Sermon - Easter Sunday 2018

The following sermon was delivered by the Very Reverend Dr Russell Barr on Easter Sunday 2018.

Scripture: Acts 10: 34-43/ Mark 15: 42 – 16: 8

Text: Don’t be alarmed, he said. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene who was crucified. He is risen! But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you’                                                                                                                                                                        (Mark 16: 7)

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

 Earlier this month a Romanian court ruled a 63 year old man was dead?

Nothing unusual in that you might think, courts make these kinds of rulings all the time, except in this case there appeared to be convincing evidence to the contrary: the deceased was standing in the courtroom apparently alive and well.

Constantin Reliu left Romania in 1992 and travelled to Turkey in search of work.

Apart from one visit home in 1999, Reliu did not keep in touch with his family.

After years of silence, and fearing he had been killed in an earthquake, in 2003 Reliu’s wife applied to the Romanian courts and obtained a death certificate.

But Reliu was not dead and earlier this year, having been arrested by the Turkish authorities because his visa documents had expired, Reliu was deported back to Romania where he was detained by immigration officials who informed him he had died in 2003.

If his return came as something of a surprise to his wife, now remarried, you can imagine it was also something of a surprise to Reliu to discover he was dead.

And to make matters worse, when Reliu went to court to ask for the death certificate to be overturned, his appeal was refused on the grounds it had been lodged too late.

So Reliu has been left in legal limbo with no income, no rights to benefits, no passport to return to Turkey, no way of getting a job in Romania, officially dead although very much alive.

The court that tells a man he is not alive – you really couldn’t make it up, even on April Fool’s Day!

Whether then or now I wonder if the same mixture of amusement, bemusement and scepticism is how many people view the Easter story with its extraordinary claim that the One who was crucified had been raised to life.

Of this much you can be certain; come the evening of the day of crucifixion, the day we call Good Friday, Jesus was dead, quite dead.

If you have seen Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ you will have learned crucifixion was a brutal form of execution.

It was however all in a day’s work for the Roman soldiers, with death the only outcome for the three prisoners crucified that day.

So when in Mark’s version of events, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Jewish Council, the Sandhedrin, asked Pilate if he could take possession of Jesus’ body, and Pilate learned from the centurion that the prisoner was already dead, there is no doubt the execution was complete.

Mark now adds two women to the list of witnesses to Jesus’ death, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses, and tells us they watched Joseph take Jesus’ remains from the cross, wrap them in linen cloth and place them in a rock tomb.

Jewish law did not forbid preparing a body for burial on the Sabbath.

However it did prohibit the sale and purchase of goods so Mark’s account of what happened next, namely, when the Sabbath was over Mary Magdalene this time joined by a different Mary, the mother of James, and Salome, purchased spices and set off for the tomb, rings true.

As the three women went to pay their last offices of love, Mark tells us their one concern was how they were going to roll away the stone from the entrance to the tomb.

If their concern points ahead to the declaration the stone had been rolled back, the reference to it being very large serves to emphasise the miraculous nature of what they were about to find.

The women went to anoint a body…………….but on reaching the tomb, instead of a corpse they were confronted by a young man dressed in a white robe.

If the white robe is enough to suggest the young man is a messenger sent from heaven, understandably surprised to see the stone moved and confused to find the tomb empty, the women are startled and frightened.

The messenger tells them not to be alarmed.

The messenger knows they have come looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified.

Inviting the women to look at the place where he had been laid, the messenger tells the women they can see for themselves he is not here………..why………. because he has been raised.

And without a further word of explanation, the women are instructed to go and tell the disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of them to Galilee where they will see him…………………. just as he told you.

As they have studied this text, the Biblical scholars have wondered why, of all the disciples, Peter was singled out.

They have also noticed the apparently abrupt ending to the gospel, the women fleeing the tomb in terror, speaking to no-one because they were afraid, and wondered whether the original ending has been lost.

What I want you to wonder about are the messenger’s final words to the women ………… just as he told you ………… because the question of trust takes us to the heart of things.

Mark has already given us many reasons to believe that what Jesus promises will come true.

Jesus warned his disciples that on reaching Jerusalem he would suffer much at the hands of the chief priests and teachers of the law………..and he did.

Following his arrest his followers scattered………as he said they would.

Before the cock crowed twice, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times……….exactly what Jesus predicted would happen.

And having told them he would die and be raised again on the third day, now the women find his tomb lying empty.

Just as he told you……………..

The one thing the Bible doesn’t try to do is to try and explain the resurrection.

Instead, with accounts of an empty tomb and stories of various encounters with the risen Christ whether in Galilee or on the road to Emmaus, the Bible is content to embrace the mystery of the resurrection ……….and to invite our trust in its truth, its reality and its life-changing power.

To embrace the mystery is not to take leave of your senses and accept what would otherwise be absurd.

Paradoxically, to embrace the wonder and mystery of what happened that first Easter dawn is to discover what is real.

And the reality to which it points was beautifully expressed by the Apostle Paul who spoke about our troubles being slight and short-lived and their outcome an eternal glory, provided our eyes are fixed not on the things that are seen but on the things that are unseen. [1]

Love, grace, generosity, kindness, compassion, forgiveness: you cannot see or touch any of these things – but of all things, we know and experience them to be real.

To embrace the mystery, that is to trust what Jesus said came true and he was raised from the dead, is not just a belief in something which happened a long time ago.

It is to commit yourself to a kind of life, a way of being open to God and to other people, and to awaken to a new way of life.

And as you awaken to this new life – remember how Jesus spoke about a new birth – so you discover to your joy that nothing that now happens in your life – no amount of stress or worry or illness or sadness or loss – will ever be able to break the bond now created between your life and Jesus’ life.

Listen to how Rowan Williams puts it;

Jesus rises from the dead so as to find not only his home in heaven but his home in us.[2]

On that first Easter morning Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices and set off for a tomb, not knowing how they were going to move the stone, but quite certain what they would find inside.

What they found took them completely by surprise.

Was it true, had he been raised, had he really gone ahead of them into Galilee, would they see him there?

Well, is it true?

Does Christ still go ahead of us?

Do you expect to encounter his presence in the events and circumstances of life?

Are your eyes fixed not on the things that are seen but on the things that are unseen?

If so, then you like these women will know to your joy that today the Lord is risen – he is risen indeed – just as he told you.

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] 2 Corinthians 4: 16 – 5: 1

[2] Rowan Williams Choose Life: Christmas and Easter Sermons in Canterbury Cathedral Bloomsbury, London, 2013, p 121