YEAR C, EASTER DAY

 

John 20:1-17                           (Sermon 2: The New “Big Bang”)

or Luke 24: 1-12                      (Sermon 1: It’s Nonsense)

1 Cor 15: 19-26

or Acts 10: 34-43

Isaiah 65 :17-25

Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24

 

GREETING AND PREPARATION

 

Christ is risen!

       Christ is risen indeed!

For us the stone has been rolled away.

       Hallelujah!

The old has passed away, all things have become new.

       Hallelujah!

Let us with supreme happiness celebrate this feast

       Christ is risen indeed!

 

OR -

 

Why do you seek the living among the dead?

Christ is risen!

Christ is risen indeed!

 

No more shall be heard the sound of weeping,

nor more the cries of distress.

The Lord is my strength and my song, and has become my salvation!

Listen to the songs of victory in the tents of the redeemed!.

 

PRAYER

 

Most wonderful God,  we no longer look for Jesus among the dead but the living. We thank you for the glorious love that is now immortally among us! We pray that we may abandon ourselves in adoration and commit our energies to serving beside Christ in this world which has now become a territory of much promise. To you be all thanksgiving, praise and glory, on earth and in highest heaven!

Amen!

 

THE FIRST DAY

       (a poem)

 

It was an opal morning

  like a world made brand new,

spider webs on the branches

  glistened with fresh dew.

 

As I looked out the window

  on the scene from my room,

I saw some women sobbing

  by a limestone tomb.

 

Repeatedly they peered inside,

  bodies shaking with grief,

as those who are forsaken

  without hope of relief.

 

Suddenly they stepped back

  wide-eyed and terrified,

I would swear they were listening

  to something deep inside.

 

They spun around and set off

  laughter now on each face,

light footed as God’s gazelles

  they scampered from that place.

 

Curious beyond measure

  I went down to death’s lair,

cautiously I entered in

  but found no death in there.

                        ©  B.D. Prewer 1995

 

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

 

My friends, please join me in unburdening our hearts to the God of Jesus, whose Easter resourcefulness and power astounds us and whose jubilant mercy exceeds our most extravagant expectation.

Let us pray.

 

God of good news, we confess to you and each other that

       we have clutched at things that wither and decay

       and let go of your eternal certainties,

       we have wearied ourselves with pernicious selfishness

       and surrendered our peace to fractious worries,

       we have diluted love with a thousand excuses

       and buried true joy under doubts and fears.

 

God of resurrection, by that love which brings life out of death,

please pity our weaknesses and forgive our blatant sins.

       God of resurrection, please lift us out of whatever grave we have dug for ourselves

       and set our feet once more on the path that leads to unlimited life.

            Through Christ Jesus our triumphant Saviour.

Amen!

 

FORGIVENESS

Sisters and brothers of Christ Jesus,  it is my privilege and joy as a child of the Gospel to declare to you: “This Friend of sinners is alive for ever. Our sins are forgiven and our future is assured.”

Christ is risen!

       He is risen indeed!

The peace of the living Lord Jesus be with you always.

       And also with you.

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN

 

            You Are Great!

 

God, you are so great!

Thanks a million for not letting Jesus stay dead.

Thanks for raising him up with a new life.

Thanks for promising us the same kind of life.

Please quieten down our many fears,

and teach us the deep love and happiness of Easter.

Through Jesus our Saviour.

Amen!

 

PSALM 118: 1-2 & 14:24

 

Give thanks to God who is all goodness,

       whose sure love prevails for ever!

Let all God’s people say:

       this love prevails for ever.

 

God is my strength and my song,

       and has become my healing and liberty.

Listen to the happy songs of triumph

       from the camps of the true believers:

The right hand of God wins all!

       The right hand of God is awesome!

       The right hand of God wins all!

 

I shall not now die, but shall live

       to recite these wonders God has done.

Though God allowed me to suffer much,

       I have not been deserted in death.

 

The stone which the builders threw aside

            has now become the foundation stone.

