Sermon for Easter Day

Text: 1 Corinthians 15:3-4
I passed on to you what I received, which is of the greatest importance: that Christ died for our sins, as written in the Scriptures; that he was buried and that he was raised to life three days later, as written in the Scriptures.

“Hey, he’s alive again”

Napoleon Bonaparte was on board one of his troop ships heading for his campaign in North Africa.  One night as he was looking across the waters he started chatting to one his generals and asked, “General, what are you going to do when this war is over and we return home again?”  The General replied, “Your Excellency, I think I will found a new religion”.  Somewhat surprised by this answer Bonaparte replied, “That should be easy – all you have to do is die on a cross and after three days rise again from the dead!”

Even though Napoleon’s answer was a bit tongue in cheek he was right.  It isn’t enough to be born of a virgin, fulfil ancient prophecies, give yourself as a sacrifice for others and die an excruciating death on a cross.  It is the resurrection of Jesus that gives power to the cross and makes it possible for us today to receive from our living resurrected Lord
forgiveness of our sins,
peace with God,
fresh starts when sin and trouble grip our lives,
and the assurance of eternal life. 

If the story of Jesus finished with the cross and the tomb then Jesus would have nothing to offer us today.  He would be dead; his body decayed in a tomb; our faith in Jesus would not exist.  How can we trust in someone who is powerless in the face of the one thing we fear the most – death? 

The events of Holy Week, the last meal and the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, the betrayal, the trial, the inhumane treatment, the treachery, the cruelty, the crucifixion, Jesus’ last words and then the grief of his followers as they place him in a tomb all make a great story.  Novelists and movie makers have not missed the drama and action of the trial and execution of an innocent man but all of this means nothing for us today if the story ends there.  Without Easter this is a tragic story like so many other tragic stories but it has little impact on the here and now and what is happening in our lives at this very moment.  

We know that a large proportion of the people around us really don’t have any idea what Easter is all about apart from Easter eggs and holidays.  For many Christians, Easter is associated with death.  They attend worship on Good Friday and reflect on the death of Jesus and that’s where their Easter worship ends. 

A well-dressed young man was standing in front of the display window of an antique store looking at a classic painting of the crucifixion.  As he stood there, a little boy walked up and stood beside him and looked at the painting.

The young man pointed to the picture and asked the lad, “Do you know what this picture is all about?”

“Oh, yes”, came the reply as the boy pointed to the figure on the cross, “that's Jesus.”

And as he spoke, the small boy expressed surprise that the young man in the suit didn’t know anything about Jesus.  Then after a pause, with an evident desire to enlighten the man, he added, “Them’s the soldiers,” and with a long sigh, “that lady there is his mother”.

After another brief moment of silence he added, “They killed him, mister.”

Together they studied the painting in silence until finally the man ruffled the boy's hair affectionately and walked away disappearing into the crowd.  He had turned a corner when he heard the shrill voice of the lad who was making his way through the crowd, “Hey, mister, mister!”  The lad was almost out of breath when he caught up with the young man.  He panted, “I wanted to tell you, mister. He rose again.  He rose again!”

The boy got it right.  He wanted to tell the well-dressed young man that the man on the cross didn’t stay dead.  Good Friday only makes sense in the light of Easter.  Whenever the apostles spoke of Jesus’ death it was always with the resurrection in mind. 
When Peter preached about Jesus he said, “They put Jesus to death by nailing him to a cross. But God raised him from death three days later and caused him to appear … to us who ate and drank with him after he rose from death” (Acts 10:39-41).
Paul wrote,
Because of our sins he was given over to die, and he was raised to life in order to put us right with God” (Romans 4:25).
Every time the Bible talks about
Jesus dying to make us right with God,
or giving his life on the cross in our place to give us forgiveness
or taking on himself all the evil in our lives to break down the wall of sin between God and us,
or sacrificing his life so that we might have freedom from guilt and Satan’s power,
or dying on the cross so that we might have life forever -
whenever the cross is mentioned there is always the assumption that all these are possible because, and only because, Jesus rose again from the dead.    

