Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 21 April 2019.
The Thiepval memorial in Belgium lists the names of the service personnel who died during WWI on the western front, and whose bodies were never recovered for burial. Some may have been buried beyond recovery and others may have been eviscerated by explosive detonation.
I mention this because the whole point of Easter is that the tomb that have been occupied by the body of Jesus was found on that first morning of the week to be empty, with the stone rolled away and the grave clothes still in place but the head-cloth rolled up and placed elsewhere.
The point was that the body of Jesus was there but had now disappeared, and the significance of this has been a mystery ever since. For Christians it is the sign of His victory over death for not even the grave could hold Him.
The word of the angels was that Jesus was risen, and the testimony of the women who first came to the tomb was that the tomb was empty. Mary Magdalene, who had stayed behind once the immediate fuss had died down, met and talked to Jesus Himself and could give first person evidence.
Peter who had been summoned to the tomb left it none the wiser but John who had been with him was convinced. Over the next 6 weeks or so Jesus was seen by and talked to the other disciples and many others beyond the circle of disciples.
Some have dismissed all of this as hallucination or hysteria (neither have been given much medical definition within these circumstances) or just plain wishful thinking.
In this kind of reasoning, if you want to see something then you will but the matter is entirely personal, and certainly no foundation for dogma or general belief.
But then suppose it to be real: what does it signify? It is not just that the disciples met Jesus and were convinced. There was Paul who also met Jesus personally – and many others down the centuries who have done the same.
I certainly know in my own life and experience, that knowing Jesus was not just a matter of a church upbringing (which was pretty impersonal) but there was also a personal encounter with Jesus which crystallised personal pondering into personal faith. Having known about Jesus, I now knew Him for myself, beyond doubt or question.
But if Jesus was still alive then many things come from this truth. If He lives then He has not only overcome the bitterness and finality of death, but He has stripped it of its power to terrorise and imprison.
We can then face our own mortality with a sense of peace, for death is not the end, but rather a new beginning.
But there is something else for in rising from the dead, Jesus who was perfect in every aspect of life could place that perfection in the place where legalism would only condemn.
Being perfect, He was condemned under the law, and so exposed the law, and certainly the practice of it, as being limited in its scope and corrupt in its operation. Law in itself may be neutral but when applied by sinners with their own ulterior motives then it is also reduced by the character of those who apply it.
Jesus had in himself risen above the limitations and definitions of the law to live in and by the grace of God. Jesus was alive because God had acted in His total justice to vindicate the unjustly condemned.
And being vindicated by God Jesus was then able to incorporate into Himself the vindication and forgiveness of all sinners who wanted Him – like me. Not by personal deserts and only in His wholly unearned and unearnable blessing.
Now the resurrection means rather more than an empty tomb thousands of miles away and thousands of years ago.
Now it is immediate and personal, for by it we also came face to face with one who has given everything He has and is so that we also may find the fullness of who and what we are in Him.
And in finding ourselves in Him then we are no longer terrorized by death or legalism. Now we are borne along by life and life in its fullness and in a thousand dimensions.
Now that empty tomb strips the powers of control and of condemnation of their power to oppress and imprison the purposes of God within each heart and soul.
And yes, people have gone to prison and to the grave for the sake of the One who overcame death and condemnation for us. And that makes it deeply personal.
It calls to the deepest recesses of our hearts and minds; it probes the places where we hurt and are anguished; it draws the wounds of our pasts and meets them with the power to forgive.
It says that today is the beginning of a whole new future, and now is the time to allow God to make it real.
Now is the time to allow those sins and lifestyles to come under the mercy of God, and to redirect lives and hopes and futures into new dimensions and in new directions. For what terrifies the powers of this world is the power of God to override their own warped and distorted corruptions with the body and blood of the Prince of Peace.