What we are celebrating today, just in case you have just crawled out of a cave or something, is what the WORLD calls “Easter”, but which I prefer to call RESURRECTION SUNDAY.  But I know that won’t change hundreds of years of usage.

But I wanted to point out that this is the OLDEST of ALL Christian Holidays!  It has been celebrated, in unbroken succession, all the way back to the year 30 A.D. or so, whenever it was that Christ Arose, because of the actual differences in when He was actually BORN, which is now pretty well accepted that it wasn’t what our calendars would call the Year “ONE”.

So in whatever year Jesus Died, and was Buried, and Rose Again, the very NEXT year, this event was celebrated by the early church, and it has BEEN celebrated, every year SINCE then.  And we all gather together to recall how after being horribly MURDERED by sinful men, the Lord came OUT of the Tomb, Resurrected, CHANGED, and now INVINCIBLE as the FIRST-FRUITS of them who will ALSO rise from the dead!

So the EARLY church celebrated this Day, but ‘I’ like to celebrate the entire WEEK that leads UP TO this Day, as well as the Day itself…from the day when Jesus rode in triumph through the gates of the Holy City seated on a humble DONKEY, as the Prophet Zechariah had predicted so long ago…

To the time He sat with the twelve in a borrowed upper room to celebrate the Passover, which looked back to the time when the Hebrew people were rescued from slavery in Egypt…but which Jesus then CHANGED, into the time of celebrating when WE, by His Sacrifice, were rescued from the slavery of SIN…

To the time of His ANGUISH in Gethsemane, where He had asked the disciples to pray with Him, as He wrestled with His Humanity, which briefly rebelled at the thought of the HORROR that waited for Him…but where the sleepy disciples weren’t able to stay with Him…

To His phony TRIAL at the hands of the chief priests…and the SCOURGING before Pilate…and that horrible Death on the Cross…and then TODAY, and the GLORIOUS RESURRECTION, His ULTIMATE VICTORY over SIN and DEATH, on that FIRST Sunday morning, when those women found the Tomb EMPTY!

I like to observe this entire WEEK as Holy, because this entire week IS Holy, and we should observe it that way.  I understand that some people may find it difficult to keep coming back for so MANY different services over the course of the week, and that’s okay.  But I still think we need to MAKE those observances AVAILABLE, for anyone who wishes to observe them with us.

And I want YOU to look at how EASILY the first Christians were able to turn their backs on thousands of years of traditions that observed the LAST day of the week as their Sabbath, the day God rested after His six days of Creation.

And they immediately began observing the FIRST day of the week, the day that Christ came Alive out of the Tomb!  Now, for the Christian Church, EVERY Sunday is a celebration of new life, and new possibilities, but THIS Sunday is ESPECIALLY Sacred, because of the PROMISE that Jesus left us with; the Promise that says “BECAUSE I LIVE, YOU MAY LIVE ALSO”!

And now we in the Church understand that Promise; “because I live, you may live also”…but it goes DEEPER than that.  Because HE lives, WE now have HEALING!  Let me tell you a story…it’s one I’ve shared with you before but I think it bears repeating, especially on a day like today.

There was a thief in Russia, who tried to break into an Orthodox Church, to steal the money from the Poor Box.  He thought he could gain entry by way of a SKYLIGHT, way above the Altar Table.

But he slipped, and fell over 30 feet to the hard stone floor below.  In falling like that he broke BOTH legs, so that he was unable to escape.  All he could do was LIE there on that cold stone floor and wait to be discovered and arrested.

But the thief, in later telling his story, says that he heard an AUDIBLE voice, telling him that he would not die.  So as he lay there through the long night.  He began to study the Christian-themed artwork that decorated that Sanctuary.  The paintings that depicted the BIRTH, and the DEATH, and the RESURRECTION of Jesus.  He saw the faint moonlight shining through the beautiful stained glass windows.

He said the whole experience was so MOVING, that, as he lay there in pain, he gave his heart and life to the Savior.  And that’s when a MIRACLE occurred.

His crime, attempted burglary of a church, carried an automatic 15 year prison sentence.  But somehow, his paperwork got bogged down and lost in bureaucracy, and by the time his case was finally heard, more than a YEAR had passed, and the life of the onetime thief had shown so much CHANGE, such DRAMATIC DIFFERENCE, that his whole case was dismissed, and he was set free.  That onetime thief now runs a Russian-language Bible School!

And the reason I’m retelling that story today, is because there is probably someone here this morning who is pretty much LIKE that thief…Mixed up…on the wrong road…stumbling, falling…hurting.

And it is to YOU that I want to say that ‘because Christ lives’, He can bring HEALING to your heart!…to your LIFE!…EVEN to your CIRCUMSTANCES!…to the whole MESS you have made of your life!  It is to YOU that I want to say “BECAUSE HE LIVES, YOU CAN LIVE ALSO”…and live BETTER, live FREED from the things that have held you down in the past.

And, because HE LIVES, you can have HOPE!  That song by Bill and Gloria Gaither, is one of the most popular Gospel songs in America, because of the HOPE and the PROMISE it gives…”Because He lives, I can face tomorrow”.

America is in turmoil.  We’re involved in a bloody and unpopular, even unDECLARED war in the Middle East, with no obvious way of getting OUT!  Illegal immigrants are demanding citizenship, while denying that America has the sovereign right to protect her borders and make laws determining HOW that citizenship is obtained.

