Sermon. Easter Sunday, April 12th 2020.
When I was working in Budapest as a missionary, I celebrated two Easters and we climbed a local hill, celebrated the dawn rising with a service – and as we shared the peace we said : He has risen – he is risen indeed alleluia! And today all over the world, people are doing the same – many, due to this pandemic, they cannot meet to celebrate this Day, others cannot meet due to dangers of extreme persecution – on this day, physically isolated in their worship, but we are in solidarity across our world. We recall the resurrection – the Lord Jesus crucified, yes, buried, yes, risen – YES!
It is Good News! But why? Looking at our gospel reading.
Good news is that the tomb is empty.
These shows: firstly that Jesus words can be trusted for he has said at different points, he would suffer, die and be raised. 4 times in Mark he said this. And the angel, recorded in Matthew says: ‘’He is not here, he has risen, just as he said.’’ Even the chief priests remember Jesus saying this, and so ask Pilate for Romans soldiers to guard and to have a Roman seal on the tomb. But no religious authorities, no seal, no guards no army can keep Jesus in that tomb. He is risen – as he said – we can trust his words, teachings, promises.
Secondly, as Paul puts it in 1 Cor 15: ‘’If Christ has not been raised your faith is futile, you are still in your sins… but Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.’’ The tomb is empty. Because he is risen, it means – the power of sin has been broken, before Christ we were under its power, a slave to it, yet an empty tomb means Christ came to set us free from sin; before Christ we suffered the pollution of sin, like cities where the air quality gets so bad everything is affected, we were polluted by sins effects, and yet the empty tomb means Christ has made us righteous in God’s sight; before Christ, we faced the penalty of sin – for all of us as Paul says has fallen short of God’s glorious standard. And we were to face judgement from God after death. Yet Christ took the punishment and judgement we should have taken. The empty tomb means we need not fear meeting God but can look forward to it. And before Christ, our sins created a wall, a partition between us and God – and the empty tomb, just like it was open for Peter and the other disciple and Mary to walk into, it is open for us to come to God. Heaven gates are opened wide. Sins forgiven, power of sin broken. That it is Good news!
Good news for people like Mary. She arrives in darkness Mary Magdalene travels to the tomb. She is also in a black dark place of despair and grief and desolation. You can imagine it as you listen to the words recorded. She sees an empty grave. She does not remember the words Jesus said. After Peter and John are gone, she remains by the grace, standing outside the tomb crying. I remember someone who was asked to identify a loved one who had died soon after being admitted to hospital. He went in. He broke down and sobbed as he came into the room and saw her there. And a man there held him as he cried and cried. Mary has no one to hold her. Mary had the desolation of seeing him die, and now a second grief of now having no place to grieve for him. Even the words of angels cannot lift her. And yet voice can – one word is spoken – Mary – she recognises the voice of the shepherd – ‘’The sheep know the shepherds voice and he calls them by name.’’ Jesus brings resurrection to her doesn’t he? She was in death – she was in a dark place – and now she goes from death to life…
Do we need that hope – do we need personal resurrection? Do we feel we are in a dark place, a place of death? As Mary shows, and for reasons I shared earlier about the effects of sin being broken, I believe in resurrection – new life – for those in addictions, those who are refugees fleeing persecution or warfare for those who self harm, those who self esteem is crushed, those with depression, those with crippling financial debt. The scriptures remind us that it was the Spirit of God that raised him from the dead. The same Spirit that works in our world, and lives in each Christian believer, and God invites us to know that power.
Is that where it begins. Lord I believe you can bring resurrection within me? I ask you to bring new life. I am dead without you, please bring resurrection in me?
Yong Hi is a Christian from North Korea. When Yong-Hi’s father died, her family were left destitute. One day, as she slept in a train station, a woman found her and told her that she could take her to China and help her make a lot of money for her family. However, once she arrived in China, she was married off – as many women are, tricked by human traffickers with promises before sold into marriage or even worse prostitution.
Yong-Hi was invited to go to a Bible study being held by one the organisations who works with Christian charity Open Doors. She says: “My Chinese husband was against me going because he feared I’d run off. I still went.
“He didn’t believe in any religion. In fact, he was an alcoholic and whenever he was drunk he abused me verbally and physically. I was afraid to be with him. I tried to commit suicide. I had no hopes. But my attempt to kill myself failed, and when my husband found me, he confessed his wrongdoings and even cried.
“That’s when I started to pray for my husband and myself. I cried out to God and realised God was always with me. He wept for me too. I prayed, ‘Forgive our sins and accept us as your children.’
