Easter Day 2013
Sermon by Rev Christopher Harrison
vicar of the the parish of All Saints, St Mary and St Peter, Nottingham
Christopher Harrison home page
Christ is risen – he is risen indeed! We have lit the paschal – Easter – candle from new fire - the symbolism here being that of a strong fire, a primal force that signifies purging, zeal, power and awe. Five grains of incense are inserted at the centre and arms of the inscribed cross and held in place by wax nails, honouring Christ's five wounds. The burning of incense signifies our zeal and fervour, its sweet fragrance represents virtue, and the rising smoke symbolizes our prayer. In preparation for the dawn we have kept a vigil of prayer and scriptural meditation – sometimes known as the ‘Queen of vigils’ - on the unfolding of God’s purposes for the world.
Now, as day dawns, we celebrate the arrival of a new dawn for humanity – when, almost two thousand years ago, the stone which covered the tomb was found rolled away, and the women who had come to anoint Jesus’ body were told by an angel that he had been raised from the dead. The greatest miracle of all time? Or just a myth, a piece of wishful thinking dreamt up by the first Christians to soften the blow of the loss of their leader?
There are some very good and compelling reasons for believing in the resurrection of Christ:
- No body was found – many people would have had an interest in producing Jesus’ body, in particular the governing authorities
- There were lots of witnesses – Corinthians – over 500 - Road to Emmaus – showed himself by the breaking of the bread and the explaining of the scriptures; breakfast on the lakeside
- Appearance to the disciples – saying ‘Shalom’ – peace be with you
- Effect on the disciples – transformed from being frightened to being overwhelmed with joy and passionate about not just spreading the good news about Jesus’ resurrection, but continuing his ministry of teaching and healing, and soon to be renewed and reinvigorated spiritually by the coming of the Holy Spirit.
If the whole thing had been made up, why fabricate a story in which women were the first to find the tomb empty? The evidence of women, in Jesus’ day, was not given as much weight as that of men. And why would St Mark say that they fled in terror? Surely it would have made a more convincing story to say that they were overjoyed to find that Jesus had risen from the dead.
So if the resurrection is actually believable, what can we go on to say about its meaning? Three levels of meaning in particular to bring out:
- It is a message of hope; of hope fulfilled in spite of the most extreme desolation, when all hope seemed to have vanished. A hope that life is stronger than death, that the way of God is to bring new life even out of death. We see echoes of this in nature, in the annual cycle of the seasons, but also in the remarkable transformation of people’s lives which is possible through faith in Christ, and when they are trusted and valued by others, and helped to climb up from the depths of despair.
- Second, the resurrection confirms the fact, revealed step by step through the chapters of the gospels, that Jesus is Son of God; in other words that he is divine, he was not just an ordinary human being, but that his whole life, death and resurrection bore the imprint of God, and that his relationship with God the Father goes beyond space and time.
- And third – the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the necessary counterpart and corollary to his death on the cross. However we understand his dying for the sins of the world, however we understand the Christian belief that somehow, through his death, humanity was shown the way to a deeper relationship with God, that death would have meant nothing if it had not been followed by resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus confirmed – vindicated – his path of suffering and self-sacrifice. By dying on the cross, and rising again, Jesus was showing something fundamental about the love, care, and compassion of the Divine Creator and Sustainer of all existence for humanity – and in so doing he took away the fear of death, removed its sting, and opened the gates to heaven in a new way.
- But remember also that when Jesus, risen from the dead, came to meet the disciples, he said to them, ‘Shalom’ – Peace be with you. These are the words we offer one another, of course, as we exchange the Peace. For the ‘Peace’ is not just a casual greeting, a break in the communion service when we can move around – but it is a solemn moment when we should be praying for God’s blessing on all those whom we greet with the same words of peace which Christ used when he greeted the disciples and showed them that he was risen from the dead.
- But when we hear those words of peace uttered by the risen Christ, and when we share them with one another shortly, let us also resolve to take that message of hope beyond the walls of our church to all those who are in need of it ... the sick, the anxious and afraid, those living with mental illness and learning disabilities .. the asylum seekers and refugees ... those who are living in poverty and burdened with unpayable debts .. the thousands of millions around the world who do not have enough to eat or opportunities to enjoy basic human dignity and rights.
- For only if we make the message of the risen Christ real, in the effect it can have on our lives and on the lives of our communities, can we with integrity say, Alleluia, Christ is risen, he is risen indeed! Amen.