, connects us to the relationship that keeps our lives from danger.  True, we are not always safe, but we have the grace of God that promises forgiveness and eternal life in spite of what happens on earth.

When the women walking up to the tomb saw the resurrected Christ, the truth of his words became real.  No longer did they see the events of the week as an ending, but a beginning.  God’s grace is a truth and despite all the persecution and all the trials life hands any one of us, the unknown become known.  God’s grace is a gift given to us the moment we become a new life.

Yes, I was there, and so were you.  We may be living two thousands years later than the resurrection of Jesus, but the promise of forgiveness and eternal life is as real today as it was then.  The witnesses first started sharing the story with the inner circle of the Disciples and immediate family and friends.  The story of God’s grace spread and spread.

For many of Jesus’ peers, the thought “there I could be hanging on the cross, but by the grace of God, I am not’ may well have been ringing in their ears.  But at the Last Supper, Jesus had told them they had work to do.  Now they were not too sure.  The resurrection completed the fulfillment of the prophets.  The grace of God does protect us.  The grace of God does forgive us.  The grace of God promises forgiveness and eternal life.

In Acts, Luke writes as an eyewitness.  He may have traveled with Jesus and the Disciples, but the crucifixion was in the early AD 30s.  The gospel of Luke was written around AD 60, and Acts was Luke’s second book written about 25 years later.  Fewer eyewitnesses were available to tell the story, so Luke wanted to make sure that the story was preserved (as did the other Gospel authors).  He tells the Easter story through Peter’s experience, an eyewitness and a Disciple:

39-43 “And we saw it, saw it all, everything he did in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem where they killed him, hung him from a cross.  But in three days God had him up, alive, and out where he could be seen.  Not everyone saw him—he wasn’t put on public display.  Witnesses had been carefully handpicked by God beforehand—us! We were the ones, there to eat and drink with him after he came back from the dead.  He commissioned us to announce this in public, to bear solemn witness that he is in fact the One whom God destined as Judge of the living and dead.  But we’re not alone in this.  Our witness that he is the means to forgiveness of sins is backed up by the witness of all the prophets.”

Each day we get up and begin our day.  We never know what is ahead even though we do have some plans.  When we are challenged by one of life’s challenges like illness, injury, work frustrations, or even family dysfunctions, we have God’s grace.  Focus on the one commandment, to love one another as much as God loves us, and you will manage your life quite well.

Do we need to be eyewitnesses?  No, but we were there at the crucifixion, by the grace of God, and the stories of the eyewitnesses.  John wrote his gospel in an effort to prove conclusively that Jesus is the Son of God and that all, all, who believe in him will be forgiven and have eternal life.  The listeners to John’s words were new Christians and searching non-Christians.  They were not eyewitnesses either because John was not written until AD 85-90.  But John, continued to share the message, and by the grace of God, is witnesses to us even today.

Do we need to be eyewitnesses?  No, but we do need to witness.  The news that is given to us in the Bible is so important that we must share it.  We must let others know that God’s grace is given to them even without them knowing it.  We must let others know that God’s grace cannot be taken away by any earthly being.  We must let others know that Jesus was God’s son who came to give us hope, to demonstrate how to love one another, and to show how death only opens a door to eternal life.

I was there, and so were you, by the grace of God.  The journey we experience in this life on this earth comes with a job:  to love one another.  By carrying out that job each and every day, in our homes, in our work place, and in our communities we are eyewitnesses to the Easter story.  We must share the story so that others may know God’s grace and glory.

Alleluia, Christ arose from the grave.

Alleluia, witnesses saw and believed.

Alleluia, the story continues; and we know we were there by the grace of God because he loved us so much that he gave his only son so we might be forgiven and have eternal life.

Alleluia, I was there and so were you because we have been blessed by the grace of God.  Let us be glad and rejoice in it!  Let us be the eyewitnesses, too, so that by the grace of God others might be forgiven and receive eternal life.

Dear Almighty Father,

I am sorry that you had to go through such a torturous week, but thank you for showing us how much you love us.  I may not have been there in person, but the story continues to be shared.  When you speak to me through the eyewitnesses’ words, I know I was there.  Help me to keep your commandment and to share your story with our friends, family, and neighbors.  Help me to teach our children so they, too, can share the story in years to come.  Thank you for your grace, for your forgiveness, and for eternal life.  -Amen

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