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Getting the Message Across

Sermon preached by
The Reverend Charles Royden
Easter Sunday 2001

An old story tells of a company attempting to start a new pension plan, which required 100% participation. Every employee signed up except one. No amount of argument or persuasion could get this person to change his mind. Finally, the director of the company called the man into his office. "Here is a copy of the proposed pension plan and here is a pen," he said. "Sign up or you're fired." Whereupon the man immediately picked up the pen and signed his name. The president of the company then said, "I don't understand why you refused to sign until now. What was your problem?" The man replied, "You're the first person who explained it to me clearly.

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Perhaps the church might be accused of not having always explained the message of Easter clearly. There has been confusion of what exactly took place. What is resurrection and in what way do we mean that Jesus has been raised as we meet together this Easter Sunday over 2000 years after the event?

This morning I would like to take just a few minutes to try and do what that company director did, explain the resurrection clearly. The best way to do this would be to draw attention to those early disciples.

Confusion over what constituted death was not a problem for the early disciples.

  1. They had seen a cold dead body.
  2. They had put the cold dead body in a tomb

Confusion over what constituted resurrection was not a problem for them either

  1. Then they found an empty tomb and the clothes which had bound the body were discarded.
  2. After this they met with Jesus and touched the places where the nails had been

We read in today's Gospel reading that Mary stood at the sepulchre weeping ...." (John. 20:11) because she loved so much the man who had died. Why did she stand when the Apostles had run away?' Perhaps it was because there was nothing left to lose. Everything she had was lost with him, when he died, she died as well. When they buried him, they could have buried her with him. Those who have mourned the loss of those close to them will know the tremendous sense of loss, she had nothing to lose. She was unafraid of the Roman soldiers who were supposed to guard the place what more could they do to hurt her.

Yet she was transformed. Indeed all the disciples were. It was the sheer conviction of what they had witnessed which convinced them that they must risk all to follow this Jesus and fulfil his command that his Gospel must be preached all over the world. Read 1 Corinthians 15:13 and the Apostles were very clear 

If Jesus had not been raised from the dead then the Christian faith was useless and they were liars.

1 Corinthians 15:13 

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

  

I have been watching the recent BBC television programme on the life of Jesus. This Easter is so different from many previous ones. We are used to hearing stories that Jesus did not exist, was a fictional character, but here finally we have historical research programme acknowledging on a wide public platform that Jesus existed, and that the stories in the Bible are based in history about Jesus and his followers and life at that time.

Many non-Christians have no problem at all agreeing the basic historic facts about the existence of Jesus—that this first-century Jesus of Nazareth was a gifted leader, a provocative teacher, a prophet and a powerful moral figure. However on this special morning, Jesus' secular well-wishers and the church's members must part company. This morning we celebrate a mystery and a miracle—the greatest miracle and mystery ever known: that Jesus defeated death on the cross and that the proof of this is seen in his bodily resurrection from the tomb—Jesus Christ is Risen! I hope that I have explained this clearly and unequivocally!

 

And so what of this resurrection for our lives ?

We might envy those who actually saw the resurrected Jesus. We imagine it was much easier for them to believe. But think how hard it was for them to be brought to believe—none of us carried his heavy, limp, blood-stained form into a barren tomb and wrapped it in a shroud. For those who had known the living, laughing, loving Jesus, there was no doubt that he was stone-cold dead. Believing that he could be truly alive again—not just some spiritual apparition was going to take a great deal of convincing

We expect life and death to follow a certain set of rules and to meet certain rational criteria. Therefore we scramble around trying to find alternative explanations for the empty tomb. Maybe the guards did fall asleep and some well-meaning disciples did come to take the body. Maybe Jesus wasn't really dead—only drugged, or in a coma, or hypnotised—and he came out of it and escaped the tomb. Maybe this was all part of an elaborate plan to prove Jesus' messianic nature. Perhaps when the disciples said he was raised what they meant was that his disciples faith was raised and they felt him near them.

Easter morning is the time when all of these things are recognised as being completely at odds with the facts of the Easter story. Those early disciples knew he had been dead, recognised a physical return to life and on the basis of that belief went out and spilled their own blood to declare the truth of it.

And so for all of the rationalisation of our faith and there is good reason to keep our spiritual feet on the ground at times. For all of that, the resurrection story of this morning is where Christians start speaking a different language from everyone else—the language of miracle, being prepared to the litany of faith. Accepting, believing, celebrating Jesus' resurrection as the living Christ is the cornerstone that holds the church together. If Christ be not raised, Paul said, then your faith is in vain.

The disciples in this story faced enormous loss, the slaughter of an intimate friend and the crushing of a dream they shared with him.

Haven't we all known death in one form or another?

  1. The loss of friends and loved ones?
  2. The failures of our lives and the once great dreams we had?
  3. The loss of youthful vitality and enthusiasm for a life project?
  4. The chilling of a marriage or relationships which have gone wrong with children or parents?
  5. The betrayal by confidants?
  6. Our financial disappointments
  7. The appearance of corruption among those of whom we thought better?
  8. The withering of our own bodies as we recognise how short our mortal life really is?

We are surrounded by the darkness of our personal griefs and what we feel at such times is close to what the disciples felt at the tomb of Jesus, that sickening sense of loss to an evil power against which we can only pound our fists in frustration or wring our hands weeping at the dark tomb with Mary.

But! Easter reminds us that it is God's prerogative to do the impossible. In fact, today tells us that doing the impossible is God's signature. Our greatest sin may be to close our life to the possibilities of what God wants to do in our lives by refusing to acknowledge the power of God and to let God be God.

Today shows us how much we are remembered by God; how much God wants to intervene in our lives and have a place in our hearts. Today reveals how powerful God is and what joy God is holding out for us as we "see and believe" and come to "understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead."

The disciples were not expecting Jesus to be raised otherwise they would have been hiding behind the trees and bushes waiting for the tomb to be opened. But the Easter Jesus surprised them. Has Easter really dawned on you yet? Jesus is not a ghost, he is real God has rolled back the stone, while you were sleeping.

Although all was well that morning Mary did not know it, most certainly she did not feel it. It was at this time when she was so low that she was to meet with Jesus. Today Jesus is once more not to be not found among the dead but the living. He is alive today and quite capable of meeting with you and I as he met with Mary. She knew him when he spoke her name 'Mary.' This morning each one of us needs to listen afresh to that voice of Jesus, calling your name encouraging you to come to him.   Amen

Thought:
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross has written much about death and grieving. She has told how during her youthful visits to the concentration camps of post-World War II Germany she found endlessly repeated, a symbol of the soul's transition drawn on the barrack walls by the countless children who faced death there. It was the image of a butterfly or night moth breaking free of its chrysalis.

 

Bible Readings and Notes for Easter Sunday 2001

 

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