From the Rectory
Resurrection always follows death
An Encouragement Sermon preached on Easter Day
Itís Easter Day, Christ is risen, but wait, the tomb is emptyÖÖÖwhat are we to make of it? Where is the Body? Where has the Lord gone? For those first Christians it was tremendous, terrifying and amazing news, unparalleled in history. It remains tremendous and amazing news, we are no longer terrified by it, we are set free, liberated, we celebrate. Itís Good News for the Christian Church to this day and every day.
What difference will it make to our daily lives though? Who outside of the Church understands what has happened? Who has noticed? Who thinks beyond the greeting cards, bunnies and eggs? Who out there cares? The world continues on its way pretty much still in the dark, and happy to remain there. The tomb is empty and so are their lives, empty of purpose, spiritual content, and empty of the knowledge that Christ died for them.
Where is the Body? We, the gathered Church are the Body; we have arrived at this place after a journey of some seventy days. We look into the tomb, we notice that something is missing; all we have is an empty tomb. But that is not the end and we well know it. Itís the very fact that the tomb is empty that is important to us. We are bidden to fill that empty space by living the risen life ourselves, to go out and make disciples of all the world: to make relevant and real Godís love for his people: to break open the Word of God whilst everyone else breaks open chocolate eggs.
Easter heralds a new beginning, there is fresh hope for the future, resurrection has occurred. Emptiness is to be replaced by fulfillment, empty lives, with abundant life. Where can we look to for the signs of those new beginnings, those fresh signs of growth and hope? Most of us have been coming to Church for years, some the whole of their lives. Itís easy to say, Ďso what?í to be rather cavalier about the event of Easter. To just carry on as before, simply let it wash over us and not allow our lives to be changed in any way.
Those first Christians reacted very differently, they ran away and hid, they were terrified for their lives and hardly surprising really. We know how the story ended, they didnít have that knowledge. We know that all would be well, but they had no way of knowing what would happen next or what would happen to them. We know that the Church was born. We know that disciples were made of all the nations. We know that the world, the whole world took note.
We have no need to run away and hide, we arenít frightened for our lives. Weíll leave here, go home, cook the lunch, read the newspaper and are reminded once again of just how much the world still needs Jesus today.
But so many have become complacent, their senses dulled to it all. They often fail to recognise the significance of Christ rising from the dead. Thatís how it is for most, itís Easter bunnies and chocolate eggs, a bank holiday, time off work. But itís not like that for everyone, not for us and other Christians for whom this day stands head and shoulders above the rest. Today, Easter Day, is the premier festival of the Church, nothing else can hold a candle to it.
We are lucky indeed, we are saved, redeemed. That doesnít mean that others are not, just that they donít recognise the fact. Jesus and his cross remind us of that. When he was crucified between two criminals, one repented. Jesus promised that he would join him in paradise that very same day. We are resurrection people and we can breathe that new life into the lives of others if we choose by being Godís agents here and now. By being his Body. By loving as he loves us, we are partners with God in the great task of redeeming this fallen world.
There will be many people in Church today, I suspect, who do not go often, perhaps this will be the first time for them. Maybe they have been bereaved; perhaps they are troubled in some way or have a big decision to take. Some will not be sure of what they believe or why, yet are dissatisfied with a life that is spiritually empty, empty as the tomb. They recognise that something is missing. They come searching, looking for hope and for signs of encouragement.
How can we practising Christians keep up that practice and help them to discover what we have come to know, that Christ is our Saviour and can be theirs. How can we show them, convince them that for us faith is not an option, rather something that we cannot manage without. What a responsibility falls on those who have found the Way and walk in it. What a responsibility we have to the casual enquirer, but what a mighty resource we have to help us.
On that first Easter morning Mary went to Jesusí tomb, searching for him, she expected to find his body, she came early, as soon as the Sabbath was over, to anoint her friendís, her Lordís body with oil and sweet spices, but it wasnít there. All through the time that he was with them, those closest to him asked for proof of who he was. Now, at the vital moment, he was gone. His absence from the tomb, proved his identity - but they couldnít grasp it.
Mary caught a glimpse of someone, could it be the gardener? He called her name, ĎMaryí, he said, she replied, ĎRabbouni, teacher.í She knew it was him, she felt his presence, she knew, and she went to tell the disciples, ĎI have seen the Lord!í How would you respond to such an encounter? If you see the Lord, if you hear his call to ĎFollow meí, you too will know, and you will want to share that Good News. You see resurrection can happen in all of our lives. New beginnings can take us by surprise; our God is a God of surprises.
That visit of Mary to the tomb gives us an eye witness account, and the Christian Church stands on such evidence, despite the catastrophe of Good Friday. What happened to change the disciples from crushed and broken men, who denied their Lord in his hour of need? What happened to change them into men who suddenly started to preach about this man Jesus, who so recently they denied all knowledge of? What happens when one of us is changed because we encounter Jesus in a personal and life-changing way, as some do? Those whom God takes by surprise.
A change occurs that cannot be denied, and encounter with the Risen Lord that prevents us from doing anything other than following him. We are followers of the Way, a people who believe in a God who does not sleep, or rest, but acts on behalf of his people, whom no barrier can stop. Who breaks through into our lives? Who rolls away whatever stone keeps us imprisoned?
But what does it mean? Itís powerful stuff, and so on Easter morning following the intense drama of Holy Week, Maundy Thursday and especially Good Friday; it is easy to feel excited and ready to celebrate. Yet when the chocolate has all gone, and the Hot Cross Buns have disappeared from the supermarket shelves, at least until Christmas, what will be left? What will have changed?
Jesus preached in Galilee, it was a cosmopolitan place, a meeting point for many nationalities, where all kinds of people gathered. Itís the place where at the end of Mathewís gospel, Jesus sends his disciples out from, ĎTo make disciples of all the nations.í Galilee is not a ĎHolyí place like Jerusalem; itís an everyday place. It could be Birmingham, London or Southampton. It could be Freemantle.
Itís important to recognise that, because it tells us that not only we who gather here are Godís concern, but that all peoples come under his care. That is the essential promise of Easter, of Godís active presence in our lives, that freedom and liberation belongs to all. Our belief in the God who liberates, from whom nothing is an impenetrable barrier, must affect our whole lives. It must affect the great things in life as well as the small.
We can be the agents who roll away the stone of despair. We can be the agents who reach out to others, whether they come to Church or not. We are the ones who will meet the Risen Christ on the streets of this small part of Godís kingdom. It may be today, maybe tomorrow or some other time. But if you believe God has called you to follow him, to be one of his disciples in the world today, and your hearts and minds are open to his love and his calling, it will happen. You can be as sure of that as you can of the fact that Christ rose from the dead. The Lord is Risen, He is Risen indeed. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Yours for Christ's sake.