Sunday, March 27, 2016

Resurrection Sunday Message (Luke 23:50-24:12)

Humanity had done its worst. Those who had killed Jesus had brought darkness across the land. They had tortured and crucified an innocent man. Jesus was laid in a tomb and left among the dead. All Jesus could have been accused of was upsetting the apple cart. People too set in their ways, too hard of heart, too attached to their privileged positions, or just too proud … rejected Jesus and put him on a cross. Yet ironically and majestically this was actually a case of self-giving … of self-sacrifice to the greater good. God would never have allowed this unless it was going to make a difference for good in the world.

We look at the sealed tomb where Jesus is. What happens from here? For some, hope had been dashed. Others were lost as to what they should do. The ones who hated Jesus were glad it was all over (or so they thought). Kind and good hearted Joseph of Arimathea had gone against his misguided colleagues and provided a dignified resting place for Jesus. Women were available to anoint Jesus’ body. What would we expect to happen next?

God sent his beloved Son Jesus into the world to forge a path toward salvation. Jesus willingly took on this mission of love and grace. If we are able to find it within us to humbly admit that our life is messed up and we need forgiveness, then Jesus has done all that is required for us to receive that forgiveness. Jesus took all our burden of guilt and shame to the cross with him, and dealt with it all for us. So, we find forgiveness; but the question remains – how can we maintain a life of freedom and joy (on our own) … how can we make life work for us? How will our life be ‘set apart’ or different? It would actually be too hard to try to make it on our own!

So, the answer is … forming a relationship with God. And this would be a growing relationship, so that we might come to appreciate the quality of this relationship every day. Where we once filled all the time on our hands with things that took us nowhere, we would now fill our lives with God … which takes us everywhere. A quality relationship with God means that we continue to learn, grow into our full potential, experience peace and joy, find supportive community, effectively help others – generally finding purpose. Often people can look back, and feel a sense of waste about parts of their lives so far. What God is offering through the events of Easter Sunday is a new start, where nothing in the past is held against us, and nothing in the future will be wasted.

The further question then, is whether we stay with the closed tomb of death, or, on the other hand, approach the open tomb of life. It’s a matter of how we respond to the question, “Why do you look for the living among the dead” (Luke 24:5)? We are unlikely to find a way forward in life, if we dwell in our past and present negativity. Old tombs of bitterness. Looking for answers down dead paths. If any of us is feeling defeated, then we should listen for what, first the women, and then Peter, discovered on Easter Sunday.

The text we read (from the Gospel of Luke) started with the body of Jesus (wrapped in cloths of linen) being laid in a rock-hewn tomb and a stone being set across the entrance. This text concluded with an open tomb, where the linen cloths (previously around the body of Jesus) lay by themselves. This changed everything.

The women in this narrative had prepared spices and ointments to anoint Jesus’ body, but when they came on Sunday found the body missing. These women were understandably perplexed. Questions arose. They would have been talking amongst themselves. Had his body been stolen? What was going on? The women then hear the voices of reassurance, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? [Jesus] is not here, but has risen!” Yes, that’s right! These women remembered that, yes indeed, Jesus had talked about something happening on the third day (after his crucifixion)! The women started to believe that something fantastic had happened.

So, they went and told the disciples all about what they had found out. In listening to the story in Luke, I think I can sense the women’s excitement building … they were becoming convinced … there is no other conclusion to be drawn – Jesus had risen from the dead. Now this could make total sense! Jesus was innocent after all, and he was God’s servant, and he did heal many other people over the last 3 years – he did a lot of good for many people. Jesus’ friend Lazarus rose from the dead. Could not the Creator of the universe recreate life at will! If Jesus was God’s Son then of course death would not be the end.

But these women got a bit of a wet blanket response. Don’t you hate that when you have good news to share! At first the disciples thought this news was a bit of an “idle tale” – it couldn’t really be true, could it. But one of them, Peter, was more willing to listen. He must have sensed that these women were so sure! It’s hard to deny that something is true when those who believe it are so deeply convinced!! And we know that one of the best proofs of Jesus’ resurrection is the fact that his first disciples were subsequently all willing to die defending the reality of this. Not only this – how their lives changed! Fearful and hesitant seekers transformed into courageous and competent leaders.

So, Peter, with hope beginning to bubble up within him, decided he would check it out. The Gospel of Luke says, “Peter got up and ran to the tomb” (24:12). The thoughts that would have been going through Peter’s head, as he ran!! All the lessons Jesus had taught him. How Jesus’ whole three year ministry had made such a difference. The power of God that Jesus had shown! And this strong assurance Jesus had … that going to the cross was the right thing to do; and that God would not leave things there, but rather set them right. “On the third day I will rise again”, possibly began to echo in Peter’s ears! When Peter got to the tomb, he discovered that the clothes in which Jesus was buried had been laid aside. Wow!

Peter then went home in amazement, expectantly waiting for what would happen next … there had been such a dramatic turn of events. Later Jesus would join his disciples to spend some more time with them before he moved on (returning to God). Jesus was surely alive! Death could not hold the mighty Son of God. Evil cannot beat God. The resurrection, attested to by so many witnesses, proves that Jesus was who he said he was: the Son of God. Jesus’ resurrection proves that his death was absolutely effective in securing the forgiveness of sin (for those who believe). Jesus had risen to lead Peter, the other disciples, the women, and all of us … into an experience of new life.

The apostle Paul famously wrote these magnificent words, “So if anyone is in Christ [Jesus], there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17)!

Peter ran to the tomb to discover that his future lay in following the risen Lord Jesus. The crucifixion and resurrection are the most magnificent acts of love – God’s love. Through this we just know that God has his arms open wide to give us his love. We may lack all the evidence we want, but when we see how it has worked for so many others, and when it makes so much sense that we are not here on this earth just randomly for no reason, we should run into the open arms of our loving creator. At the same time, this will be a step of faith for each one of us, a conviction that we each come to ourselves … as we are open to a new experience of God.

It doesn’t matter how far we’ve strayed, it doesn’t matter how distant we think we are, we can discover the ‘open tomb’ right here and right now. Peter, just about three or four days before, had denied even knowing Jesus … Peter had renounced his three-year friendship with Jesus. How dreadful would Peter have been feeling! But Jesus instantly forgave him and welcomed him back into the fold. This is our way forward … embracing the risen Jesus. It is here that we find a life of freedom, peace, joy and purpose – the risen Jesus walking with us, leading us. Here is the relationship we need! But we should get our best running shoes on, and not waste any time getting to the ‘open tomb’ to experience this extraordinary resurrection ourselves.

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