We owe all this to our God’s actions,

            and it looks in our eyes.

This new day has been made by God,

            let us celebrate and be delighted with it!

                                                                        ©  B.D. Prewer 2000

 

COLLECT

 

God of wonders, we who have been caught up in the resurgent life of Christ, pray that we may share in his mission, finding the right words and deeds to express our faith, and sharing that same love with which he has so redeemingly loved us. To your praise and glory forever!

Amen!

 

SERMON 1: IT’S NONSENSE?

 

Luke 24:10-11

       Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them, who told the apostles; but they thought the story seemed nonsense, and they did not believe them.

 

The men thought the women’s report that Jesus had risen was nonsense. I cannot think of a more reasonable reaction to the story. “they thought the story nonsense.

 

That’s common sense, isn’t it? Jesus was dead. Brutally put to death.  Rigour mortis had won.  The corpse been placed in a tomb; left through Friday night and the following Sabbath day. Now on Sunday morning, those women come running with a garbled story about angels telling them that the corpse had been raised to new life. 

 

The male disciples knew far better than believe fairy tales. Such talk had to be hysterical female nonsense. It was far more sensible to face the terrible fact: the enemies of Jesus had nailed him. Crucified dead and buried. Dead, dead, dead! This was no time for wishful thinking by women who could not cope with it the disaster. Face facts. Jesus was dead and with him were buried all their brave hopes for a bright new world.

                                                            ------------           -----        ------------

 

As I read this story I can only applaud Luke’s courage in telling the Easter account this way. Much later in the first century, when Luke was writing, the apostles were the famous heroes, many of them were now the holy martyrs of the faith; a glorious company of those who had been faithful to Christ Jesus unto death. But Luke tells it warts and all. These glorious men were at first disbelievers.  They had treated the reports of resurrection as nonsense

 

Maybe it’s because I am a male (as you may have noticed) that I see the reaction of the apostles as most reasonable. It was common sense. In times of disaster, some one has to keep their feet on the ground. Jesus was dead; history.  And no amount of their love for him could con them into believing hysterical stories.

 

And yet, it is the concerted witness of the New Testament that they were wrong. The women were right but the apostles were wrong. Common sense was wrong, being realistic was wrong. Jesus was alive. It does defy all our attempts to adequately explain it,  our Easter faith may always look stupid in the eyes of many, but with one voice the witnesses cry out: Christ is risen!  The crucified One is the risen One.

 

NOT JUST A METAPHOR

 

During the last fifty years there has been a tendency in Western Christianity to treat the resurrection as a metaphor; to see it as a holy paradigm of success after failure, restoration after disgrace, hope after hopelessness.   This has of course much validity. The resurrection of Jesus is a mighty metaphor.

 

However, it is regrettable that sometimes the rising of Christ is taught only as a metaphor. Sometimes the very origin of the metaphor has been discarded; the event of Christ rising has been either played down or denied.

 

Not so in the New Testament. There the resurrection is at the forefront of the Christian movement. It was something that really happened. Remarkable, indescribable, and for many implausible, yet the Jesus who was crucified was known to be very much alive.  Death had been transcended. The tomb did not hold the beautiful young Lord of glory.

 

Jesus, this same Jesus, was alive, and because he lives we shall live also. Death is not a cul der sac. It was not the end for Jesus, or the New Testament Christians. Sometimes they talk about it in words like resurrection, sometimes with the phrase eternal life. But the essence was not a metaphor but reality.

 

The earliest surviving documents which we possess are the letters of the apostle Paul. He, like some of the Gospels, talks about the “appearances of Jesus.”  Jesus appeared to disciples in various situations; to Peter and then the other disciples, and on one occasion he appeared to over five hundred people gathered together. Last of all, Paul says, “he appeared even to me”.  But not like a ghost. It was the same Jesus although his body had been radically transformed. These days we might try to express it by saying some kind of  sub-atomic metamorphism had taken place.  We are grasping for words; how can one adequately use words to describe a reality (the resurrected Christ) that unlike anything else that limited to this space/time matrix in which we now live?

