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Sunday sermon 31 March – He is risen

Reading: John 20:1-18

Resurrection Sunday

So what do you think of all this Christian stuff?

The catch phrases. The jargon. These interesting terms and concepts that are foreign to so many today.

Like “Are you saved? Converted? Born again? A believer? A disciple?”

Here’s a more important question. Can you say with countless others that you are a child of God, following Paul who some 2000 years ago wrote (in Greek mind you):  

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:15-16)

  • Is that real to you?
  • Or have you just been a church member for as long as you remember? Perhaps you can’t actually remember where it all started!
  • Or perhaps you are visiting today – window shopping – or revisiting Easter as you have done before over the years. And Jesus and this Christian story seem very far from you.

The people on that first Easter day would not have used that kind of language. They didn’t have Paul’s letters at that point – or any written copies of gospels recording the words of Jesus.

They didn’t have the modern evangelical doctrines and formulas that we have access to.

No church buildings with steeples. No bibles bound in leather. No Shine TV.

They certainly didn’t have the Reformation concepts that have shaped what people believe today. Like justification by faith. Regeneration. Righteousness. Sanctification. Glorification.

But they knew Jesus. He’d been their friend and teacher.

And it’s bad bad bad when a friend dies. It’s like the bottom falls out of your world. Especially if he’s the one you’ve really depended upon. The one you’ve left your job to follow!

Younger people today – in their modern jargon – would use a different metaphor when a friend dies. They would say: “that sucks!”  (You can tell that they’ve probably never used a vacuum cleaner.)

To see your friend executed really sucks.

My wife and I watched a visual recreation of the holy week events this week. Man it’s bad watching anyone be crucified. It’s horrible.

Imagine that happening to a dear friend. Or in the case of Mary – to your son.

It reminds me of the dreadful feeling I had as a young teenager when I read Alan Paton’s “cry the beloved country” and felt the pain of the dad in the story – the Reverend Stephen Kumalo – facing the truth that his son Absalom was to be hanged


On this day we could talk about all these Christian themes. People may expect it. It could be the kind of SUPERBOWL SERMON. The sermon of all sermons.

Sorry to disappoint you. It’s not. You can’t get it all on one day in the year. We’re here every Sunday and we’re still learning new stuff all the time.

I really want us to get a sense of what it’s like to come to your best friend’s grave and find the body gone.

Grief, pain, confusion and fear follow. The body is all you have now – at it seems to be stolen.

You go into the tomb and see two angels (or unusual looking people anyway) and hear voices (their voices) saying:

‘Woman, why are you crying?’

And you say to them: ‘They have taken my Lord/friend away, and I don’t know where they have put him.’ 

And then you turn around and see someone who asks you:  ‘Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’

And assuming him to be the gardener – a worker in the area – you ask him:

‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’

And then – you hear his voice speak your name: , ‘Mary.’ John. Dave. Heather. Joy. Whoever you are. You recognise your friend’s voice when he says your name in the way he always used to say it.

It’s an astounding story. This friend who was butchered by a whip, nailed to a cross, out of whom blood and water flowed when a soldier’s spear pierced his dead side. Who was buried.

You hear his voice – and fall at his feet and cry out to him.

I have a friend who relentlessly debates all kind of theological issues with his colleagues by email. Every day there are these long complex quotes. Often many emails in a day.

I read some. I don’t understand others. I have some view on some of the issues.

How to get his attention? Who knows?

If Jesus could just call him by name.

These early adventurous Christians didn’t all get it straight away. I mean look how odd these two verses are in this morning’s gospel reading?

Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 

Well did they believe – or not? And what?

Faith for most people is not an instant thing at all.

They may move from atheist (not believing that there is a God) to agnostic (not sure but maybe possible) to some kind of belief in God. The writer to the Hebrews puts it this way:

Heb 11:6  And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. NIV (Or them that diligently seek him. KJV)

You have to start somewhere. Take the risk and then seek him! Pursue him!

They did. They believed before they understood it all. Some of them like Thomas were more tactile and concrete – wanting to stick his fingers in the wounds. Did they hurt then? Someone asked if that was the reason why Jesus said to Mary in verse 17. A fair question from someone exploring a brand new story. I mean if they were to read the verse it would be difficult for a new enquirer:

17 Jesus said, ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’

The average not-yet Christian wouldn’t really know what that’s all about. And the content old hands in the church would say with a tut-tut “what a silly question”. Not really silly. I mean here’s one that boggles the seasoned religious person’s mind: what was Jesus wearing when he was resurrected? Great question. I have no idea – I only know that he got out of his grave clothes and some soldier won his clothes by throwing dice.

