He is not here he is risen!
The late and controversial Bishop of Durham David Jenkins described the resurrection as “a conjuring trick with bones” The Christian comic Adrian Plass described a failed cake at his mother-in-law’s tea party as a “Bishop of Durham cake”- all the ingredients are right but nothing has risen!”
Another former Bishop of Durham Tom Wright is the foremost NT scholar in the country and he says this “The resurrection is the foundation.. to have that foundation you do need a bodily resurrection not just a spiritual event which might have happened to Jesus or the disciples” There was a survey of Anglican Clergy in 2002 which concluded that one third did not accept the bodily resurrection of Christ- they explained it away as a “spiritual happening” or a story invented years later to explain the growth of the church! I am not one of those clergy and here are some of the reasons why!
1. The evidence of History
In AD 52, approximately 20 years after the resurrection St Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth about the historicity of that event ! Cor 15.3-7 contains four statements
(a) Christ died (history)
(b) Christ was buried (history)
(c) Christ was raised on the Third Day
(d) Christ appeared to Peter etc and then to 500 hundred people at once- most of whom were still alive at that time. In it is inconceivable that Paul would put two plainly historical statements followed by two inventions to make complete a faith that he and others would ultimately die for!
Paul goes further and says that if the Resurrection is not true- there are three dramatic consequences
(a) EMPTY FAITH “Your faith is futile” – a faith that would inspire great art, music, great buildings; that pioneered social welfare and reform and has sustained millions- we might as well rewrite history as a monument to a futile faith!
(b) EMPTY FORGIVENESS “You are still in your sins” – no sense of forgiveness or assurance or hope The eminent humanist Margarita Laski wrote with great pathos “The thing that I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness- I have no one to forgive me!”
(c) EMPTY FUTURE “the dead are lost” – death is extinction- have you ever been with someone when they die! There are few atheists at a death bed! “man is a useless passion- it is meaningless that we live and it is meaningless that we die” (Colin Wilson) but Wherever Paul went he preached about Jesus and the Resurrection. The central question of the Gospel is not “Is it good for us?” The central question is “Is it true?” We have four foundations for our historical faith.
- The empty tomb. There are many bogus explanations
- The events of the Easter Weekend.
- The eye witnesses – individuals/groups/circumstances/time of day – not hallucinations or spooky experiences.
- The experience of Christian believers for 2,000 years.
2. The Evidence of Experience
Consider the case of Mary in John 20 and note the sequence of events and emotions.
- her concern to do the right thing and to be in the right place – too late on the Friday to do the task of preparing the body for burial
- so she comes early in the morning- the first opportunity to do the necessary – Easter Sunday
- it may feel right to be in a church on a day like today
- They went to look into the empty tomb – “they have taken my lord out of the tomb.
- The Bible makes much of spiritual curiosity- eg Moses at the Burning Bush and the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4.
- There is nothing wrong with wanting to find out more!
- The journey of faith is one of questions; doubts and discovery.
- Her world had fallen apart.
- The disciples on the road to Emmaus “we thought he was the one who was going to redeem Israel”.
- There is an Easter message for those who have lost hope!
- She doesn’t recognise Jesus- thinks he is the gardener (vision blurred by tears).
- There is a 21st Cent confusion about the identity of Jesus Christ.
- The Resurrection is the single most important event in the life of Jesus that marks him out as totally different and beyond, Mohammed, Buddha and the rest.
- Jesus speaks her name Mary- the familiar voice- she “saw” Him and recognised him (like grace at the meal in the house at Emmaus).
- Here is a moment of truth and understanding- a personal encounter with the risen Christ.
- Find Jesus today in our homes like those on the road to Emmaus “He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread!”
She obeys Jesus instructions and goes and tells the others. We hear the five most dramatic words in the NT “I have seen the Lord”.
So Mary moved
- from curiosity to conviction
- from optimism to certainty
- from a fact of history to a fact of experience.
It can be just as true for you and me! By his spirit the risen Christ crosses our path this Easter Morning. Let’s welcome him into our hearts and lives as the risen Lord!
The greatest news the world ever had came from a graveyard! The Easter story ends not with a funeral but with a festival.
A very happy Easter to you all!
Music from Sarah Tutton
Prayers and Lords Prayer led by Joan Simon
Music “Christ be with Me” (St Patrick’s Breastplate) by Stuart Townend