Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter

Text: Colossians 3:1a
You have been raised to new life with Christ.

Easter makes a difference

"I've never seen such a crowd in church", a woman once exclaimed. The number of people who had come to a particular church over the Easter period apparently impressed her. Then as she was shaking hands with the pastor at the door, she added, "Do you suppose it will make any difference?" Before she could get away the pastor quickly asked, "What do you mean? Will what make any difference?"

"Easter!" she shot back. Will Easter make any difference for all these people, or will life tomorrow be the same as it was yesterday?" This little incident at the church door starts us thinking. The woman's question is a very important one. Will Easter make any difference? We celebrated Easter a fortnight ago with so much enthusiasm and gusto. We sang those beautiful Easter hymns. We heard the Easter message once again. For people who worshipped over Easter, will life in this church and in every other church go on "as usual", as this unknown person asked, or will there somehow be a difference? Will Easter make a difference to each of us?

A quick glance at what happened to the disciples after Easter reveals that the events of that weekend did make a difference in their lives. We hear how the disciples were cowering in fear behind locked doors on Easter Day. And they were even more terrified when Jesus suddenly appears before them. It is only after Jesus had told them to look at his hands and feet and watch him eat a meal that a difference was made in their outlook. We are told that "they were full of joy and wonder."

The disciples became different people because their Lord was not dead but alive. They were in the presence of the living Lord.

An example of the change the resurrection made to people’s lives is seen in those two men who were walking to Emmaus on the afternoon of the resurrection. The person on whom they had pinned all their hopes was dead. They had given up everything to follow him. They had seen him on the cross, and what is more, now his body had vanished. They are feeling depressed and confused. What are they going to do now?

But look at the difference in those men when they realised that the very person with whom they were talking was the risen Lord himself. You can see the resurrection peace take over their lives. They are no longer confused and troubled, worried and anxious, but filled with the joy and confidence that the presence of the living Lord in their lives gives. They know that Jesus had not just died as any other man, but that he had restored fellowship with God and had destroyed sin and death. When they raced back to the other disciples they found that they too had exciting news. I can imagine the joy as they shouted to the travellers from Emmaus as they entered the room, "Hey guys! We have seen Jesus. He has risen from the dead!"

But what difference does the resurrection make to us today in 2006?
Does Easter still have the same effect on people today as it did back then in those early centuries?
I know we have heard the Easter story many times. It’s not like we have heard it for the first time and so are all excited about the amazing resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
But this doesn’t change the fact that Easter does make a difference to people even in the 21st century. The events of Good Friday and Easter tell us loudly and clearly God has left no stone unturned to save all people including us today.

The wonderful results of Jesus' death and resurrection are passed on to us at our baptism and when we celebrate Holy Communion. In these sacraments God gives to us the forgiveness Jesus won for us on the cross, he gives us eternal life and the promise that we too shall rise from the dead. We are his people. We are his forgiven, resurrected people. We belong to him; we are members of his family.

Do you see what is happening here? Because we share in the forgiveness and the resurrection of Jesus, because we have been reconciled with God and all believers are at peace with God, God brings us close together. God has put his chosen, forgiven, resurrected people together in the one holy Christian Church made up of congregations like this one.

You see, Easter breaks down the barriers between God and us.
Easter gets rid of the sin barrier that prevents us from enjoying the privilege of approaching God's throne in prayer.
Easter gets rid of the sin barrier that would prevent us from entering heaven. Easter gets rid of everything that stands between God and us.
Because of Easter we are able to have fellowship with God, or perhaps it is better to say, GOD is able to have fellowship with US.

How many times does the resurrected Jesus approach his disciples with the words: Peace be with you? It’s true he wanted to calm their fears that he wasn't a ghost, but he was also conveying to them a much deeper truth, that is, his death and resurrection have brought true peace to the relationship between God and his people.

And because we have peace and fellowship with our heavenly Father and we have been joined together in Christ through our Baptism, it follows then that we, the forgiven and the resurrected, have fellowship with one another. When I say "fellowship" I don't just mean that we have a bring and share meal every now and then or a Sunday School picnic or invite people from the church around for a meal or afternoon tea. These kinds of events are important and help us to get to know one another, but Christian fellowship goes much deeper than that. Christian fellowship has its beginnings in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Just as barriers have been broken down between God and us, so also walls come down between those who are forgiven and resurrected. Relationships are restored and recreated and built up. That is the beginning of true fellowship between Christians. We have true fellowship with one another because we have all been united with Christ.

The apostle Paul says to the Colossians, "You have died with Christ … you have been raised to new life with Christ … you are the people of God. Since God chose you to be the holy people whom he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tender-hearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. You must make allowance for each other's faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. And the most important piece of clothing you must wear is love. Love is what binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are all called to live in peace" (Col 3:12-15 New Living Translation).

Paul is here describing what it is that builds up fellowship between Christians. We have died with Christ and so have the selfishness, unkindness, lack of consideration for others, back stabbing, unkind criticism, failure to understand and be compassionate – all these have died with Christ on the cross. We have been raised to new life. As Paul said, "Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us" (Col 3:11 NLT). This newness and the fact that Christ lives not just in me, but in all of us, has serious implications for us as the people of God.

And we need to be reminded of this especially in this day and age when there is such an emphasis on the individual and the meeting of the individual’s needs over and above the needs and rights of others. Listen again to the words Paul uses -
tender-hearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience,
forgive the person who offends you,
you must wear love,
be bound together in perfect harmony,
live in peace.

Every one of these says that the new me, the Christ in me, makes a difference. I am not concerned chiefly with my needs and wants but I am more concerned how I treat those with whom I have been united in Christ.

The New Testament talks a lot about "sharing" and "participating" together, "having things in common" as his people. In fact, in the original language of the New Testament, to "share" and to "have fellowship" was the same word.

We share together, or have fellowship together;
we have "something in common" because we all share the same Lord and Saviour.
We all receive forgiveness from the same Christ;
we have all been baptised and joined to the same Jesus;
we all eat and drink the same body and blood in the Sacrament;
we are all sharers together in the one body of Christ, the Church.
We have been made one in the body of Christ and therefore we are obliged to be understanding and tolerant.
We are bound to accept that some people are different to us, and try to see their point of view.

To share and have things in common has a profound affect on our lives. Recall what the Book of Acts says about the very early Christians. We read: They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.... All the believers were together and had everything in common … they gave to anyone as he had need. Everyday they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts… (Acts 2:44-47).
These acted this way because they had one thing in common – that is their unity in the Lord Jesus. And because of this oneness they seek to express this in the way their care and share with one another.

Paul puts it bluntly, "Do not … destroy what God has done" (Rom 14:20). And what has God done? He has brought us all together in fellowship to share together and to have in common the forgiveness and life he has won for in the resurrection and death of Jesus.

And so Easter is the key to our living together in our homes, our community and our church. We can see ourselves as forgiven and beloved sinners and we see our spouse, our children, our friends, our enemies, and our fellow church member as a people for whom Christ has also died. God has established fellowship with each of us, and because of that we have fellowship with one another.

The resurrection of Christ did make a difference to the early disciples. There's no doubt about it. But the question before us, Will it make any difference for those people who celebrated Easter a fortnight ago? Will it make any difference to you and me?

May God give us a fresh understanding of what he has accomplished for us at Easter and that we would listen to his Spirit as he leads us to live the new life.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
30th April, 2006

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