Revd Bob Wilkinson's Easter Day sermon, 2017

Some years ago, Andrew Brown wrote an article based on his experience as religious correspondent of The Independent..

Despite a certain underlying cynicism – perhaps only to be expected from a serious professional journalist – his article is a fairly sympathetic account of religion in general and Christianity in particular.

Near the beginning, he confesses that he often thinks that if there were no Christians left in the world, he himself would have to become one.

Towards the end of the article, he talks about 'the unique and scandalous glory of (Christianity) – the figure of a man abandoned, tortured to death to give the public an instructive thrill, and who manages to forgive, and to be loved.

But then (to me), he rather spoils it all by adding:

'Of course, there’s all the business afterwards about Easter Day and the empty tomb; but I don’t think it’s necessary to believe in that. Spring happens, even if resurrections don’t.'

Which, of course, is to miss the whole point!
Because it is quite impossible to take Easter and Jesus’ resurrection out of Christianity, and be left with anything at all.

Christian Faith is not a wonderful example of a good and loving man called Jesus, for us to model ourselves on.
It's not a set of instructions about how you and I can get to heaven when we die.
It's not a new kind of religion or spirituality (whatever that may mean) for those who like that kind of thing.
It's not about how you or I can have a wonderful experience of God.

It includes these things and more.
But basically, Christianity is good news.

Good news is what Jesus proclaimed in synagogue at Nazareth

And good news was what the Apostles went on to proclaim 'in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and away to the ends of the earth.'
You only have to read that wonderfully vivid Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament.

Easter is good news, about something that has happened, as a result of which nothing can ever be the same again.

Easter is the Good News that Jesus, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, has been raised from the dead – and that he is the world’s true Lord.

And it is proclaimed as an event, as a fact.

We are not told (vaguely) that he appeared three or four times to various anonymous people; but that he appeared at particular times, in particular circumstances, to particular named disciples – and that this happened over a definite period of 40 days.
The NT writers, in other words, present the Resurrection of Jesus as a fact, and that is how they expect us to take it.

Jesus’ actual, physical, Resurrection is basic to the whole of the Christian Faith, because it is that, and that alone, that vindicates Jesus.
Without Jesus’ actual, physical, Resurrection why on earth should we or any of his disciples believe that he was anything more than a dead-and-gone prophet, however great?

He was crucified, dead, and buried – and that was that!
That was the end of it all.
Why set your heart on God’s Kingdom if all it does is land you on a cross?
Come to that, why believe in God at all, much less in a God who cares about anything?
Without the Resurrection there would be no Gospel, no Good News.

Had Christ, that once was slain, 
ne'er burst his three-day prison, 
our faith had been in vain; 
but now is Christ arisen, 
arisen, arisen, arisen!

Compare Paul in 1 Corinthians 5, 'If Christ (the Messiah) was not raised, your faith has nothing it, is sheer nonsense'.
Without Easter there would be no Christian Faith, no Church, no New Testament.

Without Easter, no Gospel, no Good News, no Mission.
Easter proclaims Jesus’ victory over the powers of darkness

It is the mainspring of Mission, its Motivation, its Dynamic
Peter, John, Stephen, Philip and the others didn’t have to screw themselves up to bear witness to share the Good News.

They couldn’t help telling people what had happened, what God had done.

They themselves were utterly amazed by what had happened.
At first, says Luke, when the women came and told them about the empty tomb and the angels,
'They did not believe them, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.'

As well they might!!

Many Jews then, as many people today, believed in a resurrection

They believed that at the end of the world, at the end of things as they are now, God would somehow bring in a New Age, in which all his people would be raised to share in a new heaven and earth.

What they did not believe was that now, in this present world, the world as it is, a crucified prophet would be raised in a real body of flesh and blood, able to be seen and touched, to eat and drink and give instructions to his friends

But that was the very thing which did happen on the first Easter Day.

And it was because of – and only because of – what happened at that first Easter, that the disciples came to realise that Jesus was the long-expected lord of Israel and of the world, and of the whole creation.

