St Michael’s and St Barnabas 1st April 2018
Readings – 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Mark 16:1-8
There was a man who took his dog for a walk through the woods down to the lake. As he was going through the woods, he picked up a stick. When he reached the lake, he threw it into the water for the dog to fetch. The dog stopped for a moment, looked at his master and then walked across the water to fetch the stick. “This is strange,” thought the man, “I wonder if he will do that again.” So he picked up the stick, threw it into the water to see what would happen. The dog looked at his master again, and then once again walked across the water to fetch the stick.
“I must be seeing things,” said the man. Fortunately at this moment his good friend and neighbour was walking past. “Watch this,” said the man, “what do you think?” He threw the stick, the dog walked across the water and came back with it in his mouth. “That’s truly amazing,” said the neighbour, “your dog can’t swim!”
Sometimes it can be very easy to miss the point, can’t it? Today is Easter Sunday. For some people, this is a time to catch up with family and friends, for others, an opportunity to eat as much chocolate as possible, for still others, to go on an Easter egg hunt and see how many eggs they can find. Now all of these things are good to do (although I’m not too sure about the chocolate), but let’s make sure today none of us miss the main point of Easter. As the angel told the women on that first Sunday morning, You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen!
Easter Sunday is all about the simple fact Jesus has risen from the dead. I hope that’s not news to anybody here. But I also hope that’s not something so obvious that it no longer excites us or thrills us. As we hear the story of the women going to the tomb and as they discover the stone rolled away and the body gone, I suggest our response should not be to say we’ve heard all this before. I suggest our response should one of wonder and mystery and awe. Because if Jesus did rise from the dead – and all the evidence tells us that He did – then the impact on our lives should be real and profound, and we should be deeply thankful for all that He has done.
But let’s just suppose for a moment that Easter Sunday didn’t happen, that all we are celebrating today is some kind of spring festival with flowers and bunnies and eggs. Let’s suppose that Jesus remained in the tomb, the women went away disappointed, and the disciples stayed in hiding, afraid for their lives. What would that mean for us today?
Well, for a start, it would mean that Jesus wasn’t who He claimed to be. If you’ve been with us over the past few weeks, you will know that Jesus on several occasions predicted that He would be betrayed, arrested and crucified, and that on the third day He would rise again. Imagine for a moment that only half of His prediction came true. You wouldn’t have to be anyone special to see to know that, when you challenged the authorities, you would end up on a cross – there were plenty of false Messiahs crucified in first century Israel, after all. But worse than that, Jesus would be a liar. He would not be the Son of God He claimed to be, and you would have to wonder what else of His teaching was wrong. And then you would look at all the miracles He performed and ask yourself what kind of power really lay behind all the amazing deeds He carried out. Make no mistake, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then He was a fraud, a phoney, and a dangerous one at that.
Moreover, if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then the authorities who put Him to death would have won. A good man would have been put to death because He spoke inconvenient truth. The power of the mob would have prevailed. The forces of evil would have had the last word. And we would be left in a bleak world where might would be right, and hope would be in very short supply. If we retained any faith in God, we would certainly have no assurance He was on our side or even cared about the situation we were in.
And of course, if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then none of us would be here today. The disciples would have remained in hiding, until perhaps they confessed to the crime of rebellion and were executed. The Bible would never have been written, no churches would have been built. And the whole course of history would have been changed. The principles of healthcare, of education, of caring for the weakest and poorest in our society all came from people seeking to live out the good news of Jesus Christ. If we were still living like Romans, for example, our society would be a much crueller and darker place than it is today.
You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! That is the life-changing, death-defying, history-shaping good news that we are celebrating today, and my one point is really that we make it the main point of our Easter celebration today.
You see, if Jesus really is the Son of God that means He has the power to change our lives for good. The fact He died for us on a cross and rose again means He has really paid the price for all the wrong we have ever said and thought and done. If we just ask Him, He will give us all the forgiveness and peace we ever need. He will give us a new relationship with God as our Heavenly Father. He will give us the gift of His Holy Spirit so that we have the strength and the power to live for Him and Him alone.
And you don’t have to be a good or clever or special person to receive all this from Jesus. Paul who wrote our first reading had a track record of persecuting Christians and putting them to death. Peter whom the angel mentions in our second reading denied Jesus and claimed he didn’t know Him. But Jesus met with them, changed their life around – just as in fact He still meets with people and turns their lives around today, as many of you here can testify.
Secondly, if Jesus really is the Son of God that means that ultimately all the forces of sin and death and evil have been defeated. Oh yes, we still live in a world where terrible things happen, and there are many things we cannot explain. But because Jesus rose from the dead, we have the assurance that He has won the final victory. There is a hope beyond the brokenness and pain of this life. And one day this same Jesus will return in all His power to wipe away all tears, to take away all pain, and to still all sorrow. He will judge the living and the dead, and great will be the rejoicing of those who belong to Him.
And finally, if Jesus really is the Son of God, we have sure grounds for faith. We have this wonderful book called the Bible through which God speaks to us and whose every word can be trusted. We have the church, the body of Christ, as a family to which we can belong and where we can grow in faith. We have the gift of prayer, where we can call upon our Heavenly Father knowing that He will hear us and listen to us.
Now I don’t know if you saw the headlines this week, that only 10% of Easter eggs sold this year actually have the word “Easter” printed on the front of the box. A whole generation is being sold the lie that Easter is only about flowers and bunnies and eggs, and they are missing the whole point of our celebrations. Our task, it seems to me, is not just to say Jesus is risen, but to show the radical difference knowing this Jesus makes. Today let’s offer again our lives to Jesus in wonder and thankfulness and awe that He should die in our place for our sins and rise again. Let’s allow Jesus the risen Son of God fill us with such joy that we can bring His hope and His peace to the troubled world around us. And let’s commit ourselves to getting to know Him better, through reading His word, through belonging to His church, and through growing prayer. So that, when others meet us, they too will understand the angel’s words: You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen!