EASTER DAY 2016
Readings:Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, Isaiah 65:17-25, Luke 24:13-34, 1 Corinthians 15:1-14
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, March 27th, 2016
Since the beginning of this year, as a congregation here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian, we have been looking together at a chronological arrangement of the Christian Scriptures, put together by Max Lucardo and Randy Frazee, that is called 'THE STORY'. We are attempting to gain for ourselves an overview of the 66 books that make up the Bible, in order to discover common threads that bind the books together.
So far it has been a fascinating journey, that has raised as many questions, as it has answered. Whilst appreciating the chronological arrangement, we have wondered what criteria led to some passages being glossed over or missed out altogether. Some of us have tried to understand the theological perspective of the authors as we have viewed accompanying videos and study guides. We have allowed ourselves the freedom to not always agree, with them or each other, nor to take anything at face value.
We have also been granted new perspectives on passages we had read many times over. We have picked up on things that we had missed out of our view. We have already discovered common themes that run throughout the Old Testament.
We have seen that God uses the most unlikely of people and circumstances to fulfill God's purposes. We have found ourselves challenged to be the sort of people, who though outwardly are no different than anybody else, inwardly embrace the radical good news that the love of God is a force to be reckoned with, something that can truly change the way we see our world and our place within it.
And we have a long way to go, having only reached a half way point in the Old Testament. It's never to late to get on board, so feel free to jump in at any point of the journey. Today, though, Easter Sunday, we are pausing on our pilgrimage to ponder the special message of this particular day in the Church calendar.
One thing that has been in my mind as we've been going through the process, is to ask, 'Well, where is it all going, what is it all leading up to?'' Or to put it another way, “If there was one event that is the crowning glory of all the other amazing things that take place within the pages of the 66 biblical books, what would it be?”
The answer is that very thing we are celebrating today as the central message of Easter, nothing more and nothing less than the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The greatest interpreter of the Christian message has to be the apostle Paul. Though he learned the gospel from the earliest disciples, it was his task, not to retell the story, but draw out the implications of the message Jesus proclaimed, for all time and for all the world. To say what was really important.
In a letter he writes to a church that is situated in one of the most cosmopolitan, happening cities of his day, the city of Corinth, he writes these words;
'For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas (That is 'Peter'), and then to the Twelve.' He continues 'Then He appeared to James, (The earthly brother of Jesus) then to all the apostles,and last of all He appeared to me also.'
Paul, or Saul as he was earlier known, had been a Jewish scholar, a member of a particularly learned group of believers known as the Pharisees, had an impeccable pedigree, yet also was a citizen of Rome, familiar with Greek and Roman philosophy. At one time he had nothing but hostility and scorn for the followers of Jesus they sarcastically referred to as people of 'The Way' and supported a program to get rid of them.
Then, on a road to Damascus, he has a life changing dramatic encounter with the Risen Lord Jesus Christ, that leads him to totally re-examine everything he knew about life here on earth, it's reason, it's religion and it's purpose. The most important thing, he concludes, is that upon the Cross, Jesus died and three days later God raised Him from the dead.
A few sentences later in his letter he stresses that if that whole episode was a hoax, then like a house made of a pack of cards, the whole structure of Christian belief collapsed. 1 Corinthians 15:14 'And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.'
That's quite a statement to make! He is saying that, if the Resurrection didn't happen, everything in the 66 books of the Bible is not worth the paper it is written on, but is nothing but hollow, empty, deceptive, powerless, ramblings. The only thing, he claims, that gives them any meaning, any power, is that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised to give us new life.
I think that for many of us, the notion of resurrection, is part of that curiosity that we frame in questions such as “What happens when we die? What becomes of our loved ones that have crossed over? What about ghosts and messages purporting to be from the beyond?”
Before moving here, we lived in Long island, NY, a few town's away from Teresa Caputo, the lady who has made a name for herself as 'The Long Island Medium.' Never met her, but I do find the program interesting, not least because herself and family are so typical Long Islanders... and you have to have lived there to understand that!
