Easter Sunday April 20 2014
Acts 10:34-43, Col 3:1-4 Mat 28:1-10
The last few weeks have been quite a journey, haven’t they?We have followed Jesus and the disciples as he preached and healed around Judea, and we have heard about the murmurings of the establishment, as they grew into a tsunami of opposition. The tension has increased, with or without background music – as on the one hand here was a man claiming to be the very Messiah they longed for, but on the other hand, here was a man claiming to be the Messiah! The people in ancient Israel had a dilemma to face. Was Jesus really who he said he was?
In our readings over the last few weeks, we have seen more and more clearly that he truly did have the power of God with him, the Holy Spirit that could set people free, forgive, heal, and even raise the dead to life! Surely it should have been obvious to the crowds that Jesus really was the Messiah?
But no. Maybe the general crowds knew that here was something completely new, out of the ordinary. But the establishment, the high priests and leaders, needed to keep the people, who were simmering under Roman rule, from boiling over and bringing the wrath of Rome down upon their country.
As the journey and the story got darker and darker, and we followed it more and more closely, to the upper room, and onto the Mount of Olives, it seemed that it was coming to a tragic end. The Gospels all focus in very closely on the events of Holy Week, so that every word spoken, every gesture, is there. Our heartbeats match those of the main characters as we are drawn in to the drama. And then “It is finished,” Jesus said from the cross, as he died.
Today we celebrate the most wonderful thing – Death couldn’t hold on to Jesus! He who made the stars and the very earth itself, he who was in the beginning with God, died to take our sins upon himself, died for our due punishment, but his power over death has triumphed! Death is not the end of the story!
We have certainly been on an emotional roller-coaster throughout this season, and this is deliberate in the church’s year. As we go down the path to Good Friday, we can also have a greater understanding of what Resurrection means! Phew, we can say, we got there. Our emotions have been through the wringer -perhaps we might self- medicate with some chocolate? Fortunately it seems to be in good supply – and this is the only reason I can think of, and it’s a good one – for associating chocolate with Easter.
The Gospel account of Jesus’ resurrection is very simple really. We hear about an earthquake, and an angel, and the giant rock in front of the tomb being rolled away. The facts are vivid and clear. There is no explanation. The details are let to speak for themselves. Jesus first appears to the women. In Jesus’ life we see a continuing outward flow of God’s love, outward from the Jewish nation, from the male-dominated hierarchy, to those who had not been regarded as so important.
Women feature in the Gospels, and the women in Jesus’ life were the first to see him alive. No more discrimination, no more being treated as second-class citizens, whose testimony in a law-court was worth half that of a man’s.
Our Acts reading shows another outwards push – towards the Gentiles, that is, anyone who is not Jewish. No longer does God belong only to the small nomadic tribe that ended up in Palestine – actually God never did – but God has given His son for everyone. And that is a challenge for us.
If Jesus has been raised to new life for every single person on this earth, what does that mean to us in terms of how we regard others? Do we still have any right to see others as somehow lesser than ourselves? Those the world regards as least, lost and last? Jesus has no hierarchy in his love-list – all are loved, he died for everyone, because we have all sinned, and even if you can’t think of anything you may have done, sin is a feature of the human condition.
No longer do we need animal sacrifices offered on the altar to appease God for our sins. One sacrifice has been offered, one which was innocent of sin. This sacrifice is the only one needed. It is indeed finished. No longer do we need to talk to God through the mediation of a priest. When Jesus died, the veil in the temple, dividing people from God, was torn. This was symbolic of a breaking open of free access to God. We can all talk to God, pray, directly, and at any time. God will hear us.
Because Jesus has been the sacrifice, we don’t need to beat ourselves up over past guilt. We just have to bring it to the cross. And Leave it there! It is very common for us to keep going back to our wretchedness, and keep it to the forefront of our mind, but It is finished! I urge you, if you tend to dwell on past wrongs in your life, both those you may have done, and those which were done to you, Jesus has already dealt with it! Leave it to him, and take up the freedom he has given you!
At the Big Night In last week, there was a challenge in the story for the young people. “If the story is true, what does it change?”Think about it. If the story of Jesus coming to earth for a purpose, and dying and being raised to new life is true, what difference does that make to your life and to mine?Does it just mean that there’s a good long holiday in the autumn, where we can get the garden sorted out for winter, have a few days off, eat too much chocolate? For many people that’s all Easter means. It’s interesting how people who don’t believe in Jesus are still happy to have the holiday isn’t it?
But for those of us who know it’s true, this is the question I want to leave with you today. How does it make a difference to your life, knowing that Jesus really did give himself as the ultimate sacrifice, for you? Do you feel the stirrings of hope, of new life, of new possibilities? Because that’s what resurrection is. Not just a future promise, but a present reality.