 

Listen to Paul, and listen well. Here he is not talking about a paradigm or metaphor. ( although at other times he does his share of that also).

       If it is only for this present life that Christ has given us hope, then we are among all people to be pitied the most!

       But the truth is this: Christ was raised to life, the first fruits of the harvest of the dead

That vibrant, impudent Christianity of the first century was founded on and inspired by something that really happened: Christ is risen!

 

THIS IS CONSISTENT WITH A PRODIGAL GOD

 

This whole, improbable-yet-true, resurrection thing, is utterly consistent with the extravagant and slightly ridiculous God of the parables and deeds of Jesus. Again and again we are confronted with a loving God who “goes over the top’ in his generosity.  A God who does not know when to stop, when enough is enough; when things are past redemption proves the contrary! The God of Easter is prodigal God.

 

Remember—

 the ridiculous story of the “first sign” that Jesus did at the wedding in Cana? How  he turned about 600 litres of water into wine?  600 litres!

      

or the parable about the mother who goes decides to bake some bread, goes prodigal and mixes up enough dough for 60 loaves of bread?

 

or that pivotal parable about the father who recklessly gives his second son half the value of the family farm and allows him to go off to the city and squander it; and when the young fool comes crawling home asking to be a slave, the father runs to meet him and throws and throws a giant party in his honour?

      

or Jesus’ commendation of Mary ( woman who had truly caught the vision of a prodigal God) who in her deep love for Jesus anointed his feet with costly perfumed oil worth about $30,000 ?

 

It seems like nonsense? Of course it does. It is so foreign to our benighted, miserly way of seeing and doing things.

 

If the Gospel story has been telling us anything, it has proclaimed this: Get ready for a God who does the unexpected and the ultra-extravagant thing. Don’t try to confine God to our little human notions of what seems like common sense; break out from what seems reasonable. God is unreasonably extravagant, gloriously unpredictable. The holy, saving nonsense of God is mightily at work at Easter!

 

Such is the heart of the Easter message. Unpredictable and prodigious. Now is Christ raised from death, the first fruits of the harvest of the dead.

 

IT’S OKAY TO BE GOBB-SMACKED

 

My very dear sisters and brothers in  the faith, I have not got a clue about how to define the resurrected life of Christ, nor do I have any way of explaining what our resurrection reality - which has already commenced - will finally be like. Eternal life, unlimited in every direction, leaves me (as the lovable host of the ABC’s gardening programme is fond of saying) gobb-smacked! 

 

Explanation? Sorry, no.

 

Affirmation? YES! The resurrection is totally consistent with the whole Jesus happening, in line with the unreasonable, debonair nature of the Gospel.

 

Easter is truly about that glorious implausibility of the holy love of God who will never, never let us go.

 

 

 

SERMON 2: THE NEW “BIG BANG”

 

John 20: 1-18 and 1 Corinthians 15: 19-26

 

Christ is risen! And for those whose lives are grounded in him there is a new creation; old ways have been discarded, everything has become new-born .

 

John tells us that Mary Magdalene was sitting outside the empty tomb weeping, supposing that enemies had stolen the body of Jesus. Then as she wept, she found Jesus there beside her: The same Jesus, now deathlessly alive.

 

Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stopped, and looked into the tomb....... she turned and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her: “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?”

 

Supposing him to be the gardener, Mary replied: “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell     me        where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

 

Jesus said to her: “Mary!”

 

She turned and said to him “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher)

 

Mary Magdalene went and said to the disciples: “I have seen the Lord!”

 

Let me publicly admit that I do not understand the resurrection of Jesus. The stories baffle my rational, left brain. They tell of a real Jesus, not a ghost. Yet the body in which he now appears, obeys none of the old rules of physics. If ever there was a ‘grandmother’ of all quantum leaps, this is it!

