Apr 10, 2012
Life forever and now!
Due to two funerals in holy week and all the usual Easter activity, I did not manage to post last week. Below is my Easter Day Sermon - Text only. It's an Apology (the reasoning connected with my belief) for the Resurrection.
2000 years ago something so momentous happened that it changed the world forever, and changed it very much for the good. I believe that thing was that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. I’m not going to say that he was physically raised, because that would require some sort of scientific explanation, and I don’t have one. The reason that I believe in the resurrection is because of the amazing and wonderful impact it has had on the world and on individual lives.
That impact can be seen in three places. It can be seen in the fist disciples. It can be seen in the existence of the wonderful, enormous but also very flawed institution of the church, and we can see it in the lives of individuals today who have their lives transformed.
If Jesus hadn’t risen, if the tomb had not been empty, then I think that it’s very unlikely we would have any stories about him or that any sort of movement would have begun in his name. All of the Gospel stories about Jesus, tell us that the tomb was empty, and they all speak of angelic messangers and they all speak of Jesus’ promised to appearance to his disciples. Even the version of the story that we just hear from Mark’s Gospel, even though it is the shortest has this form. All four gospel accounts also tell us something else. The tell us that when Jesus was arrested and died, pretty much all the male disciples ran away, and Matthew Luke and John who take the story on from where Mark leaves off all tell us that the women were not believed. Paul in the reading we just heard from Corinthians tells us with Matthew Luke and John that Jesus did indeed appear to the disciples.
To understand why, something like the resurrection must have happened you need to know how final the end of the Jesus movement must have been on that first Good Friday. Jesus had been tried and found guilty of blasphemy, of being a false prophet and a false Messiah, of claiming to be God’s Son, claiming a kind of equality with God. The punishment for such a person in the Old Testament Law was that they should be stoned to death and then that their bodies should be hung naked outside the city walls. Jesus of course was not stoned to death. The Jewish authorities did not have the power to pass the death sentence, only the Romans were allowed to do that but Jesus was found guilty and publically exposed.
In Jewish thinking of the time if someone was treated like this, if they were found guilty, if they were hung on a cross, naked, as most crucified people were, then that was a sign not just of the judgement of the Jewish and Roman authorities, it was a sign of the judgement of God. No righteous person, no prophet, no good person, could have this happen to them. Whatever such a person had taught or done in their lifetime was worthless, because clearly the judgement of God was upon them.
For the Romans Jesus was of even less significance. He was a trouble maker who was dealt with like all trouble makers, killed by exposure on a cross, as a public example to everyone that you don’t mess with the Romans.
Whatever we might believe happened in the cross, if Jesus had remained dead and buried, we would not know about it today because his enemies and friends alike would have believed that he was a fraud, a nothing a no-one who’s life and teaching meant nothing.
Yet within a very short time of his death, his disciples are teaching that he is risen, that he is indeed, the messiah, the Lord, the Son of God, and that through him comes salvation and forgiveness of sin. This preaching in those firs years is so effective that before thirty years have passed from the first Easter, in a time before the internet, or television, or even the telegraph, there are churches throughout the whole of the Roman empire including the capital of Rome itself.
Something had turned the shame and defeat of the crucifixion into a missionary movement which spread throughout the known world as the disciples and those who followed them carried the message of Jesus to all the known world.
Before I was a minister I was a teacher, and before, I was a teacher, I did a double major in Ancient History. Looking at what happened to the disciples I think that the simplest and most straight forward explanation for what happened was that Jesus did rise from the dead. As we heard from Mark and as we can read in the other three Gospels, the tomb was empty and the women were the first witnesses. And as Paul, and Matthew, Luke and John tell us the risen Jesus then appeared to his disciples, not just the twelve but a number of others as well. Now if you don’t believe in the miraculous, that people simply don’t rise from the dead, then of course you can’t believe in the resurrection, and I respect that point of view. The problem however is that such a view requires a much more complicated explanation of how the church came into being. It requires us to believe for instance that the Roman executioners not only botched the but that Jesus somehow escaped from the tomb. Or it requires that the women and the later disciples who witnessed the risen Jesus and the empty tomb were suffering from some kind of mass delusion. Or it requires that the disciples invented the story as a lie, to keep Jesus’ movement going, but how could Jewish disciples who would have seen the crucifixion of Jesus as the judgement of God believe any longer in him as a good teacher, or God’s promised one. How could such a movement based on a lie begin with such energy that today it is the world’s largest religion, with literally hundreds of millions of people meeting today to celebrate this Jesus as risen. To me with my training in history I believe the best explanation for the energy of the disciples and the growth and existence of the church is that Jesus was indeed raised from the dead.
So in the disciples and the growth and existence of the church are evidence of the risen Jesus. If we look at the church today and through its history for all its faults, it has positively transformed the world and its members. On the very broad scale, abolition movements, the beginnings of feminism, the notion of men and women, slave and free, Jew and Gentile being equal owe a great deal to the church.
On a narrower front Christians because of this belief this vision we have that Jesus is risen and shares that risen life with us volunteer for community organisations at a higher rate than the rest of the population. Even though they believe that Jesus shares new life with them, they live slightly longer. They are on average happier than non believers AND they are also on average healthier. You see the Christian vision is not just a vision of a better life in heaven, it is a vision of Heaven touching earth in the risen Jesus. This vision amongst us Christians that Jesus is alive and with us and shares that new life with us is expressed in all kinds of ways that express the notion that the world could and should be more like heaven, more loving, more compassionate, more just, more healthy, and even more beautiful.
Because of this belief, even though we are less than perfect we Christians seem to be a little more committed to transforming the world than others. And for all its terrible faults and failings the church as an institution is committed to this too. Lifeline, St Stephen's Meals on wheels, World vision St Vincent de Paul, Blue Nurses, Blue Care, the Salvos, Boys Town, and I could go on and on all live out the belief that Christ is risen and shares that new life with us.
This brings us to the final reason that I believe the grave was empty and Jesus is risen, because he touches the lives of individuals. The great example from the Bible is Paul who’s story we heard in the reading today. He was transformed from a persecutor of the church into its greatest evangelist.
That transforming power is alive today, the risen Jesus transforms people’s lives still. I the end as impressive as the church is, and as good as it is that I can make a good historical case for the resurrection, the main reason that I believe is that I have met Jesus and I believe that’s true for most Christians. We have not met him face to face as Peter, Mary and the other disciples did. We have not seen the empty tomb. Nor have we experienced a blinding light as Paul did. But through the pages, of the Bible, the witness of others and the inner witness of the Spirit, Jesus has met us and transformed us. The person who preaches this sermon is not the shy, bullied teenager, who felt there was no colour in life, but a confident preacher of the Gospel. For the risen Jesus has claimed me and shares his new life with me, and my story is just one of the hundreds of millions of Christians who share this experience.
So the reason that I believe in the resurrection is because of the amazing and wonderful impact it has had on the world and on individual lives.
That impact can be seen in three places. It can be seen in the fist disciples. It can be seen in the existence of the wonderful, enormous but also very flawed institution of the church, and we can see it in the lives of individuals today who like me have been transformed.