St Barbara’s 21.04.19
Rev Tulo Raistrick
I am often surprised by how differently two people can see the same event. Two people who have watched the same film or read the same book can come to wildly different views on it. People who voted for the same thing – let’s say Brexit – may have totally different understandings of what that means in practice.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ that we celebrate this morning creates similar diversity of opinion. For some people, both inside and outside the church, the idea of Jesus rising from the dead is all a bit old hat. That all happened two thousand years ago. It may well have happened, but its nothing to get too excited about. For others, its an event that seems scarcely believable, a fairy-tale, a made-up myth to fool the gullible. And for others, its the most important event in the history of the universe, the event that changes our life and world beyond any other. So, which is it for us this morning?
Well, on that first Easter morning, there was nothing that was remotely blasé or bored about the reactions of those who arrived at the tomb and found it empty. The women and Peter after them are left wondering. They are astonished, surprised, afraid, confused. What has happened? Where has Jesus’ body gone?
No-one on that first Easter morning had any expectation at all of resurrection. Resurrection, if believed in, was something that happened at the end of time, when everyone rose from the dead together. The idea that an individual would rise from the dead and meet people whose ordinary lives were just continuing as normal was not even conceived of as a remote possibility. It was so far beyond the realms of people’s comprehension as to be unbelievable.
If the events of Easter Sunday simply wash over us as a nice truth akin to the first landing on the moon – a remarkable event but little direct day-to-day relevance – we have missed the point. Someone claiming to have risen from the dead, to have defeated death, to have opened the door to eternal life, cannot be treated like we would a pair of slippers – to be slipped on and off for our comfort and occasional convenience. If the claims are true, they change everything. A blasé, take-it-or-leave-it, attitude just does not make sense.
Those who doubt and question and sneer perhaps at claims of Jesus’ resurrection are certainly nearer the reactions of the disciples on that first Easter morning. We are told that the disciples dismissed the women’s report of the empty tomb and the angels as no more than “nonsense”, the result of extreme grief and tiredness. There were a thousand more plausible explanations for the disappearance of Jesus’ body. After all, publicly certified dead bodies, kept under armed guard, and behind a boulder for a doorway, don’t come back to life.
It takes encounter with the risen Jesus, meeting him face-to-face, before the disciples come to believe. In Luke’s account, the first to believe are those two disciples who encounter him on the road to Emmaus; in Matthew’s and John’s accounts, it is Mary Magdalene and the other Mary meeting him in the garden. Encounter is key.
For us too that is true. The story of the resurrection will only take us so far. We need to desire encounter, to reach out to Jesus to meet him for ourselves. To say ”I want to know him personally, to experience his risen presence for myself.” When we do that, we will find that like those early disciples, we will find the faith to believe.
Ultimately, the events of that first Easter Sunday are events that cannot leave us unchanged. The disciples went from fearful, scared people hiding away behind locked doors, unable to show any sense of loyalty or faithfulness to Jesus in the hour of his greatest need, to a group of fearless evangelists, speaking the good news of Christ wherever they went, undeterred by beatings and imprisonments, all eleven of whom were willing to pay the ultimate price of martyrdom for faith in the one they had earlier denied. Their transformation is perhaps one of the greatest proofs that the resurrection did indeed happen. What had caused the change? An encounter with the risen Christ, and the realisation that everything had changed.
I wonder, do we this morning choose to remain indifferent or sceptical, or do we believe Jesus rising from the dead changes everything?
For if Jesus rose from the dead, everything does change.
For if Jesus has risen from the dead then he must be God, and following him is the most important thing any of us can do.
If Jesus has risen from the dead, then death itself has been overcome. Death is no longer the ending point to our lives, but the doorway to a life in eternity with God, a life in all its fulness. Christ has overcome death so that we can too.
If Jesus has risen from the dead, then evil and suffering no longer have the last word. A day will come when hope and life will triumph, when there will be no more grieving, no more suffering, no more despair.
If Jesus has risen from the dead, then all creation will one day follow suit, being renewed and transformed.
If Jesus has risen from the dead, then we know that the sin that has separated us from knowing God has been overcome, that he has made a way possible for us to know the love, the joy, the peace, the hope, the life of God.
If Jesus has risen from the dead, then everything changes.
For all of us this morning – what do we choose? To remain indifferent or undecided, or to embrace the greatest truth of the universe: Christ is risen!