When the Bible talks about Jesus’ death and resurrection it makes a connection with what happened 2,000 years ago to our lives today in 2012.  It’s not just talking about some interesting historical facts about Jesus, but through the power of the Word of God, Baptism and Holy Communion and our faith in what Jesus has done for us, we are connected to Jesus’ dying and rising. 

There is this intertwining, this knitting together of our lives with the life of Christ.  This happens when we take in our hands the bread and wine – the body and blood of Jesus – in Holy Communion and we eat and drink.  God connects us and links us to the cross and the empty tomb – we are forgiven and we are given the free gift of eternal life. 

This happens at our baptism when we are united with Christ and with our fellow believers and every day the love of Christ influences everything that happens in our lives. 
This happens when we trust the promises of God and what seems depressing is suddenly filled with hope, or inner turmoil is replaced with peace. 

The New Testament often talks about the Christian being “in Christ” or “in union with Christ” or “dying and rising with Christ” or “being united with Christ in his death and resurrection” and so we hear Paul say to the Romans, “Our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. .... When we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin.  And since we died with Christ, we know we will also share his new life” (Romans 6:7-8).  Can you see this interlocking and interweaving of our lives with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus?

It’s as if through the Word of God and sacraments we are transported back in time to the cross and we are nailed to the cross with Jesus and we die there and so do all of our sins. 
And likewise it’s as if we are transported to the tomb where Jesus lay and we rise with him, are given new life, new ways of seeing things, new values and the risen Christ is walking with us and we are walking with him through the rest of our days here in this life until that day we arrive in heaven.

If Jesus had stayed in the tomb then what Paul said would be quite right, “We have been tricked” (1 Cor 15:19).  
There is no point in trusting a dead Jesus. 
There is no hope in this life for there is no-one who can help us in our times trouble and weakness. 
There is no hope beyond the grave.  We close our eyes and that’s the end; there is nothing more. 
For sure, there are those who believe that there is nothing after death.  Maybe they have reached that conclusion because in the face of death and despair in our world they have refused to listen to the voice that calls out to them, “Hey, Jesus is alive!”  Or maybe no-one has chased after them with this urgent message, “Hey Mister or Miss or Mrs, Jesus is alive and he can make a difference in your life!”

It’s true that even though your life is intertwined with Christ, that you trust and believe that your life is in Jesus’ hands, that doesn’t mean that bad things won't happen in your life.  We know all too well from experience and from those whom we love right here in our congregation that trials will still come. 

If anyone was close to God it was Jesus and see how he suffered.  Sure it was part of a bigger plan but it still involved suffering. 
Look at Paul, a powerful man of God if ever there was one, and read about the personal struggles he had and the bad things that happened to him. 
Read the stories of those who suffered and died because of their faith and you’ll soon realise that being “in Christ” can also mean personal danger.

You see, Easter doesn’t bring with it the promise of a trouble free life; it brings to us the promise of a Saviour who is alive and walks with us every step of the way in our journey through trouble. 
Easter tells us that the Saviour who walked this earth and now is alive and walks with us today knows what it means to feel anguish and pain and comforts and strengthens us as he was in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Easter tells us about a Saviour who gives us the victory over sin, death and Satan regardless of the trouble they might cause in our lives. 
When death comes to us in the end, Easter tells us that we have a risen Saviour who will raise us up and give us new bodies, a new life and a new home in heaven with him forever.

The cross dominates our church – it testifies to the fact that Jesus died and rose again for you and me.  We are people of the resurrection.  Every Sunday we celebrate the resurrection.  Again and again the Apostle Paul wants to make it quite clear.  Jesus is more powerful than anything that can terrify us in this life.  Jesus has defeated the power of sin and death.  Our resurrection to eternal life is guaranteed.    

We join with Christians all over the world today and say, “The Lord is risen.  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia.”

 

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
8th April 2012
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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