Todays readings for Easter Sunday 2017 Acts of the Apostles 10: 34-43 Psalm 118: 1-2, 14024 Colossians 3: 1-4 Matthew 28: 1-10
Transcript of the Sermon given by Reverend Roberta Hamilton
Life and death- we have seen both this week. We have seen the struggle for life as hundreds of thousands starve in the horn of Africa, and at the same time we have seen news about our society throwing away one third of the food we buy. This is reality for us. We have seen death in chemical weapon attacks, missile strikes and then a huge bomb dropped with all the indiscriminate death that results. We have seen John Clarke die suddenly and unexpectedly, here in our corner of the world. And at the same time we have seen a little teenage couple so desperate to keep the baby to whom they had given life and already loved so much that they ran away with her. Life and death goes on around us everywhere and we think that we know all about it and yet it still surprises us. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, thought they knew all about death. They had witnessed Jesus death they had seen him laid in the tomb and they thought that the relationship had come to its end. They went to the tomb, to grieve and according to other accounts, to anoint his body. And instead of the end that they expected their whole world was shifted in a tectonic explosion. An earthquake shakes all the certainties that they are living with and upends the whole world order for them. This earthquake is produced by the angel of the Lord, rolling back the stone that is across the mouth of the tomb. His appearance was like lightning and his clothing white as snow. Now this description of events is metaphorical, I think. An angel, who cannot be adequately described except to say that he was like lightening, and who is God’s messenger and a cataclysmic event, that seemed something like the human experience of earthquake, and the tomb is open. What is this all about?
Does the earthquake happen so that Jesus of Nazareth can get out? Is Jesus of Nazareth even in the tomb when it opens? Well, no, to both questions. He who was dead, the body that should have been there, is nowhere to be seen. Because in this amazing event that defies description the human physical body is gone and the resurrected Lord appears.
This appearance of their resurrected Lord is both terrifying and joyous for the women who are the witnesses. They have to make a seismic shift in the way that they understand things. Death itself is not the certainty that they were expecting, and terrifying angels speak words of joy and hope. Jesus who they knew was dead is no longer held in death’s strong bands, but is there with them, speaking to them, both normal and not at all the same! Of course Jesus has been trying to prepare them for this moment, but the reality far exceeds anything that they could have imagined.
For the disciples, including the women who travelled in the company, life with Jesus has been full of surprises. Jesus the teacher has turned lots of ideas on their heads. Jesus has taught them that revenge is a bad idea, no matter how sure they are that they want it. And that forgiveness is the much better path, both for others and for themselves. Jesus has taught them that even if they are poor, or hungry or grieving, that they are blessed. And that wealth might have perils that they haven’t imagined. Jesus has taught them that no matter how insignificant they are, that they are the light for the world. Jesus has taught them that God will search for them, and call them and that they will recognise God’s voice. In fact, God’s voice can be heard in everything that Jesus says. And now Jesus is teaching them that death is not the final thing at all but rather the beginning of a new era, a new life in the Kingdom of God.
Jesus over the last three years has turned their lives upside down, and yet, at the same time, nothing that he has said is new, really, it’s all there in the Law and the Prophets. What Jesus gives them, and us, is a new way of looking at the same old things!
And the most earth-shaking discovery that they have made, both in what Jesus has taught them, and in this experience on the first Easter Day is that God wants to be in relationship with them. This Almighty God of the universe, God of the beginning and the end, whose servant look like lightening and whose voice sounds like thunder, cares about them enough to want to continue the relationship that the incarnate Jesus has formed with them. This is really an extraordinary idea, isn’t it? That God might want us, not for what we can do but for who we are, each and every one of us. We are, of course his creations. In order to demonstrate this, Jesus tells his female disciples to go and tell the men where they will be able to see him, and where they will be able to cement their relationship before he ascends out of the earthly view. The fact that he gives the message to the women is important because it quite intentionally gives them a status as disciples or followers, and apostles, or sent ones. The women are sent to the men before they are together sent out to do God’s work in the world. This is a moment, as the text tells us of both fear and joy. I was asked once how you could have fear and joy at the same time, but I think you only have to remember your wedding day or the birth of your first child to know that they can and do coexist.
And we should fear God- in the sense that we should be in awe of God’s power and majesty, and recognise that only God has an alternative to death. We humans can certainly deal death, and we might be able to resuscitate people but only God can give resurrection, that is a new state of being. What about joy? Well, the joy comes because this loving God wants to be with us at the great banquet in the Kingdom. And the great banquet represents all the good and all the joy that we can imagine, in relationship with God, abundant hospitality, and blessing pouring out upon us.
This picture of the banquet is something that we look forward to, but what about now? Does knowing that Jesus has risen, make any difference to our lives today?
Well, the resurrection means that we can choose lives of freedom and joy living in God’s love, right now. We can be free from the fear that binds us because we are God’s beloved children- our identity is found in that relationship not in any other so we no longer have to live lives circumscribed by anxiety about wealth or status, capability or even lovability. We are so loved by God.
We can be free from the fear of death, because death can not hold us down, we are resurrection people. It means that our lives can be characterised by the daring of being able to act unselfishly, and in love because we have nothing to lose.
It means that we are children, family with God, precious and honoured in that eternal life which is possible in the resurrection. We can join God in God’s world. We are included in the creative impulse, and simultaneously we are the new creation right now. It means that we are dancers in the great dance of life, partners with God and with each other in the eternal dance of the Trinity, because we are included in that relationship of eternal love.
Alleluia! Christ is risen, He is risen indeed, Alleluia!