This is a sermon for Easter Sunday based on the resurrection story in Matthew 10:1-8
During Friday’s episode of the BBC’s production of The Passion, there is an interesting scene in which Mary the Mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and John run to tell the rest of the disciples that Jesus has been crucified.
The disciples express disbelief at first and then when the reality hits them, they seem at a loss as to what to do. One disciple says that he is going to go back to Galilee and resume his former life with his family and his trade. Another protests, ‘No! We promised to be Jesus’ disciples and to spread his good news to the whole world and that’s what we have to keep doing!’
The reply comes back ‘What Good News? Follow Jesus and be crucified?’
Whilst the above scene is based on some information from scripture, it’s not actually a story that the bible itself tells, but it struck me that this was a very good question indeed: ‘What Good News? Follow Jesus and be crucified?’
Because Christianity often gives the impression that the Good News of Christianity is that Jesus died for us. True enough, but only half a truth.
Also, given the fact that the BBC production was written by writers who are not, for the most part, followers of Christ, it made me wonder about what message the non-Christian world has about the Good News of the gospel.
Because I think we’ve been really good at communicating the message of Jesus’ crucifixion. And I think that we’ve been absolutely terrible at communicating the message of Jesus’ resurrection.
And I suspect that I know why that might be. ‘Jesus died in order that you might be reconciled with God’ is an idea that everyone can understand. People might not agree with it, people might not like it, but it has some grounding in our own experience.
We can understand the idea of a third party making a large sacrifice to reconcile us with someone with whom we have been estranged. That idea isn’t too far outside of human experience.
And, although I’ve met a handful of people in my life who claimed that they don’t believe that Jesus ever lived, by and large if you tell an unbeliever that Jesus was born, had a ministry and was crucified, it’s likely that most of them will agree with you.
But try proclaiming to an unbeliever: ‘Jesus has risen from the dead!’ From the point of view of the world, it’s just ludicrous. ‘You don’t really believe that, do you?’ At best you’ll be seen as superstitious and a bit dim, at worst you might be regarded as someone with a shaky grasp on reality.
Resurrection is Key
My claim to you on this wonderful Easter morning is that ‘Jesus has risen from the dead!’ is a vitally important part of the Good News of Jesus Christ. It’s as important as the message that ‘Jesus died to reconcile us to God’. The two ideas are part of one message and they should not be separated.
I guess that you could argue that without the crucifixion there would be no resurrection and that would, of course, be true. But death is a normal expectation of human experience. How many people expect resurrection?
St. Paul said it best: ‘If Christ be not raised, then our faith is in vain.’ Go back in your imagination to that earlier scene between the disciples just an hour or two after Jesus’ crucifixion and picture again one disciple asking the other ‘What good news?’
Sure, there is good news (small letters) in Jesus’ preaching: God loves you and forgives your sins, with God’s forgiveness a new start is possible. Take care of each other as you would have others take care of you and love one another as Jesus loved you.
Nice ideas – inspiring ideas even – but without the resurrection they aren’t Good News (capital letters), they aren’t anything more than inspiring ideas.
Jesus didn’t just give us inspiring ideas: he brought those inspiring ideas to life.
Or perhaps a better way of putting it is that he breathed the breath of life into these inspiring ideas.
Because without resurrection, death has the final word. A world without resurrection is a world where cynicism, cruelty and despair have the final word and where hope, self-giving love, and morals will all ultimately die.
In a world without resurrection, the question ‘What good news?’ makes absolute sense. In fact, before the resurrection, it is the only question that makes sense.
But, after the resurrection, in a world where life has the last word, it is only self-giving love and hope that make sense. The resurrection demonstrates the authority of Jesus and the resurrection causes something to happen in the cosmic reality that brings love and hope into their full, everlasting, potential.
The resurrection demonstrates unmistakably that the God who we worship is first and foremost a God of life. He is not a God of death or destruction or even a God of pointless despair.
But a God whose ultimate purpose and desire is to weave all things together for good. God’s desire is not to give us any old life, but abundant life, life as it was meant to be. In a post-resurrection world, the answer to the question: ‘What good news?’ is that Christ has risen so that the world might have life in all its fullness. Individuals as well as all creation.
But there is more Good News, although we mustn’t jump ahead too far into the story. Because Jesus is alive and not dead, he can be with us.
There is another scene in The Passion, where Jesus tells his disciples that he is going away and that they will not be able to follow him where he is going. This scene depicts a well-known passage in the Gospel of John that is often read at funerals.
But BBC production uses different words than we are used to in the Gospel of John. And the disciple says ‘But you can’t go away. We need you here with us to help us find God.’
The joyful thing about the resurrection is that Jesus is here with us to help us find God. We don’t have to try find God on our own – something that is impossible anyway – because Jesus is here to help us.
As is made clear in the Gospel of John, after the resurrection, Jesus’ Holy Spirit is here with us, guiding us every day. Helping us find God.
The Christian Faith proclaims the Good News not only of Jesus’ death but of his resurrection.
We proclaim the good news that not only are love and hope alive but that, by the power and sustenance of God, they will live forever.
And we proclaim the Good News that our brother Jesus has risen and that we too will rise again into a New Creation.
Brothers and sisters, Christ has risen.
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!