4 April 2021 Easter Day Sermon


Easter Sermon April 2021 from Isaiah 25, Mark 16, and Acts 10. Revd Tudor Vaughan Roberts

Bishop Lesslie Newbiggin wrote in his book  “A faith for this one World” on page 62.

“ When will God’s righteousness be vindicated in this world? Is an agony which looks forward to and is only fulfilled in the coming of Christ. The Christian faith is that the day of the Lord dawned in Jesus, and the validation of that faith is in the resurrection  of the body of Jesus from the tomb, Here in this created world the rule of God has been vindicated to eyes of faith”.

It is that Christian faith which I wish to preach today April 4th 2021, in the light of the death and resurrection of Jesus the Nazarene.

Isaiah the prophet some 800 years before Christ’s death wrote these words:

“On this mountain He (meaning Yahweh God almighty) will destroy the shroud that enfolds all people, the sheet that covers all nations .He will swallow up death forever”. (Isaiah 25:8)

Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1789. “Our new constitution is now established and has an appearance that promises permanency but, in this world, nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes”.

But years earlier in 1726 in a  book entitled “The political history of the devil”, Daniel Defoe wrote:

“ Things as certain as death and taxes can be more firmly believed”.

And even before that in the “Cobbler of Preston” Christopher Bullock wrote:

“It is impossible to be sure of anything but death and taxes”.

Yet way before Bullock and Defoe, and Franklin, the Prophet  Isaiah said, “Yahweh will swallow up death forever”.

Fast forward from Isaiah and switch back from Bullock, Defoe, and Franklin, very early one Morning just after the sun had begun to disperse the darkness, three women loaded down with “Aromatia”, spices aromatic oils and salves that they had bought at 6.00pm the night before, (just as the official Jewish Sabbath had ended) they now boldly walk to the final resting place of Jesus the Nazarene. Resurrection, if there was such a thing, before the very last day, was simply not on those women’s minds and hearts. And yet unknown to them they were to witness Isaiah’s words become true.

The three Women; Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome had witnessed the death of Jesus according to Mark 15:20.

Now as it were, They are looking not for a resurrected Jesus, that would be unthinkable, they are looking for a corpse. In a “new film” a “new chapter” it is the return of these three determined women. This is plainly not a happy start to our Easter story.

Do not think “happy Walt Disney” think “sad and dark Scandinavian murder-drama”. The women have one aim; find a body, a corpse, and have more time for the rituals after death. The two Marys according to the end of Mark 15 had seen where Jesus was lain but may not have been aware of the spices that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had used. Whatever had happened it is likely that the burial of Jesus had been done quickly. So here is this trinity of courageous women on their way to the tomb, with spices, and probably with jars of water too, so as to wash the body. They had a  job to do. The Jewish document M. Shabb no 23.5 says “They prepare all that is needed for a corpse. They anoint it and rinse it”.

So, the action of the unnamed woman in Mark 14:3-9 where she anointed Jesus was interpreted as the anticipation and substitution of this solemn act that the three women were now also doing and about to carry out. See Mark 14:3-9.

Mark 14:3-9

New International Version

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.

Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages[a] and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you,[b] and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burialTruly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Such acts have always been of vital importance in the near Middle East then and now.

Lets’ get back to that early morning scene. It had been night it was becoming day. As St John says in his Gospel John 1 vs 5 and 9.

John 1:5-9

New International Version

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.

Remember, on that first Good Friday it had been solidly dark for three hours. You do not forget an experience like that. Was such terrible darkness because of the sin that Jesus was dying for on the Cross? or was it an all-out assault by the prince of darkness, Satan, We do not know.

What we do know is that now something new is happening. Mark tells us that very early, just as the sun was rising, the women went to the tomb. Now a new light was shining, but a greater light was also about to shine; the light of the Gospel of Jesus made manifest through his resurrection.

“Who will roll the stone away” ? they asked as they carefully walked with faces down towards the Tomb.

But now they looked up, and they saw that in fact the stone had been rolled away.

The impossible had become possible.

Darkness had become light.

Hope had replaced despair.

