Sunday 27th

SERMON 1

Morning Holy Communion           Easter Sunday      Preacher:- Rev  Lynn McKeon

 

1 Corinthians 15: 19-26

John 20: 1-18

There are tens of thousands of churches all over the world dedicated to a Jewish carpenter who died two thousand years ago. Doesn’t that strike you as a bit odd? How on earth did Christianity ever get off the ground? There are a number of logical reasons why it should have never happened.

Its founder, Jesus of Nazareth was an obscure carpenter from a backwoods of the Roman Empire. He wasn’t a priest, a civil dignitary or a general. He didn’t come from a big city, but from a rural town - Nazareth in Galilee. The “Good and the Great” did not flock to his gospel. In fact, they rejected his message. Only the common people took him to heart - and at the end they deserted him.

Jesus only ministered for three years. Jesus himself wrote nothing and at the time of his death, none of the New Testament books had even been written.

Jesus was put on trial on trumped up charges and crucified. His followers fled and left him to it, and that should have been the end of it.

The final nail in the coffin of Christianity should have come when his disciples dared to suggest that Jesus had risen from the dead, after having been crucified and certified dead by the Roman authorities. No one in their right mind would make up such a ridiculous story about someone coming back from the dead - and even be prepared to die for it, as ten of the apostles and St Paul did for example. None of the adherents of the other world’s great religions has ever even suggested that its founder has risen from the dead. Surely making such a claim was a sure way to oblivion. Unless of course - it really happened!

The last few days of Jesus life, his arrest, trial, torture, and crucifixion, is the major event in each of the four gospels. Every detail of this grisly process seems to have been carefully recorded by the evangelists. I very much appreciate the accuracy and intricate details of the Gospel of John.

We know that the Gospel of John was written by an eyewitness. In our reading, John was not called John but the disciple whom Jesus loved; but most Biblical scholars believe that “the beloved disciple” was John, who became the author of the Gospel of John.

John, the young apostle, was a good recorder of the details of the events. For example, he given us the historical detail that the “cup” at the base of the cross was full of vinegar. Not half full, not a quarter full. But full of vinegar. He gives us the details of he contents of the empty tomb; distinguishing between the linen clothes that had been on Jesus’ body and a napkin that was rolled up neatly. Because of the extent of the detail John provided, I have come to trust the reliability of his account of Jesus’ death and resurrection. However, there is no way to independently corroborate his version of the events.  There is no historical record, other than what is in the bible, and some obscure references to Jesus who was called the Christ, and Pilate the Roman governor in the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus. That is hardly surprising, given that in the year 70AD in the first Jewish-Roman war, the Roman army, led by the future Emperor Titus, besieged and conquered the city of Jerusalem. The city and its famous Temple were completely destroyed, and with them, any historical  account of Jesus of Nazareth. The Arch of Titus, depicting and celebrating the sack of Jerusalem and the Temple, still stands in Rome.

John was either a great fraud, fabricating details to give an appearance of historical authenticity, or a faithful eyewitness and reporter of those authentic events. Even if we believe the latter, the details of the resurrection itself are not recorded in John, or indeed, in any of the gospel accounts. This is because no one was present. No one could have anticipated it; the event itself didn’t fit into any of the known categories of knowledge or understanding, and indeed, it does not do so today.

Jesus made a tremendous claim when he said “I am the resurrection and the life” The question you have to answer is “Do you believe Him”? Do you really believe he rose from the dead as millions of Christians over the centuries have claimed? Why ….. Because the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is key to our faith. Even Paul said “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”

Various attempts have been made to explain what happened. It has been suggested that Jesus didn’t really die; but recovered in the tomb, rolled the stone away, and walked out. However, this does not square with the known facts about the way he died. The Romans knew how to kill people. A spear was thrust into Christ’s side to make death certain.

Another explanation is that Christ was offered a sedative, mixed in the wine that was put to his lips on a sponge. However, even if this were the case, the use of the spear, preceded by many lashings, would have made him unable to remove the stone or to recover within three days.