She is portrayed as being able to channel messages of loved ones in the beyond to those who remain on earth. I have no idea how she does that, and the results she produces seem to bring great comfort to those she interacts with.
I also know that many times in scripture, believers are cautioned to have nothing to do with spirits, mediums and those who claim to have messages from beyond as it seems as humans we have a great capacity to be deceived.
Regardless of the genuineness or otherwise of such folk, many of us have experienced, in ways we don't always find easy to talk about, the presence of those we have lost, unexplained things that suggest to us, they are indeed still watching over us and present with us. Wishful thinking? Reading something out of nothing? Maybe. Maybe not.
Where am I going with this? Simply to say, that the resurrection that Paul speaks about has nothing to do with an encounter with the dead, but with the presence of the living. The presence of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. When Paul is confronted on his way to Damascus, it is not a voice from beyond the grave that he hears, but the living Jesus Christ stops him in his tracks!
The same thing happens on the road to Emmaus, the experience we read about from Luke's gospel. Two, downtrodden, disillusioned, one-time disciples are preparing to throw in the towel. “We had hoped” they say (notice the past tense) “We had hoped He was the one.”
So deep is their despair that they don't even realize that the One they were talking about is alive and well and walking right alongside them. It is only as scripture is read and interpreted to their hearts that they start thinking, “What's going on here, why are our hearts bubbling up with excitement?”And, finally, when He breaks bread before them, it's like they see for the first time! He is alive.
So what is this. A ghost? I love ghost programs. They way they film them, like all ultra spooky, red eye and in black and white. “Tap once for yes, twice for no.” Supposed voices in the middle of random white noise. 'Please let the cat out. I can't do it. I'm dead.' A lot of presentation goes into trying to make us believe these folk are doing something genuine, and who am I to say they are not. Who are you going to call? 'Ghostbusters'.
However the gospel authors seem to go out of their way to tell us that the resurrected Jesus was not a ghost. He invites them to touch Him. They eat with Him on the beach. They have numerous encounters that lead them to completely to accept that Christ is Risen. 'He is risen indeed!'
This, says Paul, is of first importance. 'That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day.' It's not about what happens to our loved ones when we die. It's not about ghosts that need busting. It's about how we will live our lives in the here and now.
Do we believe that there is a God who can guide us, who can walk with us, who can forgive us, who has things that we are meant to do in our lives and with our lives, who has a purpose and a plan that we can live into?
Do we believe that there is a power of love that is stronger than hate? A power of hope that can defeat despair? A power of life than can overcome death? Can we align our lives with that God, that life, that love, that was found and can be found and is the very embodiment and presence and life of Jesus Christ past, present and future?
Paul's point is that the resurrection of Jesus Christ changes everything. That Easter is not just about bunny rabbits and Easter egg hunts and the coming of spring. These are great little pointers to new life, but there is something far more glorious and awesome and game changing and it's all about God raising Jesus from the dead.
As a church we will continue our journey through 'THE STORY'. We will continue to learn about the unlikely ways that God has led people and guided people. We will continue to view the events that lead to Christ's birth in Bethlehem, His amazing words and deeds, His terrible betrayal and death... and ultimately, the mountain top, the crown, the pinnacle, of 'THE STORY' will be the resurrection.
Everything before it, leads us there, everything after it, flows from there. Not surprising then that Paul talks about that event as being “Of first importance.” I cannot say for anyone but myself, what may be of first importance in our hearts and lives. I can only share the perspective given to us by the New Testament.
It is for us, as individuals, to seek God, to ask God through God's Holy Spirit, to guide us to the things that should be of first importance, in our lives, in our families, in our communities and our world.
A blessed Easter to everyone of us and may the living love of God, that can be found through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the presence of the Holy Spirit, be a hope in your hearts and an inspiration for your lives. Amen.