The women saw a young man dressed in white, sitting in the entrance to the tomb. The word used for Young man is very similar to that used to describe the mysterious streaker of Mark 14;

Mark 14:51-52

New International Version

51 A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, 52 he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.

Many think that that young Man was a young St Mark, and many think this description is of an angel.

The women were alarmed.

“Do not be alarmed he said You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene who was crucified he has risen”, (In French Il est Ressucite I’ll n’est pas ici.) “see the place where they lay him”.

So, in Mark, the evidence at first, is unlike St John. It Is not about an encounter with the risen Jesus, but the evidence of an empty tomb. That was enough.

As John Stott says “Perhaps the transformation of the disciples of Jesus is the greatest evidence of all for the resurrection because it is entirely uncontrived. They do not invite us to look at themselves they invite us to look at the empty tomb and the collapsed grave clothes and the Lord whom they have seen”.

Of course, what John Stott says is for the disciple’s realisation of the resurrection a couple of hours on from the events that we are looking at, what Mark records in Mark 16:1-8 we are looking at now,  for Stott it is the whole chapter, the whole story.

What I love about Marks Gospel account is that his account of the resurrection is raw and real ,it’s not all neat with a worked-out theology .As I said, the Women definitely did not expect a resurrection.

But they meet the Angel, and he says, “Go and tell the disciples AND Peter” Note, Peter is given special attention. Salome, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James have been given a triple commission:

A. Mention the empty Tomb.

B. Tell the disciples that Jesus is risen from the dead.

C. Tell Peter.

And one more thing ,”He is going ahead of you into Galilee” “There you will see him just as I told you”.

Viz  Mark 14:28 “But after I have been raised, I will go before you into Galilee”.

So, we the reader and listener to St Mark anticipate Resurrection part two and we can read about it in Mark 16: 8 to the end, and in  Matthew Luke and John.

Part two goes like marmalade with toast, but for now it can wait, what Mark wants to communicate is the shock of that first morning.

As William Lane Craig said “Even if the disciples had believed in the resurrection  of Jesus ,it was doubtful they would have generated any following so long as the Body was still interred in the Tomb. A Christian movement founded on belief in the resurrection of the dead man would have been impossible folly”.

Pope Benedict said “faith in the resurrection of Jesus says that there is a future for every human being the cry for unending life which is a part of the person is indeed answered, God exists! That is the  real message of Easter Anyone who even begins to grasp what this means also knows what it means to be redeemed”.

The 3 women I am sure, as Pope Benedict said, had begun to grasp the real message of Easter. It was amazing news; it was frightening news.

Isaiah foresaw that message when he wrote “On this mountain the Almighty will destroy the shroud that enfolds all people, the sheet that covers the nations”.

The 3 women begin to grasp the message when trembling and bewildered they fled from the Tomb. Mark 16:8

They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.

Those 3 women were not given a booklet explaining the theology of the resurrection, nor a ready-made creed like we will say today.(that took 300 years or so) The resurrection of Jesus was so mind blowingly unexpected and awesome,  it took time to process what they had been told. And along with the disciples realize the global impact of the message they had been entrusted with.

Peter in Acts 10:43 to 43 has the benefit of having processed what the momentous news carried by the women meant,

We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41 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. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

So, people, that is the message we have today: it comes with the raw reality of a first-hand account of the total shock of the resurrection.

Off you go now scatter! run amazed and scared! and do not tell anyone.!  (process this please)

I believe that like Isaiah, like the 3 women, and like Peter, the resurrection is true: but have I, have you, re absorbed today the total shock that message was.

May that Encourage you?

Challenge you.

And change you and I, in how we believe, How we speak, how we follow, and how that news changes our yesterday’s, our today, and our tomorrows. Amen

Lord of all life and power,

who through the mighty resurrection of your Son

overcame the old order of sin and death

to make all things new in him:

grant that we, being dead to sin

and alive to you in Jesus Christ,

may reign with him in glory;

to whom with you and the Holy Spirit

be praise and honour, glory and might,

now and in all eternity.

 

 

 

 

 


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