Sermon by Martin James: 04.04.2021

Easter Day Sermon: 4th April 2021

by Martin James

John 20:1-18

A minister stood up to preach his sermon and said, "I have so much to say, I don't know where to begin." Someone in the congregation shouted, "How about somewhere close to the end.”

Well, after spending the last few weeks going through Lent we've come to a sort of end. We've had Ash Wednesday through to Palm Sunday, to Maundy Thursday to Good Friday. Our spiritual journey with Jesus on his way to the cross.

But of course it isn't the end. We have a new beginning as we celebrate Easter and the resurrection.

There have been many attempts by historians and others down through the centuries to try and prove or disprove the resurrection of Jesus as an historical fact. It still goes on today. Often thinly disguised attempts to undermine the Christian faith.

However, listen to what the writer, theologian and former Bishop of Durham Tom Wright has to say about what the resurrection means to him. He plainly calls it the central belief for all Christians. An argument was once put to him that some Christians believe the importance of the resurrection to be symbolic. His response was to emphatically disagree. He disagreed because he said that symbolism can be used to mean that something didn't actually happen.

I can see what he means, because that kind of view can all too easily water down the centrality of the resurrection. Yes, the cross and the resurrection are central to the Christian faith. Our faith, the whole existence and survival of the Christian church, hangs on the cross, just as Jesus hung and died on the cross. And our faith also hangs on his being raised to life three days later. That is the centre of our belief.

Now, we live in an age where many people don’t believe in God. We live in an age where even some church people are arguing that there was no physical resurrection. But St Paul 1 Corinthians 15:17 - “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, you are still in your sins”. Take that further and say if Christ has not been raised, why celebrate Easter? Why are we here this morning?

 

There is no need for proof. It's our faith, and the faith/belief which has sustained the church for two thousand years - that's what matters. Belief in the risen Lord.

 

Which brings us to our gospel reading this morning. The disciples must have been rather knocked out - uncertainty following Jesus' arrest, trial, crucifixion and burial. Then Mary Magdalene discovers that the tomb is empty - vvs1&2 1Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.

So she ran and told Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. So the two disciples ran to the tomb - Peter first in to the tomb, followed by the one believed to be John - "he saw and believed".

Then they went back home. But Mary didn’t. She - v11 - stood outside the tomb crying. But she didn’t believe - not yet. Apart from anything else she was probably too distressed.

Then - vvs12&13 - 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

And vvs14&15 - When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.

Then v16 - “Mary”. Mary recognised Jesus immediately when he spoke to her. No doubt something in the way he usually addressed her.

Our late son Simon had a very distinctive voice. The way he said “hello” he was easy to recognise.

Yes, Mary recognised Jesus when he spoke but not before. So not, at least at first, not from the way he looked. Which I guess raises the question in our minds - what sort of body did Jesus have after he rose from the dead?” But really there aren’t any clear cut answers. However, one thing is clear, and that is Jesus had a physical body that could be touched. At the same time it/he was different. Not least, for instance, because he could walk through closed doors - part of next Sunday's gospel - John 20:19 - When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

But he wasn’t a ghost. And he wasn’t simply resuscitated either. He was physical/alive. This is shown by a number of the post resurrection accounts in the gospels.

I'll leave John 20:19-end for next Sunday's preacher. But just for a moment look on into chapter 21.

Here we read about fish being caught miraculously - vvs5&6 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. And then the disciples came to shore and Jesus ate with them. vvs12-14:- 12 Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. Not the action of a ghost or an apparition.

And then in Luke 24 - the road to Emmaus. His conversation with the two disciples, taking them through the scriptures about how the Messiah was to suffer, die and rise again. But they didn’t recognise him until he broke the bread in the house.

So, voice to Mary; lakeside breakfast; breaking bread. Jesus could be recognised in his resurrection body. But in a sense only when he wanted it. And in particular that recognition in the breaking of the bread is a really significant one for us today as we share in Holy Communion/the Eucharist.

Of course we have the gospel accounts like these to teach us the truth and significance of the resurrection. But more even than that we have the testimony of first hand witnesses here in the New Testament.

In the reading we had from Acts 10, we heard the speech by Peter at. Peter had been called by the Holy Spirit to go to the house of Cornelius the centurion who was described as a God fearing man. And this is what Peter said to him and those gathered with him:- vvs39-41:- 39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.

The centrality of the resurrection. Our central belief. Handed down from that little group of the first Christians. Those eye witnesses. And handed down through the centuries to us today. By living, believing Christians.

Jesus is risen/alive. If he was dead, he would be no different to any other leader who’d lived and died. For a while, until he faded into history, his followers would come to his grave to pay homage. But that sort of homage, although it’s partly showing proper respect, that sort of homage is often little more than hero worship. Dead hero worship.

The remains of Lenin lie in a tomb in Moscow’s Red Square. Well, they did, I don't know if they still are. On his coffin is the inscription “For he was the greatest leader of all time; he was the lord of the new humanity; he was the saviour of the world”. Whatever our views about Lenin and communism, particularly in the ever changing political situation in Russia since his death, is no concern of ours today. But what is significant about Lenin’s epitaph is this - “he was the leader, he was the lord, he was the saviour. All in the past tense.

What a contrast to the triumphant words of Jesus - John 11:25a “I am the resurrection and the life……...”

Jesus’ resurrection wasn't just an end in itself. If that's all it was, amazing as it was, it would be an event we could only look back on. The resurrection is much more than that. As we read in Revelation chapter 1 :- 17c I am the first and the last, 18a&b and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive for ever and ever. What a picture that is of Jesus as living, exalted, risen Lord. A picture which is nothing but a fancy of the imagination if Christ hasn’t been raised from the dead.

He is risen. He is alive now. He promises new life and eternal life to all who will believe in him. As we do that, we too can have that assurance of new life in Christ the risen conquering son. We are the Easter people, Alleluia!

 

Martin James Easter Day 04.04.21