It has been suggested that the disciples were lying about the resurrection appearances. This is most unlikely, given that the disciples were not expecting an immediate resurrection in the first place, and they themselves were prepared to meet similar deaths for the Risen Christ in the years that followed.

The fourth theory is that the resurrection appearances were grief-induced  hallucinations. It is true that some people in deep grief do have a sense of the deceased loved one being present. However, this sense fades over time, whereas experiences of the risen Christ remain tangible and widespread.

What we have is an event without comparison. You can understand something scientifically only if you can compare it with something else or with some sort of pattern that already exists. With the resurrection this is not possible: we have an utterly unique, mind-blowing, heart-changing, spirit-restoring mystery of God, not capable of assessment by human method.

The bible record that there were witnesses to the fact that Jesus was resurrected. Paul said that Jesus appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve, and then to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of them were still living when he wrote his account. He also appeared to Paul. Paul’s enemies could have refuted him by challenging him to prove it. But - if you read the book of Acts they never bothered.

Jesus and the apostles offered the hope of life after death. The proof of the genuineness of their teaching is that Christ was raised from the dead by God the Father.

In our gospel text, there was something unusual in that scene of the empty tomb. The napkin, which was placed over the face of Jesus, was not just thrown aside like the grave clothes. John takes an entire verse to tell us that the napkin was neatly folded, and placed at the head of the stony coffin. Is that significant?  Absolutely!  In order to understand why you need to know a little bit about Hebrew traditions. When the servant set the dinner table for the master, he would wait, just out of sight, until the master was finished. When the master was done, he would rise from the table, wipe his fingers, his mouth, and clean his beard, and would wad that napkin, and toss it onto the table. This was the servant’s cue to clear the table.. But if the master folded his napkin, and laid it aside his plate, the servant knew that the folded napkin meant, I’m not finished yet. I’m coming back!”

Peter and John had walked with Christ for 3 years. They watched Him die, and as they watched, all of their hopes, all of their dreams were shattered! They were in the depths of despair. Then after three days, they saw an empty tomb, and they saw a folded napkin within it. God spoke to them in their being and said, “He’s not finished yet …. He’s coming back!”

That empty tomb filled the disciples with an incredible sense of joy and comfort and hope. It changed their lives for ever.

So what are we left with? None of these previous explanations are convincing, In fact, there is no poof either way, in the scientific sense, for or against the resurrection of Christ. In the end, a belief in Easter is a decision of the mind and heart. It is a choice. You can believe the witnesses who say that something remarkable occurred that has gone on recreating the world ever since by the triumph of life over death, of love over hate, of light over darkness. Or you can believe that the witnesses were mistaken and that life and death, love and hate, light and darkness are evenly matched and that there is no ultimate power for good that is stronger than death.

In the end it is very simple: you either choose to have faith, or you don’t. But the decision you make about Easter will profoundly affect the way you live and other choices you make for the rest of your life. When you look into your past and consider all the mistakes you have made in life, all the words and actions you wish you could take back, but your can’t, you cannot help but feel a sense of hopelessness. “Is there any way I can change the past? Is there any way I can make right the wrong things I have done?”

What hope does the world have to offer? Not much. “This is all there is,” many people say. “So you better grab what you can while you can.” That turns people into very self-centred creatures, living a life of despair that is truly here-focused,  me-focused, a wasted life; and with it comes loneliness and greed.

A House of Lords Judge, Lord Darling said this about the truth, in his opinion, of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ:” In its favour as living truth, there exists such overwhelming evidence, positive and negative, factual and circumstantial, that no intelligent jury in the world could fail to bring a verdict that the resurrection story is true.”

For every person in life, there is a fork in the road. To believe in Christ, or not. One way is littered with unfulfilled dreams, broken promises, and empty optimism. But there is another way, and in that fork stands someone who is alive, someone who gives you a real reason to be optimistic.

When you look into your past and wonder how you can ever make up for all the mistakes you have made, Jesus calls out your name, and reminds you: “I died for your mistakes, God the Father has accepted my sacrifice for you - that’s why he raised me from the dead. I’m alive, and that’s proof that God has forgiven you.

That is the Good News, the great good news of Easter.

Amen.