Rev’d Jonathan Gale
Acts 10: 34 – 43
Gentiles Hear the Good News
Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not 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. 42He 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. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’
1 Corinthians 15: 19 – 26
19If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.* 21For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; 22for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 23But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24Then comes the end,* when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
Luke 24: 1 – 12
The Resurrection of Jesus
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in, they did not find the body.* 4While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5The women* were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men* said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.* 6Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ 8Then they remembered his words, 9and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.*
There are all sorts of misapprehensions about resurrection ranging from zombies through to the erroneous idea that when we are in heaven we are in a resurrected state. You could say they range from the ridiculous to the sublime. One of these is as untrue as the other.
You may have heard before that the hyper-spiritualising of things is a Greek heresy based on the Platonic idea of the World of Forms and a Greek fixation that spirit was good and matter was evil. You may equally have heard that a more biblical and therefore Hebrew idea is that God made all things, that in each pause in the creation account we are told that God saw that it was good.
You may also have heard that this gives us responsibility for the physical world, we are to love it as God does in all its messiness and that the resurrection of Jesus gives us a clear message that God is in the business of redeeming (saving) the entire creation, not just disembodied souls who may sojourn for a while in the halfway house we call heaven.
All this is true.
It means we are to care for flesh and blood people suffering in a physical world. The environment, the poor, the oppressed, the discriminated against, the diseased, those threatened by warfare and greed – all these are our concern.
It also speaks very strongly to some of the sacraments Jesus has left us with – those physical acts of Holy Communion, Baptism and washing of feet – all these are to be embraced for they are shot through with the presence of God. Carrying them out infuses us with a grace that is beyond simply a sense of fun (like swinging from a branch on a windy day, or screaming down a hill on a good mountain bike.) The sacraments are more than symbolic. In them we meet God.
This too is why there is far more to spirituality than a quiet Western repose, a respectable meditative calm.
God is in the visceral too. He is in the kinetic and the noisy. He is in the ecstatic and the energetic. In short, God is in the physical – and it is for this reason that God wants us to get off our chuffs and do stuff.
Yes, God loves us coming together in orderly worship but he wants so much more. Unless we go about the business of a disciple – we are simply self-indulgent. God is as much in Peter cutting off agapanthus heads during the Working Bee as he is in Peter reciting the words of the Book of Common Prayer every second 8.00 a.m. service.
God is as much in Steven talking to Selina about Jesus as he is in Steven composing on this beautiful piano.
God wants us intentionally sharing the Gospel with people. Not knocking them over with Scriptures or yelling from the street corner. But targeting people with our love, praying for them, and when the opportunity presents itself, speaking to them about Jesus.
Physicality and being Christ’s hands, feet and mouth out there are important.
Therefore death is definitely the enemy. Paul says in the last verse of our Epistle: 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
The only reason death is “natural” is because we are fallen beings whose rebellion separated us from God. When we were cut off from the source of all life death entered the world. That’s why Jesus had to die: to defeat that which defeated us – and in he did so in our stead.
And that’s why Jesus rose from the dead to defeat sin and death. Resurrection is the pinnacle of God’s plan for you and me.
There is an afterlife! In fact Paul says 19If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
And then he goes on to spell it out:
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.* 21For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; 22for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.
Something momentous happened that Resurrection Day about 2000 years ago. It opened the way for even more than the defeat of death. It opened the way for the resurrection of all human beings. It opened the way for the eventual unification of heaven and earth – a new heaven and a new earth – a place of healing and a place of joy. That’s the good news.
I’m going to read the Easter Sermon of St Chrysostom delivered about 400AD – that would be 1 600 years ago.
The Easter sermon of John Chrysostom (circa 400 AD)
Are there any who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!
Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!
Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!
If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.
To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavour.
The deed He honours and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!
Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!
Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Saviour has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
“You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below.”
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?
Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!
And in conclusion, someone recently pointed out that John is the only gospel writer who tells us about the head piece that covered Jesus’ head when he was placed in the tomb. (John 20: 6 – 7)
Now we need to know the back story to this, as they say nowadays. Apparently in Hebrew culture at the time, when a master was eating at table, and had finished his meal, he would rise, wipe his beard, and crumple up the cloth napkin and place it aside as he departed. This meant he wasn’t coming back and the slave could clear up.
However, if he were needing to depart only for a short while, and then return, he would roll up the cloth and place it next to his plate – as a sign that he was returning.
In John’s Gospel we read 6Then Simon Peter came, following him (John), and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.