Easter Day 2005
Sermons year A 2005
I wonder how many of you here today believe in gravity? Gravity is something we take for granted.
- We can usually rely on it to do the things we expect of it – things fall to earth when we drop them.
- We can measure its effects – such as the speed at which an object falls when it is dropped.
- We can see and measure the effect of gravity on the planets, on stars – and even on galaxies.
- We can even measure how gravity affects light – which is bent when it passes by a star, for example.
But what we don’t usually realise is that nobody really knows what gravity is. We don’t know exactly what causes one object to be attracted gravitationally to another. Some people have argued that gravity uses minute particles called gravitons – but as far as I know, nobody has ever seen a graviton, or found clear evidence that they exist.
What has gravity got to do with Easter? The point is that there are things in the world around us like gravity which we take for granted, which form part of our everyday lives, but which we do not fully understand. We see their results, and have a vague idea of what they do – but we don’t know what they really are. In fact there are all kinds of other unanswered questions about the world and the universe – such as how and when life first came about on earth; where the universe came from; what consciousness is. Most of the time we don’t worry about these things – we just get on with our lives. But, for the time being at least, these things are mysteries. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is like that. It is a mystery – nobody knows how it happened. But just as we live with other mysteries, it is not unreasonable to believe in the mystery of the resurrection.
However, you may say, if you look at the effects of gravity, they are plain for all to see. With the resurrection, you might argue, the effects aren’t as clear-cut. You can’t test it, as you can with gravity. But don’t rush to hasty conclusions. Remember how frightened the disciples were at the time of Jesus’ death. Something happened to turn them into fearless missionaries and passionate preachers of the new gospel of Christ – and some of them even became ready to die for what they believed. It was the resurrection which proved to be the foundation of a religion that would change the world, and which would give hope, strength and a new way of life to millions of people all around the world over a period of two thousand years. As St. Paul wrote, without the resurrection our faith is null and void. The resurrection of Jesus is central.
Remember also that no dead body was ever found. Those who wanted this dangerous new religion stamped out – the Romans and the Jewish religious authorities – were determined enough to go to any lengths to produce Jesus’ body, if there was any way of doing so. But there obviously wasn’t, which makes Jesus’ resurrection still more believable.
But what about the argument that the idea of Jesus rising from the dead was just made up, to console those who had lost a dear friend and teacher? Could it have been fabricated at a time when people were more likely to be taken in by stories which science can now easily disprove? Is it true to say that the resurrection may be believable by the gullible, but a mere fairy tale to the rational? Much hangs on what we believe actually happened to Jesus. Nobody knows, of course, exactly what took place in that tomb on the first Easter morning. Mainstream Christian belief, however, is that Jesus’ earthly body was somehow transformed into a body which showed that he had not been overcome by death; that the essence of who Jesus was lived on, in a form which was both bodily and spiritual in nature. This resurrection body, however we understand it, could pass through walls; it could appear and disappear at will. It was sufficiently similar to Jesus’ earthly body as to make him recognisable, but was also sufficiently different as to confuse some of the people he met (such as the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and indeed the women who first met him in the garden outside the tomb on the first Easter morning).
Contrary to what many people believe, the former Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins, said that the resurrection was ‘more than just a conjuring trick with bones’. There was a time, not very long ago, when most scientists thought that anything that you couldn’t see, or measure, or prove the existence of, could not exist. The universe was essentially material, and there was nothing more. Today, there is no such consensus. The world of science is more mysterious – with many different dimensions to existence, most of which we cannot see or measure. Indeed the idea of parallel universes is no longer just a concept limited to science fiction. The minute particles of which our bodies – and all other things in the universe - are made are now known to be much stranger than that was once thought to be the case. The whole universe is charged with energy in various forms, even where people once thought there was nothing at all. Even on the level of galaxies, there is much we do not understand – scientists have recently discovered the existence of a galaxy which is completely invisible. So we certainly cannot rule out the possibility that things way beyond human understanding – such as Jesus’ resurrection – can happen, if God has a purpose for them.
All this is very interesting, you may say, but what does it really mean for me? It means that we need not be forced onto the defensive about the resurrection. Easter is not just an ancient superstition which society will one day grow out of. But even more importantly, we must not forget that God had a purpose in raising Jesus from the dead. It wasn’t just that He didn’t want his Son to die. Through Jesus’ resurrection, God showed that all that Jesus was, all that he did, all that he stood for in terms of a new way of life, based on love, service and self-giving, could not be defeated by the worst that the world could do to him. The most terrible form of execution could not break Jesus’ spirit or render him permanently dead. His rising again, moreover, showed that Jesus had indeed overcome the sin of the world, in such a way as to show us that however evil and corrupt people may become, God will always offer a fresh start, a new life, to those who repent and resolve with all their heart to believe in God and follow the ways of Christ.
This, then, is the Easter hope. Easter gives us the hope of a better world, a world in which all the fighting, greed, selfishness which we see around us are overcome and replaced by a new way of living. In this way of living we are invigorated by the power of the risen Christ; we are so inspired by the self-giving love of Jesus that we will do all within our power to enable that love to defeat all that stands in its way. May that new life, the Easter life, the life in which the risen Christ lives in us, be ours, this Easter time and always. A happy and blessed Easter to you all.
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