Published on Sun, 21 Apr 2019 10:30

(The text of Mike's sermon preached in Brampton on Sunday 21st Apr)


On the first Easter Sunday a group of women went to Jesus’ tomb expecting to find a dead body to embalm. Instead they found a pair of angels who asked them a question: Why are you seeking the living among the dead? Jesus isn’t here, said the angels, he is risen! When this story was told to Jesus’ friends they dismissed it as an idle tale. How on earth could Jesus be risen?

Later that day, two followers of Jesus were walking to a nearby village and trying to make sense of everything that had happened. Jesus, who they had hoped would put everything right, was dead. Some women claimed that the tomb was empty when they went to visit. What did it all mean?

Jesus appeared, walking alongside these men, but they didn’t recognise him. They weren’t expecting to see the living Jesus – he was among the dead! Only later, after explaining everything, when Jesus shared a meal with them, did they recognise who he was.

We don’t usually expect to find the living among the dead. Death is the end of life, isn’t it?

The first point to make this morning is your annual reminder that Jesus didn’t come back from the dead. Jesus did not come back to this mortal realm of decay and death.

On that first Easter Day Jesus comes through death into the new creation as the first fruit of God’s redemption of all things. Jesus’ resurrection body is the downpayment on God’s decisive defeat of death itself and the guarantee that we who trust in God’s promises can also look forward to a part in God’s re-creation of heaven and earth when Jesus returns.

The resurrection life that Jesus moved into, and that we will enjoy, is a state of being characterised by life. In this present age we experience death and decay. Relationships break down. Bodies break down. The end of this present darkness is only death.

The life to come is characterised by life that grows into more life, from glory to glory, as St Paul puts it. No guilt in life, no fear in death. That is what we celebrate today, and well worthy of celebration it is!

But what about now? Today? It’s interesting that the angels ask why the women at the tomb are looking for the living among the dead. I believe that we, as Christians, are called to be people who precisely should look for the signs of new life among the dead.

As those living with the promise of the new life to come, confident that God has decisively broken into the old world in the resurrection of Christ, we should be those constantly seeking signs of that resurrection life breaking in.

If you’re a gardener, you probably start looking for signs of new life early in the year.

In the cold, dead ground of winter you start to look for the first signs of the crocuses and daffodils emerging again. Christians are similarly called to be those who seek the signs of new life within that which was dead. Whether the “death” be broken relationships, shattered dreams, illness, failure or death, Christians seek the God who is always at work to bring joy out of despair and life out of death. This isn’t a way to trivialise suffering (“every cloud has a silver lining”), but the trust that God is able to transform suffering and death in unexpected ways.

Part of the reason it is so difficult to seek life within death is because we don’t know what we’re looking for. People often wonder why those two followers of Jesus didn’t recognise him as he walked alongside them. It’s probably because the new life that Jesus experienced was totally different to the old life.

Imagine never having seen a caterpillar before. Imagine you see it making its cocoon. Imagine that you come back to the cocoon one day and find it empty. If you were to look for what has emerged from the cocoon you would probably start by looking for something that looked a bit like a caterpillar, but of course you would be wrong. Who would guess that a wonderful butterfly might emerge?

At Easter we celebrate Jesus emerging from the tomb into a new life that was as different from the old life as a butterfly is different from a caterpillar. This transformation was the beginning of God’s new creation breaking into the old way of things.
I believe that in big ways and small God’s new creation continues to break in among us today if only we have eyes to see it. That’s why we ought to look for the living among the dead. It’s worth rejoicing over.

However, as I was writing this, I was reminded that for many people in this congregation suffering and trial is the way of life at the moment. As much as we might look forward to the life that is to come, our present reality may feel more like Good Friday.

Most of the time we live in Easter Saturday. We know that the decisive act of God in dealing with sin has already taken place, and yet the fullness of resurrection life to come is a future expectation, not a complete and present reality. We are assured of the glorious final outcome, but we still live with the reality of this present age of darkness and sin and frailty and death.

And so, as we come to Holy Communion in a little while, a foretaste of the heavenly banquet which Easter Day inaugurates, I’ll be offering prayers of anointing. I hope that we can all share the joy of Easter hope today, but if you have also come this morning with a keen sense of Good Friday suffering then I invite you to step aside from the Communion line, offer your hands and your forehead, and be anointed with oil. It’s entirely optional and you don’t need to justify yourself to me, but if you find yourself in need of healing, forgiveness and peace this morning then please come to me as you go up for Communion.

May you know the power of the risen Christ living in you this morning, may you know the love of the Father who sent his son to inaugurate his new creation, and may you be inspired by the Holy Spirit to live in Easter hope, ever looking for the living among the dead.

Amen.

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