The entire Christian faith hinges on the words ‘He is risen.’[i]
We talk about the centrality of the cross,
in fact for some Christians the cross is all that matters,
everything else is like window-dressing.
But without the resurrection the cross is just a death;
We might sing of the power of the cross,
but the power of the cross is powerless without the resurrection.
Without the resurrection the gospel is no news;
without the resurrection the words of Jesus are an impossible dream;
without the resurrection the church is a bunch of delusional do-gooders who’ve wasted too many opportunities for a Sunday lie-in;
without the resurrection Jesus himself is just a tiny footnote in history;
without the resurrection death is still the last word on life;
without the resurrection the only way to overcome evil is to fight fire with fire;
without the resurrection our past is a prison and our future is fate;
without the resurrection your bank balance and your BMI is all that matters;
without the resurrection the possible election of President Trump would mean
the end of the world.
I say again the entire Christian faith hinges on the words ‘He is risen.’
As the apostle Paul says:
‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile’ (1 Cor. 15.17)
The resurrection means Jesus is alive,
It means the narrative of his life has not ended.
The gospels are not biographies of a dead man,
but they are the account of one who lived and died and was raised to life.
The gospels are not simply a record of the past,
they are the revelation of the Living One
who invites us to follow him,
who beckons us to listen,
who forgives us of our sin,
who loves us without restraint.
To read the gospels
is encounter the one who is the same
yesterday, today and forever (Heb. 13.8)
The whole Bible becomes his living words,
because Jesus, the Word become flesh,
Is the Living Word of Life.
This is the good news:
Jesus is alive today
And so we know we can live his way,
loving enemies, forgiving wrongs,
letting go of control.
And this is why the church is not deluded.
They are a community of persons
who lives have been, and are being, transformed
by their worship and witness,
of the Risen and Reigning One who breathes
His gift of mercy and peace upon them.
The church does not worship a dead hero,
But a risen King.
The church is a community of living memory,
Because it remembers one who lives,
who is the head of the Church
and Lord of creation.
That Jesus is alive,
is why he is not a footnote in history,
but its meaning and key and its goal.
The life of Jesus has created the greatest music and poetry,
has founded centres of healing and learning,
lies beneath the basis for justice and dignity.
This is to practice resurrection,[ii]
this is to anticipate the coming kingdom of God.
The church are an Easter people or they are no people at all.
The resurrection of Jesus is the defeat of death,
the end of endings.
It is the assurance that he alone is the first and last word,
the resurrection of Jesus is the promise that we’d not fear our final breath.
The resurrection of Jesus means that the reality and power of evil is not
overcome through violence
but instead through the cross –
the resurrection is God’s vindication of non-violence
‘The cross and not the sword, suffering and not brute power determine the meaning of history.’[iii]
The resurrection says the way of the cross is not accidental,
but the grain of the universe.[iv]
Rather than fight fire with fire,
the church fights fire with water and bread and wine
with baptism and holy communion
believing that the cross and resurrection of Jesus are more powerful than guns or bombs, tanks or Trident.
The resurrection of Jesus means our past can be forgiven and our future is now our destiny in Christ.[v]
Where our past can be a prison, holding us in its grip, the resurrection announces that Jesus comes to free us, meaning our past is no longer able to assert its power over us: what has been is forgiven.
Where our future can be fearful, uncertain, the resurrection announces that our future is now knowable – it is life with Jesus, we are no longer subject to the whims of fate, but can live with confidence that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus.
The resurrection of Jesus means that money and health no longer determine what a good life looks like.
Without the resurrection, we live fearful of not having enough, we live fearful of being destitute; we live with the lie that money makes happiness.
The resurrection declares that we live in the abundance of God, whose gifts never run out, who calls us into fellowship and friendship, who gives us good work to do, who offers us the joy and peace and hope of Holy Spirit.
Without the resurrection, we live fearful of suffering and illness.
The resurrection of Jesus says that even in the midst of suffering, God is with us and God is for us.
The resurrection causes us to see life as a gift rather than a right, it draws us to see that suffering can sometimes be a vocation, for it is not finally ultimate.
The resurrection of Jesus means that we need not finally fear Trump or Putin or Isis.
The promise of God revealed in the raising of Jesus is that a new world is coming
The witness of the church is not dependent in living in a benign democracy,
but on the power of the Holy Spirit
The early church did not fear Caesar,
for the resurrection of Jesus turned the church outward in mission
with boldness, courage, faith, love, hope.
With the St. Paul let our prayer be to know Christ and the power of his resurrection (Phil 3.9).
The early church witnessed to a new age, a new time, a new creation.
Two thousand years on it can feel like we are stuck in the old age, the old time, the old creation.
The claim is that the church in the west is dying,
it is certainly losing numbers,
but the resurrection of Jesus says God will never give up on the church,
not because of its own righteousness,
but because of the mercy and grace of God,
that is raising daughters and sons,
like you and me,
who have experienced the power of resurrection
to transform, forgive and be sent
to proclaim the good news that Jesus lives.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!
In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through
the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.
This inheritance is kept in heaven for you,
who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—
of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—
may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Though you have not seen him, you love him;
and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him
and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,
for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1.3-9)
[i] This sermon found some inspiration from ‘If Christ is Risen’ a sermon preached by Sam Wells on Easter Sunday 2015. https://www.stmartin-in-the-fields.org/wp-content/uploads/April-5-SW.pdf
[ii] Wendell Berry, ‘Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front’
[iii] John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus
[iv] Stanley Hauerwas, With the Grain of the Universe (SCM, 2001) borrowed from Yoder.
[v] Sam Wells, The Nazareth Manifesto (Wiley-Blackwell, 2015)