We as seasoned Christians are so far removed from people who don’t know this story – I think we’d be surprised by their questions.

I mean resurrected from the dead – pretty different hey!

I’ve only met one guy who was dead and then raised up. He was certified dead and in a mortuary for two days. This Nigerian pastor was fascinating. He apparently couldn’t eat solids after that. His story was so interesting.

The truth is that many people struggle to accept that kind of story.

If you find it all to hard – try this.

Credo ut intelligam is the phrase coined by St Anselm of Canterbury some 1000 years after this event. “I believe so that I may understand”.

Stick your neck out and trust God as you explore a real relationship with Him.

Much later than Anselm of Canterbury I recall Cliff Richard singing a song called QUESTIONS in the movie “Two a Penny”: “If you are real Lord be real to me”.

Have a look at it – it takes you back a few years!

Yep in 1967 he was pretty dishy hey. Apparently I looked pretty good too years back. Here are the words then:

How to start? What to say

I don’t remember ever feeling this way

Can it be true? Does anyone care?

Is it only make-believe or are You really there

Is there a chance I’ve been missing the best?

Could it be life is more than a guess?

I’m afraid to let go, yet I long to see

If You are real, be real to me

If You are real, be real to me

Okay, supposing I were to come to You

Not saying I will, just supposing I do

Would I have to be, just another guy

Two a penny’s not for me, it just won’t satisfy

I’m just confused, by candles and prayers

I just need to know if You are there

Show me the way, for I long to see

If You are real, be real to me

If You are real, be real to me

This Jesus is immensely interested in our lives today. And He IS real. And those who cry out to him can find the reality of his presence and friendship today.

The truth is He’s been sidelined by society. More than one whole generation would find coming into any church a peculiar kind of thing to do.

So when we do this – we are clearly counter-cultural.

How do we get them to meet Jesus and hear him call their name? That’s the trick. The catch. The challenge. The task. It may involve going out to them rather than getting them into our churches.  This is such an exciting message. It’s through Jesus that we do become children of God. So what we read from Paul to the Romans at the beginning becomes real to us:

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:15-16)

We know that we know. It’s an inner work of the Holy Spirit. He makes God real to us and the knowledge of who we are. We need the fulness and power of the Holy Spirit!

And from there the rest actually falls into place. This life is not one big mistake – this earth is not something that we need to get off at all costs. We don’t have to give up on it all.

We can embrace life – take it on fully! He can be real by His Holy Spirit!

By the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead we are made alive in Christ – and we are strengthened and guided in our job on earth – to be people who share this amazing news!

Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again! In the meantime nothing beats knowing him.

This is a great message! He is risen! He is real. He can be real to us. We must pass it on!


Easter Sunday Sermon 2011 – review and reminder

Readings: John 21:1-18 and 1 Corinthians 15:1-11


Do you remember the song:  “I can see clearly now the rain has gone”

Here it is:

I can see clearly now the rain has gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s going to be a bright, bright sunshiny day

I think I can make it now the pain has gone
And all of the bad feelings have disappeared
Here is the rainbow I’ve been praying for
It’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshiny day

Look all around there’s nothing but blue skies
Look straight ahead nothing but blue skies

I think I can make it now the pain has gone
And all of the bad feelings have disappeared
I can see clearly now the rain has gone
It’s gonna be a bright, bright
Sunshiny day
Test time – who wrote the song? Johnny Nash. When? 1972. If you know that – you’re no spring chicken, pardon the pun.

It ages me – and many of you! It’s a song that has a melody that sticks – like many older songs there is a melody of sorts!

When thinking about Mary on Easter Sunday – this song came to mind.

It’s the seeing clearly thing that intrigues me.

Do we see things clearly? Or is our judgment and view of life confused?

I want to suggest that the resurrection is in fact the lens through which we should be seeing everything.

So back to Mary to see this – a woman who knew sin and forgiveness – and the amazing grace through which Jesus takes the most broken of us and restores us to health again – in the sense of being whole forgiven and reborn people.

It’s dark when she gets to the tomb. In John’s account anyway. Mark’s Gospel places this visit “very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen,”

I suspect that John’s reflection places this in the dark for good reason – the theme of light and darkness in his gospel is central.

