Easter Sermon 2016 1 Corinthians 15
As we gather here today to worship we do so along with Christians all around the world. That is the case every Sunday on which we come together in worship. But today is special – today is the commemoration of the most important day in the history of the church. Each year we set aside this Sunday, Easter Sunday, to celebrate and rejoice because Jesus Christ is risen. The most important day in the history of the church is not Easter Sunday, no! The most important day is the day that we celebrate, the day on which Christ rose from the dead. It is that first Easter Day, in the early thirties of the 1st Century, the day when everything changed.
I said that the day of resurrection is the most important day in the history of the church. But in fact it is the most important, the most significant, day in history, full stop! Although much of the world doesn’t recognize the fact, the day Jesus rose changed everything. It was a cosmic event, an event of universal significance, the pivotal event on which all human history turns.
Now these are pretty bold claims, but they are true and I trust that I can make good on such claims. This is a poor analogy in many ways because it is a very common event, unlike the resurrection. But think back to the moment your first child was born, or even your first grandchild for many of us. Is it not true that in that moment everything changed. Life was never the same again. Your life could now be divided into ‘before the birth, after the birth’, ‘before parenthood, after parenthood’. And there could be no going back.
You all know the saying, ‘the only things certain in life are death and taxes’. Well, the resurrection of Jesus hasn’t done anything about the latter, but it has most certainly done something about the former. Hear again some words of St. Paul from our second reading this morning, ‘For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as in Adam all die, so all will be made alive in Christ.’ Then the last verse from this reading, ‘The last enemy to be destroyed is death.’
We will all die; all of us have known the death of loved ones, possibly many times over; we all experience the horror of mass killings in war and terrorist atrocities. Just in the last few days we have seen over 30 killed in Brussels and the same number at a football presentation in Iraq, all acts of terror.
In our own country and our own local community we are frequently confronted with the tragic and unacceptable loss of life through road accidents and domestic violence, drug overdoses and senseless assaults on our streets. Yesterday’s Border Mail had a moving feature on the 20th anniversary of the murder of Kim Meredith, a 19 year old Albury woman. The grief and anguish of her family remain, along with frustration about the pace of justice.
So we might well ask, how has the resurrection changed things? How has death been defeated? Death, the last enemy, doesn’t look destroyed, so what is going on? Is all this talk of resurrection and victory over death just a lot of pious claptrap? Well, frankly it can seem that way, especially when we experience or witness tragic deaths or mass killings or senseless fatalities. For Jesus’ close followers, his disciples, his death shattered their world. They had followed him for three years, sacrificing their normal lives and businesses, believing him to be the Messiah, their long awaited redeemer. They had every expectation that Jesus would set things to right in their world. But on that first Good Friday, when Jesus hung and died on the cross, defeat overwhelmed them, all hope was lost, dreams were shattered, fear gripped them once again.
The last enemy was putting up a good fight. Death showed no signs of surrendering. The pain and grief that the apostles and other disciples felt, along with Jesus’ mother Mary, was as acute as any that we have felt at the graveside of someone we have loved. Yet that all changed on Easter morning. Listen again to what St. Peter said in his address to a Roman Centurion named Cornelius, as we read it this morning from Acts chapter 10: ‘We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and all Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.’
This is Peter speaking, the same Peter who cowered from a servant girl who challenged him on the night Jesus was arrested; the same Peter who denied knowing Jesus three times that night. And we have heard from St. Paul also, with his strong affirmation of the resurrection of Jesus. This is the same Paul who violently and fanatically persecuted the early followers of Jesus.
What happened? What changed them? What happened was that Jesus really rose from the dead and appeared to Peter and to Paul, as well as many others. Peter ate and drank with the risen Lord Jesus on a number of occasions. Paul famously encountered the risen Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus where Paul was headed to continue his hunt for Christians. They were both dramatically changed, and became bold witnesses to Jesus and to his resurrection, to his victory over death.
Jesus has conquered death, the last enemy, but the last enemy has not yet been completely destroyed. Peter and Paul were executed because they were followers of Jesus. Death came to them, yet they never wavered in their proclamation of the resurrection. For them death was a way station on the journey to resurrection. They didn’t deny its pain or grief, but they did deny its ultimate power to enslave us or to terrify us. They knew the risen Lord, and we have their powerful and unequivocal testimony to Jesus’ resurrection and all that it means.
Despite its apparent finality, human beings have never accepted that death is final, that it is the end of all that life means, all the value that human existence entails. And they are right. Life is too precious, despite its painful side, simply to be lost, to be extinguished. God is the giver of life, not the giver of death. So out of his great love, God acted decisively to put an end to death and to restore life. Resurrection is our destiny, our God planned homecoming. The resurrection of Jesus is the powerful sign and guarantee of the resurrection on the last day of all who belong to Christ. Until that day we are called to live in the light of this great hope, confident also that those who have died in Christ have the same promise, and in the meantime, also the promise that Jesus gave to the thief on the cross, ‘today you will be with me in paradise.’ Life and hope have been restored to the universe because Jesus lives. Nothing has ever been, or can ever be, the same, because Jesus is risen. Amen.