“I also prayed for my husband to stop drinking. After some time, I realised that he does not abuse me anymore, neither physically nor verbally. I found out that he reads the Bible and prays to stop drinking himself. Little by little, the family I was forced into is changing. God is really knocking on the door of my husband’s heart. I know that God listens to and answers my prayers.
“I now pray that God uses me to evangelise other North Korean women and even North Koreans who still live inside North Korea. I want to go back to my family in North Korea and bring them to our Lord Jesus Christ.” That is resurrection…
Good news that Jesus is grabbed. Not the best title I admit! But Mary, grabs him – ‘do not hold onto me’ – he says. He clearly isn’t a ghost. Over the following weeks, the disciples would eat and drink with him. Mary doesn’t say – Jesus you’ve changed; but as Thomas discovers a week later, Jesus still carries the wounds from the nails and the mark from the spear which pierced his side. He carries them after resurrection and he carries them into heaven when he ascends. The wounds are important for us. There is much evil in our world, in our lands. When we hear about it makes us ask why would people do that, as I remember a person called Des, would ask each year when we were in Englad: why would people do what they did to Jesus in his final hours, someone who never harmed anyone and only did good and great things. It encourages us that the wounds are still on his body. Christ went through incredible suffering. This is God among us – the crucified God. Christ who saw and heard and experienced human evil and violence and cruelty. He didn’t just grieve with those who suffered – Mary and Martha – he suffered. He is not a God to whom we can say – you don’t understand pain and suffering – he does. He does and he cares.
But, it is not enough to leave it at this. God gives each free will, how we live, think, act. Through the cross and resurrection, we see the problem of sin being dwelt with, we see victory – we see a future guaranteed. Because of the empty tomb, we look with confidence to a new heaven and a new earth, promised in the last pages of the Bible “a place where he will wipe every tear from their eyes, there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain for the old older of things has passed away. He was seated on the throne said: I am making everything new.” We can add that there will be no more terrorism, genocides, coronavirus, cancer, suicide bombings….the old order of things will pass away and he will make everything new. It is a hope – not a fools hope – a real real solid hope, as solid as the fact that tomb was empty.
Good news because of the wounds and the future to come.
Finally. Good news is to be shared.
Mary – she is commissioned – “go and tell my brothers”
1066 is a date well known in the UK. The Battle of Hastings. The victory of William the Conqueror. Yet did you know the Normans nearly lost the battle – which would have changed history. The English were behind a stockade, the Normans tried twice to break through. The second time they were repelled, it was rumoured their leader was now dead. The troops immediately began to lose heart. Soon they would be in a dramatic retreat. William pulled off his helmet and rode among his troops shouting ‘I am alive. I am still alive!’ The result was immediate – new courage, new strength of heart and purpose. This time they broke through the defensive wall, and victory was won!
The disciples after Good Friday – they knew he died, they knew where he was buried, they lost heart. And then on that morning, Jesus said to Mary ‘ Tell that I am alive!’ What a difference his resurrection and appearing would make to them and to our world.
Mary is the first Christian missionary to the ones who were the first followers of Jesus. A missionary of the resurrection. And that comes back to us. We have celebrated – we know the light of the world is risen again that the darkness can not over come – will we be good news when Monday morning comes and every day? Will we speak the Good news – not only be it, not only show it, but tell it… even if the reaction of others isn’t great. Jesus declare he was the light, yet at the start of his ministry he looked at his followers and said – the kingdom lifestyle is for you to be salt of the earth, light of the world.
Can I invite you today – as a physical action – get a candle. Light it today, and each day this week. Let it be a statement that you seek to be light in the world, show the world the good news, to be the good news, tell the good news, let the candle be a commitment, a reminder to you – to let the light of Easter be known in our streets, our work places, in our city, in our nation.
The tomb is empty. Good news that sin is broken and Jesus promises can be trusted, Good news for people in dark places like Mary, Good news because of the wounds of suffering he still carries and the future promised, Good news to be shared in word and action.
Shall we pray.
Lord Jesus risen one, we thank you for the empty tomb and our sins are forgiven and heaven’s gates flung open; we thank you for the resurrection hope – that resurrection can come into our lives and into the lives of others, and that ultimately a world is coming when there will be no suffering or fear or death. We thank you that as you still carry the wounds, when we suffer you know and understand and you care. Help us to be light in our world, in a time of great stress and challenge. Help us speak the good news and be the good news. Amen.