Sermons

The following sermon was delivered by the Very Reverend Dr Russell Barr on Easter Sunday 2019.

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 15: 12-20 / John 20 1-16

Text: Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark……….      (John 20: 1)

IN THE NAME GOD, FATHER, SON AND HOLY SPIRIT, AMEN

Easter Sunday, the high point of the Christian year, and in many respects the Christian faith would be better described as the Easter faith.

It would be better described as the Easter faith because it was only in light of the dramatic events of Calvary and an empty tomb, the first disciples came to recognise Jesus as much more than a good man now dead but as their living Lord.

Little more than two or three years had passed since they had first encountered Jesus on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

He had borrowed one of their boats so he could better speak to the people gathered on the shore.

And after he had finished speaking he had told them to put out a little into the water and cast their nets.

At first they laughed, for what did the preacher know about fishing?

Fishing was a night time activity and now with the sun rising over the waters ………it was a waste of time.

Yet when they had done as he asked, soon the joke was on them.

And as if that was not enough, once they had dragged their nets back to shore bulging with fish, to their utter astonishment he had asked them to leave their nets and follow him.

Little could these fishermen have known what would follow and little could they have imagined the life changing, life transforming adventure that lay before them, the extraordinary wisdom of his teaching, the remarkable miracles he performed, crippled people able to walk, blind people able to see, a great crowd fed with a few loaves and fish.

And now it had come to this, a fickle crowd,  a trumped up charge, a farcical trial, a bloody death and a borrowed tomb - what a dreadful way for it all to end.

As we hear the Easter gospel today, of this we should be in no doubt – on that first Easter morning as Mary Magdalene went to the tomb soon to be followed by Peter and John, they were not only convinced Jesus was dead, they were equally convinced everything he had worked for, everything he had spoken about and everything he represented had come to a calamitous, crucifying end.

And of course they were right, Jesus was indeed dead.

Crucifixion was all in a grim day’s work for Roman soldiers – three to be done that day – and knowing their job well, these soldiers hadn’t made any mistakes.

So when on the Friday evening the disciples had taken Jesus down from the cross, it was his lifeless remains they had taken down and carried to the garden tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.

And now with the Sabbath over, shocked, tearful and in mourning for their loss, one or two of the disciples returned to anoint his body and to pay their last offices of love to their dearest friend.

Yet once again, just as on that morning on the Galilean shoreline, little could they have known what they would find, and little could they have imagined what new adventures dawned as they found the stone rolled away from the entrance, an empty tomb, folded grave cloths and a living Lord.

And it all happened early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark………

Easter Sunday, the highpoint of the Christian year; this is the day the Lord has made, a day to rejoice when everything in our faith comes together in an extraordinary mixture of mystery and wonder and revelation.

Of course there are questions.

When Jesus is about, letting God’s love loose in the world, there are always questions, questions which more often than not are answered by other questions.

And one of the questions for the preacher is whether or not to try and explain Easter or to encourage the congregation to celebrate it.

Explanations can wait because today is a day to celebrate, to celebrate the Lord of the Dance, to celebrate what God did all those years ago - and to celebrate what God is doing today.

Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, puts it well when he says that if you dare to believe Jesus rose from the dead, you are doing much more than simply believing an odd historical fact from some two thousand years ago.

Instead you are trusting there is a kind of life, a kind of love and trust and joy that is the very essence of Jesus’ identity which is now coming to life in you.[1]

The implications of this are enormous, life changing, life transforming, for as Williams goes on to point out, as this new life comes to life in you, you are alive with a fuller and deeper life than just your own.

In other words, one of the important things to discern at Easter is that, as much as Jesus rises from the dead to find his home in heaven, Jesus also rose to find his home in us.

So what is not to celebrate ……………Christ rising from the dead to find his home in us.

And it all happened early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark………

Although all four gospels describe the events of the first Easter in slightly different ways, it is to John’s account I usually find myself drawn.

It is not the earliest New Testament account of the resurrection – you will find that in Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth at chapter 15 – but filled as it is with such intimate and tender detail, John’s account is both moving and memorable.

John’s description of Mary Magdalene making her way to the grave, finding the stone moved, running to find Simon Peter and John, breathlessly telling them what she has discovered, of the pair of them running to see for themselves, John arriving before Peter, entering the tomb and seeing the linen wrappings moved and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head neatly folded in a place by itself is beautifully told.

Equally beautiful is John’s account of Mary standing weeping outside the tomb, absolutely distraught - a sight I have witnessed oh so many times at gravesides or in crematoria - of her conversation with the angels, her turning to find a man standing nearby – was he the gardener – her asking if he had moved the body only to hear him speak her name and in a moment of blinding recognition to realise it was Jesus.

If it is important – and it is – that the moment of God’s promise of new life is witnessed by both women and men, the victory of God’s love over all that would deny it, then it is also important it happened while it was still dark.

From the opening verses of John’s gospel, when John describes the Word becoming flesh as the light of life, the light for the world, the true light, the light that shines in the darkness such that the darkness will not overcome it, the contrast between light and darkness has been one of the gospel’s powerful themes.

It is a contrast which resonates because light and darkness, brightness and shade, are part of our experience of life too.

At home with our families, our relationships with our friends, at work with our colleagues, in the life of the church, for all the good, loving, rewarding, fulfilling experiences, there are also times and experiences when things do not go well and we are left feeling hurt, angry, betrayed, anxious and sometimes guilty.

One of the deep truths of the Easter gospel, an insight so powerfully captured by John, is that in Jesus’ presence the clouds lift, the darkness is put to flight and we emerge into the light.

In the darkness of that first Easter morning, as Mary heard Jesus speak her name, everything changed and in a moment her whole world was bathed in a new light.

Again Rowan Williams puts it well as he observes in this new light we see who God really is and glimpse something of the depth of God’s presence, purpose and promise.

We see ourselves as we really are, how often we fail, and how passionately God continues to love and care for us.

We see one another as people loved and cared for by God - and what a difference that makes in our attitude to others.

And we see the world around us clothed in God’s glory, demanding our care and attention.

Easter Sunday, the highpoint of the Christian year, the day the Lord has made, a day of mystery, wonder and revelation – and as the dawn breaks, the sun rises and Christ makes his home in us, with the disciples of old we walk from darkness into light.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In His great mercy He gave us new birth into a living hope

through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

Amen


[1]  Rowan Williams Choose Life ; Christmas and Easter Sermons in Canterbury Cathedral Bloomsbury, London,  2013, p121