It was Jesus’ Resurrection which vindicated him as God’s Anointed King – the long- promised and long-awaited Messiah, the true Son of David, the fulfilment of all that had gone before in the long story of Israel – of God’s great plan to come to the rescue of his beloved people, his beloved world and of his whole beloved creation (compare Romans 8).

And the risen Jesus is Lord of all, to whom all authority in heaven and earth is given – a preposterous statement if he has not been raised.

Compare Light’s glittering morn and Ye choirs of new Jerusalem.
What follows?

  1. Jesus calls/invites us all, and everyone who hears the Good news, to follow him, to become his disciples – to become his servants, his agents, his messengers – to live for him in his world. 
    We are presented with a choice.

    Whatever we have been in the past, whatever we may or may not have been or done or failed to do, we are challenged to now to choose whether to join him and become his people – or not.

    That is what being Christians is all about.
    That is what the Church is for!
  2. Jesus calls us to do it all whole-heartedly, obediently and cheerfully – not just in our words, but in our praying and daily living.
    That is, to love God With all our heart and all our soul and all our strength
    and to love our neighbours as ourselves

    Compare Tom Wright in a remarkable little book, For All God’s Worth:

    'Those who celebrate the mighty resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ have an awesome responsibility. When we say ‘Alleluia! Christ is Risen’, we are saying that Jesus is Lord of the world, and that the present would-be-lords of the world are not.

    'When we sing, in the old hymn, that ‘Judah’s Lion burst his chains, and crushed the serpent’s head’ are we ready to put that victory into practice? 

    'Are we ready to stand alongside our fellow Christians, even sometimes in civilised Britain, whose churches are regularly desecrated and vandalised?

    'Are we ready to speak up for, and to take action on behalf of those who are quietly being crushed by unjust systems?

    'Are we ready to speak up for the truth of the gospel over the dinner-table, and in the coffee bar, and in the council-chamber? If Easter isn’t good news, then there is no good news. But if it is – if it is true that Jesus Christ is risen indeed, then Easter Day, and the Easter message, is the true sun which, when it rises, puts all other suns to shame.'

    There is colossal ignorance of the Christian Faith in this country and most of Western Europe today

    Our politicians talk about our values – seemingly unaware that the values they talk about are derived from the Christian heritage and culture of former generations.

    'The Church exists by mission as Fire exists by burning.'
    That was said many years ago, by one of England’s greatest Archbishops, William Temple – and it’s no less true today.
    We are a missionary Church, or we might as well give up and go home!
  3. And one of the best ways we can become that is to celebrate Easter wildly and recklessly!

I would like to end by quoting, again from Tom Wright, this time in a sermon he preached a few years ago on Celebrating Easter.

He points out that we know how to do Lent, the forty days of fasting etc.
We spend forty days on all kinds of Lenten discipline, culminating in Passiontide, Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Good Friday.

And he goes on:

'But we are Easter people! We stand on resurrection ground.

'Without Easter, Jesus of Nazareth would be a curious historical footnote.
Without Easter, the world would still be divided into waiting Jews and puzzled pagans.

'So why, when we get to Easter Day, do we not celebrate wildly, lavishly, gloriously, at great length, and with studied disregard for normal propriety?

'We should make Easter a forty-day celebration. If Lent is that long, Easter should be at least that long, all the way to Ascension.

'We should meet regularly for Easter parties. 
We should drink champagne at breakfast. 
We should renew baptismal vows with splashing water all over the place. 
And we should sing and dance and blow trumpets and put out banners in the streets.

'And we should invite the homeless people to parties and we should go around town doing random acts of generosity and celebration.

'We should be doing things which would make our sober and serious neighbours say, “What is the meaning of this outrageous party?'

Compare Tom Wright, Surprised by Hope, p 268:

'Is it any wonder people find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don’t throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the the resurrection if w don’t do it exuberantly in our liturgies? Is it any wonder the world don’t take much notice if Easter is celebrate as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to 40 days of fasting and gloom?'