Huge corporations are on trial for stealing the life-savings of the investors that TRUSTED them to PROTECT those investments…and other people are FORCING their ‘alternative lifestyles’ in our faces, and demanding that we ACCEPT that lifestyle as ‘normal’.

And beloved, if the country is like this NOW, can you even IMAGINE what it will be like, in about 20 years or so?…when today’s little babies, those that managed to avoid being ABORTED!…when those babies grow UP, what will America be like THEN, for THEM?

And while we have to struggle with those questions, we have to remember that the POWER of His RESURRECTION, gives us HOPE!  No matter WHAT our circumstances might be, “Because HE LIVES, I can face tomorrow!”

And then, because HE LIVES, we can find HAPPINESS!  On that night before He was killed, Jesus told His disciples, “In a little while, you won’t be able to see Me.  But then, after a while, you will see Me again.  You are going to grieve, but your grieving will be turned to JOY!  And no one will be able to take your JOY away from you”. (That’s a free-and-Ioose translation by Pastor Tom of John 16, verses 19 through 22.  No extra charge.)

We, on this side of Calvary, can understand the SORROW of the disciples, when they saw the One they were sure WAS the long-awaited Messiah, being NAILED to a TREE, and KILLED!  And then we can share their UNBOUNDED HAPPINESS, when they realized three days later, that He was alive again!

And because He lives, we have been granted, on the basis of HIS Sacrifice, AND His righteousness; access to Heaven!

Paul tells us, in the 3rd chapter of Philippians, that when He returns for us, we will be CHANGED!…Transformed!…into the likeness of HIS Immortal, Glorified Body!  A brand NEW body that will never get sick, or tired, or hunger or thirst…that we will never again experience SORROW!  And that brand new body is suitable to inhabit God’s Holy Heaven!

And then finally, because He lives, we have HIM!  That’s what that text we read at the beginning said…the Promise from Jesus that He will never leave us orphans!…that He WILL come to us!  NOW, when we first believe, and LATER, on that “great gettin’ up mornin’”, when He will come to us, and GIVE us those new bodies, and take us to Glory with him, FOREVER!

ALL of that is yours, “BECAUSE HE LIVES”.  It is no wonder that Easter IS the greatest day for the believer.  “BECAUSE HE LIVES”, we can face tomorrow!  “BECAUSE HE LIVES”, we can have HEALING!…and HOPE!…and HAPPINESS!…and HEAVEN!…and HIM!

“BECAUSE HE LIVES”, we can live also.  And beloved, if you’re here this morning, and have never made the decision to TRUST Him, and to come TO Him, so HE can come to YOU, then there will never be a better day than this one for you to finally do that.  It is not a DIFFICULT decision, but it IS one that only YOU can make.

If I could make it for you, then the whole city of Tucson would be Saved!  The whole STATE!  But I can’t.  All I can do is ask you if you’re finally ready to do what is necessary, to gain eternity in Heaven.

Let me tell you a story…one that you MAY have been forced to read, way back in some High School English class or something…but which you then promptly FORGOT.  So I’m gonna remind you of this book called Moby Dick.  Remember that?

You remember it’s a story about a sea captain who is obsessed with killing a certain white whale.  But, the story is narrated by a man named ISHMAEL, and also contains the story of a man named QUEEQUEG, an Indian man who is very well liked by the other members of the crew.

Well, one day Queequeg becomes deathly ill, and all the other crew members do whatever they can to ease his suffering, and finally he does recover.  But now he is very worried, by his close brush with death…so he goes to the ship’s carpenter, and asks that he build him a COFFIN, but in keeping with his Indian background, he asks that the coffin be built in the shape of a canoe.

So the carpenter takes Queequeg’s measurements, and goes to work on the project, and the story reverts back to Captain Ahab and his pursuit of that hated white whale, and nothing more is said about Queequeg or his coffin/canoe.

Well, you know how the story ends, Ahab finds the whale, and an epic battle ensues, that KILLS the Captain, DESTROYS the ship, and sees the whole crew thrown into the sea to be eaten by sharks.

It’s at that point that Ishmael, the storyteller, is floundering in those shark-infested waters, and about to be pulled down by the sinking ship…and suddenly something comes bursting to the surface, freed from the ship’s damaged hold.

It’s that canoe-shaped coffin that was built for Queequeg!  And Ishmael climbs in and is saved from the sharks and is soon rescued by a passing ship.

So, about now you’re asking yourself what all THAT has to do with EASTER?  Well, it’s like this…JESUS CHRIST IS RISEN TODAY!  And because HE LIVES, WE have this promise of Heaven, even while we are still housed in these MORTAL bodies!…and even if these mortal bodies were to DIE, BEFORE He comes back for us…ALL that our COFFINS will be, are CANOES, that will float us gently across the Jordan, and to the shores of that beautiful land we have been promised…where we will live forever in peace and joy and love…and it is ALL “because HE lives”!  And I think THAT is worth

singing about, don’t you?

And the invitation I have for you this morning is to look at the EMPTY Tomb, and try to see the PROMISE there.  Death was not the END for Jesus, it was only the BEGINNING of a brand NEW existence…and the very SAME thing is true for US as well.

Just imagine, no PAINS, no REGRETS, no NEEDS…just perfect, unending perfection, for eternity…and all YOU have to do to GAIN it, is accept the HAND that the Lord is extending to you right now.  Take it, and NEVER let go!