Alleuia! Christ is risen!
Last Sunday was, of course, Easter Day, and this year as both the Western and Eastern Churches were keeping Easter on the same day it meant that the whole of Christianity were able to celebrate together!
It’s hardly a surprise then that my sermon was about the risen Jesus – but I wanted to remind people that there needs to be a response to the reality of the risen Jesus from us, just as there was from the disciples on the first Easter Day when they discovered that Jesus was alive.
Just a preliminary note for those from outside the UK. I start by talking about Eastenders, which is a hugely popular TV soap opera in the UK broadcast four times a week. Recently it’s been a bit sensational with among other things a major bus crash followed by a car crash! The reference to snow is that outside scenes shown at the beginning of April had clearly been filmed a couple of months earlier when we had snow!
Perhaps it’s just my imagination.
Eastenders always used to seem to be so miserable and depressing. But recently I’ve noticed that nobody in Eastenders seems to have to face the problems that the rest of us are dealing with. In fact, it seems that Walford is a good place to live – at least as far as health is concerned!
For the health benefits of Walford must be the envy of us all. People don’t feel the cold – I can’t remember anyone moaning about the cold weather, even though a couple of weeks ago it was snowing for several days when the rest of us had glorious sunshine. They never have to wait days to see a doctor, or complain about the state of the NHS, as their NHS is just so amazing. A few weeks ago a bus crashes in the market. Martin is trapped underneath the bus along with Whitney. They’re rushed to hospital but later the same day Martin is walking around as though nothing has happened – an incredible recovery! And Whitney is soon home none the worse for wear! Then we had Michelle driving a car into the chip shop. Despite Kush and Kathy being in the chip shop at the time and the chip shop being a complete write-off, all three of them seem to have made amazing recoveries. Even Kush’s broken collar-bone doesn’t seem to hurt! Particularly when he’s with Denise – and those who watch Eastenders will know what I mean!
It seems that, as far as health provision in Walford is concerned, it’s all good news! They’ll be bringing people back to life after they’ve died next!
Oh! Of course – they’ve already done that. Den Watts – drown in a canal by gangsters only to appear alive and well years later.
Well – today is, of course, about good news. And good news that can make a difference to how we deal with the bad news that we who live in the real world face day by day. And let’s face it – there’s a lot of bad news at the moment.
But today is a day to think about good news! Actually, this is the most important news – good or bad – in the whole of human history. And yet there is no official report of the event we celebrate today. It wasn’t front page news. No-one was there to see it. It happened in secret, in the darkness of a stone tomb.
The Gospel writers do not attempt to describe it. How could they? They simply record that it had happened and describe what happened afterwards. And even the earliest gospel, that of Mark, wasn’t written until at least 30 years after the event. We have no eye-witness account of the most important news ever because no-one was there to see it. By the time anyone arrived at the tomb it was already over – the resurrection of Jesus had been accomplished. Instead, the different Gospels tell us different stories about the people who after the event found out that it had happened, hinting at what they experienced and what effect it had on their lives.
Take Mary Magdalene. Despite their differences, all the Gospels agree that she was the first to see the risen Jesus. We are told that she was someone Jesus had healed, and who had become his follower as a result. Imagine the emotions she must have felt that first Easter. Delight as Jesus was welcomed by the palm-waving crowds, turning to anxiety as the threats to his safety increased, despair as he was arrested and tried, torment as she watched him die, hopelessness as she helped to bury him, grief as she returned to anoint his body. And then the amazement as she met him alive again. Jesus gave Mary a new start, twice — once when he healed her, and again when he made her the first messenger of his resurrection.
Then there was Peter. One of Jesus’ closest friends, who had let him down badly in his hour of need. Faced with the danger of arrest, Peter had been unable to cope with his fear. So he had denied knowing Jesus — as Jesus had predicted that he would. When Jesus died, his world must have fallen apart, because now he would never have the chance to say he was sorry. The resurrection gave him that chance, and with it a message of reconciliation for all people. No wrong that we can do, no denial or harsh words, no injury or insult, is beyond the reach of God’s love. A love that can conquer death can deal with any wrong that human beings can do, can neutralise and forgive it.
And Thomas, for ever known as doubting. He refused to believe that Jesus was alive again — and who can blame him? It’s such an unlikely story. But Thomas has come to stand for all who find faith difficult, who have doubts about the story of salvation. Thomas insisted on seeing and touching Jesus before he would believe. When Jesus granted his wish, he did not berate or punish him for his doubting, but accepted Thomas as he was and then helped him move on.
Mary, Peter, Thomas. Jesus changed their lives totally! Jesus was good news for them! And they knew it!
What is there for us in these stories, as we gather today to experience anew the resurrection of Jesus? Perhaps some of us, like Mary, are in need of a new start. Perhaps we have become weighed down by problems, by bereavement, by illness, by financial worries, and we feel there is no escape. For us, then, today offers new hope. The resurrection of Jesus shows us that God’s love is stronger than any power of despair.
Or perhaps, like Peter, we bear the guilt of hurtful things said, or perhaps things unsaid, things done wrong that we can never put right. The message of the resurrection is one of forgiveness. There is no condemnation in the eyes of the risen Jesus as he looks at Peter, and at us, only love.
And perhaps we have doubts about this very unlikely and strange story we hear again today. Like Thomas, we may have moments when we long for some hard evidence. Thomas’ story affirms that we are allowed that longing. We are allowed to doubt, and our doubts do not cut us off from the power of Jesus’ resurrection. Whatever the state of our faith in God, God has faith in us.
Mary, Peter, Thomas, and the others – they all found that whatever bad news they had struggled with in life, the good news of a risen Lord Jesus was able to overcome it. As each of them is confronted by their crucified, yet risen Lord, they discover that the love of the God who can overcome anything – even death – can also overcome their anxieties and fears and doubts. It certainly didn’t make their lives trouble free – all the apostles except John were put to death for following Jesus – but it gave their lives new meaning and changed their whole outlook.
To all who are in despair, to all who are caught by guilt, to all who doubt, here and in all the world, the message of the resurrection is this: God’s love is stronger. However bad the news may be that we have to face every day, the good news is far more powerful. For if even death cannot defeat God, then anything is possible. There is always hope, there is always forgiveness, there is always a future.
All it takes is to trust in Jesus and – like Mary, like Peter, like Thomas – to give our lives to him.