Easter Surprise (postponed!)

St Barnabas 18th April 2010; St Michael’s 25th April 2010

Reading – Luke 24:1-12

(Originally planned for Easter Sunday when Rev Tim was unwell, these are his notes for an all age talk eventually given at both churches some weeks later … )

How many people here like Easter eggs?

Well, as it’s Easter, I thought I’d bring along some Easter Eggs this morning. I don’t know about you, but it seems to me nowadays there are more and more different kinds of Easter Eggs on offer, and every year the amount of space in the supermarkets devoted to them seems to grow and grow. As I don’t eat chocolate, I’m not really up on what’s out there, but I did bring along three different types of Easter Egg that I do know about.

First up, I’ve brought along some plain, little, hollow chocolate eggs. Then I’ve got some Crème Eggs. And lastly I brought along some Kinder Surprise. So, you may be asking, why have I brought along these Easter Eggs today?

Apart from the fact I’m feeling generous, I am going to put it to you that in some ways each type of egg stands for a different view of Easter. There are some people whose Easter is rather like these hollow eggs. They enjoy all the trappings – the hot cross buns, the eggs, the little presents – but as far as they’re concerned there’s nothing really more to Easter than that. And once Easter’s gone, it’s gone. It was nice for a moment, but come Bank Holiday Monday, it’s over for another year. Time instead to start to thinking about the summer holidays, or even to begin to look forward to Christmas.

Or again, there are some people whose Easter is rather like this Crème Egg. They enjoy all the trappings, but they know there’s more to Easter than that. For them, Easter is all about love and new life and the wonder and joy of spring. And if you ask them where Jesus fits in, their reply is that He is the one who shows God’s love for us. Now as far as it goes, that’s a perfectly fine message. But the problem is, this kind of message doesn’t last for long in the real world where warm, loving feelings tend to get buried in the rush and crush of the working day. Do you know the advertising slogan for Crème Eggs? Here today, goo tomorrow. If Easter is simply a vague message of love and new life, then the chances are it too will simply be goo tomorrow.

So what about the Kinder Surprise? Well, the thing about a Kinder Surprise is that there’s something real and lasting in the middle. OK, it may only be a small plastic toy but there is at least something there that hopefully isn’t swallowed when you eat the rest of it. And I am going to put it to you that this Kinder Surprise in some small way represents what Easter is all about. That beyond all the trappings that we enjoy for a few days there is a real and solid message of Jesus who has died and risen again for us. And unlike the small plastic toy we find inside one of these, we have something is real, lasting and of infinite worth, the very gift of eternal life that should be at the centre of all that we are and all that we do.

The only trouble is, if I might put it this way, is that somewhere along the line we have lost the surprise of the Easter message. I guess most of us have heard many, many times the news that Easter is about Jesus who has died and risen again for us, and if we’re not careful we let it wash over us. Imagine the headlines today if a carpenter emerged from his grave three days after the funeral service. There would be reporters all over the world coming to interview him. There would be teams of medical experts trying to work out what happened. There would be lengthy documentaries as investigators claim to present the real truth behind the headlines.

If Easter really is going to more than just a nice story to us then we need to regain the surprise and wonder of the first Easter Sunday. Because it strikes me that the thing that comes out again and again from the reading we heard just now is the surprise of the people involved. There is the surprise of the women who did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. There is their surprise and sheer terror as two angels in clothes that gleamed like lightning appear to them. There is the surprise of the eleven apostles who hear the news of the women as they rush back from the tomb, all hot and breathless, trying to explain what’s happened. There is the surprise of Peter who sees the strips of linen lying by themselves who is left wondering what has happened.

And it is in fact the surprise of everyone involved in the first Easter story that gives us the guarantee that what happened on that dramatic morning really took place. If this was some kind of invention, if it was the plot in a novel by Dan Brown, then you might expect everything at this point to fall into place. As the hero returns back to life, all the threads of the story suddenly come together, and everyone realises just what Jesus has been talking about and eagerly proclaims Him as their Saviour and their Lord. But in fact, apart from the women dimly remembering some words of Jesus, the whole Easter story is shrouded in mystery and confusion. Because this is what it’s like in real life when something unexpected happens. People are thrown by the course of events; others find it hard to believe your story; everyone is left with questions and a sense of puzzlement. The account of the Easter Sunday – which has been massively supported by historical research over the past 2000 years – tells us that we are dealing with no make-believe or let’s pretend, but a solid and reliable core of truth that should last beyond our celebrations today.

Now it’s hard to put all that truth into one short All-Age talk, but let me put to you that the surprise at the heart of the Easter story is all to do with hope.

First of all, that there is the hope of sins forgiven and a totally new fresh start. Brothers and sisters, there are so many people who go around with dark and guilty secrets from the past. Words they wish they had never said; things they wish they had never done; promises they have broken; relationships they have messed up; and they are wondering how they can ever be free of that load. The answer is that in Christ a new start is possible. The cross is about forgiveness and healing and Jesus taking the punishment that we all deserve. We do not have to cling on to our heavy loads of guilt and fear. We can lay them all before the cross and receive a fresh start.

Secondly, there is the hope of a new relationship with God as Father. Again, so many people are wondering; does anyone care for me? Do I matter to anybody? How can I know? The answer again to these questions is Jesus. Because if we believe and trust in Jesus, then He introduces us to God as Heavenly Father. In Him we are adopted as a child into His family, the church. We begin to see that in God’s sight we are of infinite, extraordinary value, because we realise Christ died and rose again for us. And not only that, but we are part of the body of Christ with brothers and sisters who – hopefully – we are privileged to love and be loved by as together we share Christ’s risen life.

And thirdly, there is the hope of a life beyond this life. Because by rising from the grave Jesus has proven that He is the resurrection and the life. And although at the moment we do not see Him, we know that He has gone ahead and has prepared a place for us in heaven. Not only that, but He is with us now by His Holy Spirit who is the guarantee and deposit for what it is to come. Isn’t that good news? Easter, you see, isn’t a piece of wishful thinking in a world of violence and pain. It’s a message of hope that takes that violence and pain head on, and triumphs over it – by pointing to an empty grave 2000 years ago that remains open and forms the gate of heaven to all who believe and trust in Him.

So let me ask – is this message of hope at the centre of your Easter celebrations? If it isn’t, then please do something today to find more about Jesus and what His death and resurrection means to you. And if it is, then one final thought. Because, if we believe and trust in Jesus as Saviour and Lord, then our calling as the church of God is to come together and be a community of hope. We need to bond together as brothers and sisters in Christ so that we surprise others by our common life and point them to the real and true message of Jesus Christ.

You mention church to ordinary folk, and they think of a small group of tired, sad people singing songs in an ancient language with a vicar droning on about matters far removed from the concerns of ordinary people. Our task, our Easter mission, as a church is to be surprising. To show there is a group of people who care for each other deeply, who are overflowing with the hope that is theirs in Christ Jesus, who are reaching out with that same, sacrificial love that Jesus has first shown them. Because how are people going to know Jesus is alive today? By looking at His body, the church. By looking at us, at you and at me. By seeing not a corpse or a group of frightened followers, but by seeing men and women, children and older folk, truly alive in the Holy Spirit, worshipping God as Father and praising Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.

So this Easter may it be our prayer that we are surprised afresh by the good news of Jesus Christ who has died and risen for us, and may we become that community of the resurrection that surprises others with the wonder and joy and good news of His salvation.

Rev Tim

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