notre dame montreal

Lazarus Sermon

Easter Sunday Sermon 2011

Sermon preached by The Reverend Charles Royden Lent 5 Year A 2011

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying. Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.”  She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

I cannot remember the last time I preached a three point sermon. I thought it might be worth a change !

First point Easter means Christ is alive with us

It was June 18, 1815, the Battle of Waterloo. The French under the command of Napoleon were fighting the allied forces of the British, Dutch, and Germans under the command of Wellington. The people of England depended on a system of signals to find out how the battle was going. One of these signals was on the tower of Winchester Cathedral.
Late in the day it flashed the signal. It was foggy but the message was read : “W - E - L - L - I - N - G - T - O - N - - - D - E - F - E - A - T - E - D - - -.” The news of defeat quickly spread throughout the city. The whole countryside was sad and gloomy when they heard the news that their country had lost the war. Suddenly the fog lifted, and it was seen that this was only a part of the message which had four words, not two. The complete message was: “W - E - L - L - I - N - G - T - O - N - - - D - E - F - E - A - T - E - D - - - T - H - E - - - E - N - E - M - Y!” It took only a few minutes for the good news to spread. Sorrow was turned into joy, defeat was turned into victory!
So it was when Jesus was laid in the tomb. Hope had died in the hearts of Jesus’ most loyal friends and followers. After the frightful crucifixion, the fog of disappointment and misunderstanding had crept in on the friends of Jesus. They had read only part of the message. The knew “Christ defeated” but then on the third day came more of the message, “Christ defeated death!” Defeat was turned into victory; death was turned into life!
Imagine how Mary felt as trundled to the tomb of Jesus. We are told that she set out when it was dark. Graveyards are not pleasant places at the best of times, but she went whilst it was dark. Mary was down and defeated, her whole world had fallen apart. There are times when we all feel down and defeated. God can seem a long way away, so much so that we can hardly hear his voice. Mary had lost hope, she thought that not only had Jesus been killed, now somebody had stolen the body.

On this Easter Sunday we should find reassurance that no matter how far God may seem, actually he is not far from any one of us. It is difficult to believe this when we are in the darkness, but it is true. Even though Jesus tells us that He will never leave us nor forsake us, we can’t quite grasp and hold on to Jesus’ presence when we feel alone. It’s hard to remember the light when all around is dark, yet if we are willing to open our hearts to God's presence then we will know that God is near.

Mary felt lost and alone even when Jesus was standing beside her. She was in the presence of the risen Christ and yet she was full of mourning and sorrow. This only changed when Jesus called her by name. This is a message for us, we must be willing to hear God call us by name as he called Mary. For we do not worship an impersonal spiritual life force, we are encouraged to call God ‘Father’ to think of God as a loving parent.

Easter is a time for us, no matter how much we may feel defeated, to be willing to listen for his voice and know that he lives with us. We live in a world so filled with noise that we can barely hear ourselves think. Our Saviour’s voice calls each one of us. It is not loud or overbearing. It is persistent and repeats our names in love and peace. This world seems so filled with much that would seem to be bent on drawing us away from that voice. We constantly have to be reminded to make the effort, day in and day out, to pay attention and to hear the voice of Jesus. Easter should be a time when we seek afresh to draw close to God.

Second Point - Christ meets us in the ordinariness of life.

Often we are led to believe that God is revealed in the spectacular, in religious highs and spiritual experiences. We do well to remember that the first Easter morning was in many ways a disappointment. If I was organising a resurrection, there would have been a big crowd, with a countdown to Jesus coming out of the tomb. I would have made sure there was a band and a welcoming back party for Jesus. Of course I would have arranged photo’s in the press, perhaps a radio and television interview.

In this Easter story we see that God’s ways are not our ways and the whole affair was a great deal more subdued. Remember that Mary mistook Jesus because he was so ordinary like a gardener ! Christ wears plain clothes. He appears to some like a stranger on the road to Emmaus. To others he stands on the bank of the lake offering fishing tips. Christ in his glory is revealed in very ordinary human appearance.

Do not be persuaded to imagine that you must experience great spiritual fireworks as evidence of God’s presence. You will be fortunate to have a quiet reassurance that God is with you.

Third point Easter assures us that God has the victory

We have spent a week soaked in pain, this should not have happened to the good man Jesus when he came to Jerusalem. He was the victim of cruel power hungry men. The disciples see nothing but the relentless victory of death, yet Jesus has defeated evil. The resurrection teaches us that we are a part of a new future. God is not defeated.

If Jesus is Lord then other things are not,

  • death is not
  • human power and authority is no
  • the corruption which was all around is not.

Quite often you could be forgiven for thinking that the bad guys were winning, but the resurrection teaches us that in the midst of the apparent failure - good triumphs over evil. This is why as an Easter people we are utterly optimistic for this world. It cannot heal itself but Christ brings transformation.

Despite what difficulties we face, what tragedies we encounter or what obstacles life throws at us, we are a part of Christ’s resurrection. There is an Easter Sunday in each one of us. To celebrate Easter is to know that the cross is truly the tree of life, which transforms utter despair to joy

God’s love meets us in ordinary places and in ordinary ways. It is not magic, it does not protect us from harm, or from hard decisions, or from emotional turmoil and profound grief, or anger at the pain of the world. It does however assure us that there is finally no contest between God's love and the evil forces at work in the world which torment the human spirit.

God’s love is indestructible, no crucifixion can overcome God’s love. Even those who condemn Jesus and put him on a cross are held within the love of God and forgiven by Jesus. This redeeming and forgiving love is like a golden thread which runs through the teaching of Jesus.
So this Easter, whatever darkness you face take comfort from hearing Christ call your name as he called Mary in the Garden. Know his presence with you in whatever challenges you face. Be reassured that he is with you in the ordinary places where he goes before you. Do not look for spectacular evidence of God at work, see him the kindness of those around you, his love in surprising places often when and where we least expect.