But more than that – there is the darkness Mary is in. How hard it must have been for her to see the man die who had restored her to a dignified life. People who lose the plot through unhelpful choices – whose lives are burnt out and tainted by failure, or overwhelmed by darkness – who then find love or light only to lose it again – are in danger of a deeper darkness.

You only have to work with the depressed to see that – or feel it, because it’s too dark to see.

Writers have suggested that the darkness is Mary’s darkness. And the exciting thing is the way in which it lifts! Listen to her words initially:

“They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

She is in mourning and doing what one would do with the dead – seeking to complete an appropriate burial with dignity. Part of the indignity of crucifixion – apart from being stripped naked – was that often people’s bodies were not buried – but left to rot or be consumed by wild animals.

It’s the body she is looking for. It’s still dark for her.

Confused and shocked, she runs to the leaders of the group – Peter and John – announcing that the body’s gone.

It’s good that two men are fetched. Mary’s testimony as a woman in those days would not have been valid – it required two men. Such was the prejudice of the day that two partially blind men would have been accepted as witnesses, I suspect, rather than one woman with 20=20 vision.

The men are not much better. They’re not seeing clearly either. John – the writer of the gospel writing about himself – says this:

Joh 20:8  Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.

Joh 20:9  (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)

And then they go home – a clear sign that the lights are not completely on in their minds either. Probably went home to think about it. They certainly aren’t telling people the good news at this point. There’s no proclamation like ours – THE LORD HAS RISEN! HE HAS RISEN INDEED.

Mary stays there. She looks inside the tomb – and gets much more than she bargained for. It’s a lovely thing – that she sees angels. Even though the angels don’t shift her emotions.  Joh 20:13  They ask(ed) her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

Still looking for the body. Someone’s put the body somewhere –disposed of it in an inappropriate way.

Then she sees another someone, who says.

Joh 20:15  “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she says, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Still in the dark. Mary. Until she hears the voice – the personal call of her name:

 Joh 20:16  Jesus said to her, “Mary.”  She turn (s) (ed) toward him and cries (cried) out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

One can hear the words of John elsewhere in the gospel:

Jesus words:  “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice” (10:3-4).

Mary calls him “Rabboni!” Teacher!

There is recognition – that this really is the one who was dead. It doesn’t matter what the scholars say about the words – whether kyrie – translated as “Lord” or “Sir” is higher or lower than “Rabboni” – Teacher – is higher than Sir and less than Lord.

Anybody dealing with a dead person coming alive again would take time to figure out the theological implications and the title doesn’t matter.

“I have seen the Lord” is the stuff of transformation! Death is overcome. Grief is dispelled. Life is changed forever.

The resurrection is the lens by which we see the world from that day on.

And here’s the curious thing – even though our faith depends on this amazing event from the past – the resurrection means that “The present is determined by the future not the past.”

This is the power of hope. The forgiving Jesus who took Mary as one of his disciples despite her shady past gives new impetus to her future. This woman sits down and tells the men! “And she told them that he had said these things to her.”

Some people think that men have been forced to listen to women every since! It settles the idea that women should or should not speak in church, I think!

But this is Mary the messed-up one – she is now the transformed person and the credible witness.

She is given the task to tell then. And she does!

And Jesus backs up her testimony by appearing to the others too – even to Thomas who needed the tactile experience and confirmation.

The resurrection is the lens through which we see the world as Christians. If an apparent defeat and horrendous flogging and execution of an innocent man can lead to a sublime and glorious victory – and a woman like Mary can say with such certainty “I have seen the Lord”, then we need to see our brokenness and despair from this point of view as well.

The present is determined by the future!

We live in anticipation of a complete transformation of all things!

 1Co 15:21  For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.

1Co 15:22  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive,

says St Paul.

 1Co 15:23  But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.

1Co 15:24  Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.

1Co 15:25  For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.

1Co 15:26  The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

 I can see clearly now the rain has gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s going to be a bright, bright sunshiny day

Johnny Nash could see things better when the rain stopped and the clouds had gone.

The resurrection ends the misty rain and dark gloomy clouds of all kinds!

It makes no sense to watch 3D movies without the 3D lenses.

Once we’ve seen this – even though we have not seen the Lord like Mary – we have Jesus’ word to Thomas as a reminder:

Joh 20:29  Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

We can hear his voice! We can live lives with a completely different agenda! Because we are his agents ushering in a new order.

The Lord has Risen! He has risen indeed! Nothing but blue skies!!!

How are you doing this resurrection day?

Still in the dark? Still looking for the body? Hankering after the past?

Look to the future – and Jesus will take you into it and through it!