Writings from the ministry team
for your refreshment
Acts 10:34-43; 1 Cor 15: 19-26; John 20: 1-18
I have been looking in the shops at all the chocolate goodies. There are eggs, chicken, bunnies, and all sorts, celebrating the new life that spring brings. The symbols of pagan hope are represented everywhere. But I have yet to see a chocolate cross, which is a greater symbol of hope and new life than any bunny or chicken can be.
Nearly 20 years ago now, Mike and I went to a Baptist church in South Texas. Like many protestant churches, Holy Communion (or the Lord’s supper) was celebrated infrequently, about 4 times a year and Easter Sunday was one of those days. Because they viewed this celebration as such a serious event, it was the last thing they did in the service and afterwards, they filed out of the building in absolute silence. To my Anglican heart, I could not understand this. On all the days of the year to leave church in a bleak fog of silence and – well, what I can only call: misery.
Today is the greatest celebration of all and we should rejoice. We should be singing and shouting from the rooftops that Christ is risen. He died – we were miserable enough last Friday as we remembered that dreadful time of false accusations, trial, torture and death. But today he is risen. We have hope, we have life and we have Jesus. Hallelujah!!!
Looking further at our texts for today, we hear St Paul’s voice, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” Oh, that is so true. But we don’t only have hope in this life, we have hope in eternal life – because Jesus rose from the dead and that is our hope for all eternity.
We know he is risen, because eyewitnesses tell us so. That is what our Gospels and the Book of Acts and indeed, many of the epistles, are all about. They contain eyewitness accounts of people who saw, touched and spoke to a man who was brutally killed, and who rose again to life. He walked around, teaching and meeting people for nearly 6 weeks after his death. What kind of a miracle is this?
Unbelievers like to mock at the bible. They can find some sort of explanation for all sorts of events. The waters of Red Sea were parted by a freak storm; Lepers that were healed were not really suffering from leprosy; etc, etc., but no one can explain a dead man walking about. Some will try and tell you that he had not really died. Well, guys, he did. Romans were pretty ruthless about killing people and they would break bones to stop a crucified person from standing on the nail hoping for rescue. Those soldiers checked Jesus and they did not have to break his bones, because he was well and truly dead; but they did pierce his side so that his body fluids could come out.
Others will tell you that, although he was dead, he did not rise from the dead, but his followers hid the bones. I refer you again to St Paul, if that were true, then we would certainly be the most to be pitied. Fancy suffering they way Christians have for 2000 years, for a conjuring trick with bones! No, I didn’t think so.
What of this passage that John wrote? John was certainly an eyewitness, he refers to himself here as “the other disciple”. Peter rushed in, as he always did; John hung back, but Jesus was not in the tomb. John’s account tells us so much; the grave clothes - long strips of linen were there, one bit separate from another – all clearly described. Such a startling event, it was etched on his mind, never to be forgotten.
One of the constant attempts at discrediting Christianity is that it is biased against women. This is just not true. Culturally in 1st century, women were of little value or status. Chattels fit for cooking, cleaning and childbearing. But, Luke records that, as well as the apostles and other followers; there were women in Jesus’ entourage (Luke 8:2-4). They helped to support his ministry out of their own means. These women cared for them. They too, gave up homes and families to follow this wandering preacher around for years. We know some of them by name, Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna and many others possibly also Martha and Mary who, with their brother, were friends, others are referred to obliquely (Peter’s mother-in-law for example). But there they were. Day after day, mile after mile, meal after meal.
We come to this terrible event in Jerusalem. We have read this week of the betrayal by one of the men, Judas; we have read of the denial by another, Peter; we have read how they ran away and hid in a secret place. They were afraid for their lives and with good reason.
But the women. Low status, low value, of no account. They did not need to hide away. After all, as far as the authorities were concerned they were not important, no need to persecute poor stupid women. So the women stayed at the cross and saw Jesus die. It was the women who went before daybreak to the tomb and discovered that it was empty and Jesus’ body was missing. It was the women who ran and told Peter, John and the rest of them.
When Jesus spoke to Mary Magdalene, she did not recognise him at first. She was probably crying so much, she could not see properly through her tears. But he spoke again – she knew that voice, and in her native dialect she responded Rabboni. John records that faithfully. We can relate to her, cant we? It’s why we have an English church here. Worshipping God from our very souls is so much easier in our native tongue, our hearts can open up. Some of you, I know are born again in the spirit and have the gift of speaking in tongues – a special language of prayer that comes from your very soul. Here is Mary Magdalene, speaking from her heart, Rabboni. Imagine the mixture of emotions: joy, fear, wonderment, love? She wants to touch him, but he won’t let her, not yet, but later he does let his friends touch him, he is real! Obediently, she holds back, and he says, “go and tell my brothers”.
Guess what - she is still telling us, Jesus’ brothers, through the words of the Gospel writer: “He is alive, he has risen from the dead”.
Fortunately, the first disciples believed her. We know they believed her; it is her name here on her eyewitness account told, re-told and told again. Whoever you are, whatever your position in life, the richest, the poorest, the weakest, the strongest – all of you have been told and you can tell others. Shout it from the rooftops.
Peter acknowledges that in the passage from Acts, God does not show favouritism. God asks that you love him, the bible uses the word fear him. This means to love with a sense of awe and wonderment. Not the fear that the disciples felt when they hid from the Jewish authorities and the ROMAN SOLDIERS. Not the fear that has you shaking in your boots. But the fear that that includes “How can God possibly love me? How can Jesus, a man who was God, who died, was buried and rose again, possibly think I am worthy of his love. What if he finds out how unworthy I am? What if he realises that I am of no account, like the women in the 1st century that stood around the cross?”
Honestly? God never found anyone of no value; we are wonderfully and fearfully made – in his image. In God’s eyes each of us is incredibly precious. He will always love you and you can really and truly celebrate. Shout for joy, sing aloud, praise God. You are worth everything to God. He loves you.
I cannot talk to you today without mention of the dreadful events in Brussels last week. No matter how much we celebrate our risen Lord, there is a black cloud hanging over us, a cloud of hatred and evil. It is very hard to understand and even accept that the battle against Satan is won when we hear and read of these evil events.
Every attack like this is a small victory for Satan (not Allah). But out of these atrocities comes a spirit of unity, hope and solidarity. A unifying of people against terror, a solidarity of people striving for peace. All around, we hear people being interviewed and saying “We will not let the terrorist win”. This is hope – non-Christians might not be sure what that hope is, but for us, we know. The sure and certain hope in a victorious God. We are still on the cosmic battlefield between good and evil and the best I can offer you today is to look carefully and see with glad eyes that not only are Governments working hard to eradicate terror, but that people, ordinary people everywhere are supporting and comforting one another and have hope.
For now – wipe away your tears, smash the chocolate eggs; our new life is to be proclaimed. Our cross is empty. The tomb is empty. A man who died, who rose from death will give us all hope – hope for all eternity. Rejoice.