 

I do not understand it, yet without it my life would be that of a straw man in a straw world. I would be hopeless. By nature I am a doubter; I am a sceptic. But in spite of all the things I do not understand about Easter, I know it is the real thing. Behind that triumphant word “resurrection” is the living truth. Nothing about Christianity makes sense without it. The fact that we are here this morning, some with a lot of faith and some with a little, is a testimony to the remarkable nature of the Easter happening.

 

Paul knew, first hand, the mystery and wonder of Easter:

 

If it is only in this life that we put our hope in Christ, then we are of all people to be the most pitied  But the fact are that Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen into the sleep of death..”.

 

       Christ is risen indeed!

 

A NEW CREATION: THE NEW ‘BIG BANG”

 

On that first Easter Day, something happened which was absolutely unexpected and utterly unprecedented.

 

Some form of ultimate power had been at work in that tomb. Something trans-cosmic, had focussed enormous energy there. No! More than trans-cosmic! It was something pre-cosmic and post-cosmic, infra-cosmic, supra-cosmic; Something which preceded the beginning of creation and which will succeed its final end .

 

 A dead person had become a living person, with the atomic structure of that body so transformed that not one atom of the old dust remained in its previous form.

 

When we say we believe in the resurrection of Christ, we do not mean that the old body was resuscitated. It was something new. Utterly different yet indivisibly related to the old. Even Mary Magdalene did not at first recognise that it was Jesus standing behind her; she thought it was the gardener. Supposing him to be the gardener, Mary replied: “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

 

In was the same person yet an utterly transformed Jesus. Rabboni! My Master! Christ had risen indeed! Far beyond our ability to comprehend!

 

You are familiar with the present scientific model that suggests creation (all space and time) began with one unimaginable explosion from a singular,  infinitively small point. So small, it was.... like nothing? It is called the “Big Bang” theory.   To try and actually comprehend everything coming from nothing, makes our brains almost stall. It  seems improbable. Yet very bit of evidence suggest this is the truth about how God started things.

 

What took place on that first Easter was an event which can only be compared with the beginning of the old creation. At the beginning God spoke, and out of nothing a remarkable cosmos came to be. Now, in the fullness of time, God has spoken again in Jesus, a remarkable new world is has come to be. This time it was a massive explosion of love-life. Easter is Big Bang, mark II !

 

Easter marks the beginning of a new creation; a new universe, a new deathless tribe of humanity, following in the train of Christ Jesus. Love is all in all.

 

A FEW OF YOU MAY DOUBT THIS

 

Maybe there are some of you here today that doubt all this stuff. You doubt the fact of any life after death.  From time to time I have discovered that a few of the best and most loving people in the church have very little faith in eternal life. In moments of frankness they tell me that when you are dead you are dead. Nothing lives on except your genes (if you are a parent) and your values in the lives of those who are influenced by you.

 

I respect their faith. I respect their integrity. They can never be labelled among those pathetic souls who only follow Christ so as to win benefits in the next life.  It’s not a matter of “pie in the sky when you die” for these doubters. They follow Christ for his sake, because they believe he is of God. They love their neighbours because it is the right and most transforming way to live. They forgive because it partakes of the essence of healing and liberation. They believe God is at work in majestic purposes which includes each one of us, but they do not expect to contribute to this purpose beyond their mortal death.

 

I respect their integrity yet I think they are selling the Gospel short. In fact, I suspect that much of this attitude is the result of mind-conditioning by the materialistic society in which we are immersed and saturated. They seem to me to have become locked into the dismal old creation. Maybe we could say brainwashed. In their honest desire to get rid of the rank superstitions which have often adhered to religion, and to be clear-thinking, reasonable people, they have discarded an eternal spiritual dimension from their thinking.

 

Today I cannot expect to convince those of you who have this limited view of how far God’s love goes for each person, far beyond death. All I can do is to proclaim and celebrate the Easter message to the best of my ability, and let the Holy Spirit of God continue to mother and nurture you in faith, hope and love. And pray that by God’s grace, I also may be so mothered and nurtured.

