In this sermon preached on Easter Day at St Michael’s, the Revd David Newton asks what the resurrection of Christ really means.
This is it… the day that our entire existence as Christians boils down to. This day is what it is all about. Today is the day of Good News. Today is the GOSPEL – Christ is risen.
Paul said this to his friends in Corinth… ‘If Christ is not raised, we are still dead in our sins… If Christ is not raised, we are to be pitied more than all people.’
This is it. Everything stands or falls on this. For me it’s as stark as this:
Either Christ was raised from the dead and there is reason to hope – Love, and life have won and will win the day… OR it all ends at the cross, and at the final analysis the tyranny wins, hate wins, violence wins, despair wins.
For this moment of resurrection (or not) reveals the makeup of the universe. Either death and decay are the final word, or there is a Love and an Energy that is stronger than the grave. Either hatred and violence are the most powerful words in our world, or there is stronger word that overcomes the sword. Either there is nihilism and meaninglessness, or there is hope of a New Creation, the possibility of building a Kingdom of Love.
This is it… everything stands or falls on this.
For the resurrection is not a conjuring trick with bones. It is not like Lazarus being raised from the dead, not a simple resuscitation, a ‘surprise’ return visit of an old friend.
Nor is it a mental event in the life of the believers. Something that ‘by faith’ the disciples felt within them. As though history could turn on the inner feelings of a few lost fishermen.
It is the beginning of a New Creation. The pivot of all history. But such lofty ideas can leave us cold, and quite frankly still in the dark. Still left with the question, what does it mean?
Christ is risen from the dead…. So what?
Endless reflection is possible. But let me offer this morning, three simple thoughts on what the resurrection means… Why is it GOOD NEWS?
First, it’s GOOD NEWS because it means forgiveness. It means a new start. In Acts 2, Peter stands up and addresses the crowd. He takes his position and declares, ‘Christ, who you crucified, is risen from the dead…. And now call you all to follow him.’
This is an extraordinary turn of events. Think of any movie where the villains think they’ve killed the protagonist, but somehow he survives. He returns to the villains, who are terrified, knowing that he comes for vengeance.
We might expect vengeance here – Christ, whom you killed is back, and he’s going to get you… But instead we get the offer of a new start.
Peter is accusing these people of deicide – it doesn’t get any worse than that. And he says to them… Christ comes to bring you a new start.
What amazing news.
A new beginning for the worst of sinners. A man named David Wilkinson knew Christ was risen, and so believed a new beginning might be possible for the gangsters of New York.
A man named Brother Andrew knew Christ was risen and so believed a new beginning was possible for terrorists in the Middle Easter.
Or we might think of prison chaplains who work with sex offenders – all because of the Good News. Christ is risen – forgiveness, a new life, a new start is on offer.
And this, for many is the offence of the Gospel. How can such people be given another chance.
The answer lies in realising that each and every one of us stands with the crowd crying crucify. We all would kill God. And God offers a new start, a new life to each and every one of us.
Second, the resurrection is GOOD NEWS because it means death is defeated.
Our society seems to display two interlinked reactions to death.
First, we hide from it. We medicalise it, pretend it is not there. We hide dead bodies, and in a way never before experience in human civilisation shield ourselves from it.
And second, at the same time as hiding from it out of fear, we pretend that it is no big deal. We speak of slipping away, of going into another room. We cosy up to it, and try to accommodate it.
But, when we’re honest, as scripture is honest, we see death not as a friend, but as an enemy.
The GOOD NEWS is that this enemy has been defeated.
In every funeral I proclaim the resurrection of the dead. I speak of God who will ‘transform our frail bodies that they be conformed to his body, who died, was buried and rose again for us.’
If I’m honest I’m not entirely sure what this might actually look like. I don’t like the idea of playing a harp on a cloud. But I know this… because Christ is risen, we too will be caught up in eternity in the endless dance and Joy of God.
Third, and finally, the resurrection is GOOD NEWS because it means the most powerful force in the universe is not violence but God who raises the dead.
We might look around the world and despair. Everywhere it can seem as though evil triumphs. Some are speaking about the failure of democracy even, that bastion of Western hopes.
We see war, and famine caused by conflict. We see abuse, and the on going repercussions of it. We see injustice where the rich get richer and the poor and trodden into the dirt.
We, just like the people of the scriptures, look at such things and ask, ‘How can this be? How can evil triumph?’
And the answer that booms out of the empty tomb is that it doesn’t and it won’t. The world threw everything it had at God… the full might of political and religious tyranny was rained down upon Christ and it looks like it wins… But in the resurrection we hear that there is a more powerful force in the universe – the Love and Life of God.
Three ideas on the meaning of the resurrection. Three reasons the resurrection really is GOOD NEWS.
Of course, we don’t see all this now. New starts are often faulting, God’s forgiveness fails to reach out heart. Death remains. Violence does seem to have the final word.
But in the resurrection we have a glimpse of the end of the story right in the middle of it. The resurrection brings HOPE. Declaring that guilt, death and violence do not and will not have the final word. In the resurrection a New Creation has begun – one of forgiveness, of life, and love. The question is whether we want in.