 

SUMMARY

 

For the first Christians, Easter was the real thing. Not superstition. Nor was resurrection merely a “lofty paradigm” as some suggest these days. It was not a paradigm of those events when hope rises up from desolation,  courage from anxiety, success out of failure, love out of the ruins of hate, and life from the scenes of death. Easter was the real thing. Not a myth, not just a paradigm, not a parable. But an event!

 

Their Christ was alive and available to them in a new and permanent way. New creation was among them and around them and within them. Death could never again harm Jesus, nor could their own dying separate them from his living presence. Like Mary outside the tomb, they heard and saw and experienced and believed. Only the power of that risen Reality was able to transform the monumental despair (that dumped on them when Christ had been crucified) into the exhilaration and confidence that followed Easter.

 

Please do not try to judge Easter by the rules of the old creation.  The “big bang” is indeed the beginning point that has placed us physically here on an earth. But the reason weer are here in church , is because of a second “big bang.”  This is (to our little minds) as improbable as the first one. Yet is for real.

 

Something new has broken through into time. Eternal love and eternal life is amongst us in resilient power and with unlimited possibilities.

 

Rabboni, my Master! .Mary Magdalene went and said to the disciples: “I have seen the Lord!”

The facts are that Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of the harvest of the dead!

 

Christ has risen indeed.

 

THANKSGIVING

 

Most resilient God, Source of all that is eternally raised up, we give you thanks for your unspeakable gift of Christ Jesus.

 

Wonderful the fingers that anointed blind eyes,

       the hands that gently touched lepers,

       the arms that embraced little children.

 

Wonderful the smile that welcomed outcastes,

       the frown that rebuked the arrogant,

       the tongue that told parables of grace.

 

Wonderful the courage that led to Jerusalem,

       the faith that agonised in Gethsemene,

       the love that suffered at Golgotha.

 

Wonderful the lips that gave the Easter greeting,

       the mercy which restored ashamed disciples,

       the joy with which he filled them all.

 

Wonderful is the Saviour who has brought us here today,

       filled with wonder, love and praise.

 

Therefore with angels...........

 

INTERCESSIONS

 

Throughout the church, across the world, please loving God, may the message of the living Christ penetrate beneath the level of familiarity, and begin to awaken that which is lost and dying within the human spirit.

Come living Christ,

Come among us and make all things new.

 

For brilliant thinkers we pray, those whose thoughts divert them into doubts and enigmas that leave a genius confused while little children dance freely into your kingdom.

Come living Christ,

Come among us with the priceless gift of faith.

 

For confused minds we pray, those who have been over impressed with smart theories or bullied around by sharper intellects, and who this day live like puppets.

Come living Christ,

Come among us with truth that sets prisoners free.

 

For perverted souls we pray , those who for the sake of varied lusts have told lies to themselves so often that they now believe their own crooked self-justifications.

Come living Christ,

Come among us with your light and make us see.

 

For thirsty minds we pray, those who are awakening to questions previously ignored, or who are dissatisfied with the answers of religious quacks and social dogmatists.

Come living Christ,

Come among us with waters that bubble up with eternal life.

 

For wounded souls and bodies we pray; those in hospitals and clinics, those who watch by their beds, and those who are grieving and waiting for funerals later in the week.

Come living Christ,

Come among us with rest for the weary and peace for the distraught..

 

For our own loved ones we pray, some with faith and others on the fringe, those who are strong and others who are weak, some who are confident and others who are riddled with anxieties, those close at hand and those who are far away in body or spirit.

Come living Christ,

Come among with that grace which shows its  perfection in human weakness.

Amen! Even so come, Lord Jesus.

Amen!

 

SENDING OUT

 

Christ has risen!

Christ has risen indeed.

 

Now the God of peace, who brought again from the dead the great Pastor of the church, even our Lord Jesus Christ, make you strong to do your best in every good thing, working in you that which is delightful in God’s eyes.

Amen!

Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.

 

The grace of the resurgent Jesus Christ, the love of the never-weary God, and the fellowship of the dynamic Holy Spirit,

will be with you always.

Amen!