Easter Day: Can it be true? Jesus is Risen!

This is my Sermon for Easter Day. I haven’t done any art work this year so am using my Resurrection Butterfly as the image for this post simply because it has had lots of people looking at it according to my site statistics. I also include the painting I did in 2020.

Matthew 28:1-10 (worth reading on to verse 15) and Acts 10:34-43

Alleluia, Christ is Risen !  He is Risen indeed!  Alleluia !

It isn’t easy to write a sermon on Holy Saturday after a full week of reflecting on the cross in Holy Week. My thoughts are full of the empty tomb, the bare church awaiting its decorations.

Yesterday was a day of reflecting on emptiness, hopelessness and the pain of the disciples left wondering what would happen next now their beloved Jesus was dead and buried.  Would they be next?

Then there was Mary, Jesus’ mother. What a difficult day that must have been for her. Not easy.  The group of people closest to Jesus did not have it easy. They couldn’t remember that Jesus had said this would happen. It was only after the resurrection that they remembered he had told them that he would die and be raised on the third day.

But yesterday was only the second day. And They didn’t know what the third day would bring. Unlike us.

It isn’t easy for some people today to share our joy this morning. You may be one of them. Some people may be finding it difficult to believe in the resurrection, to be sure that it really did happen like the bible says it did.

They are not alone. For over 2000 years many people have not found it easy to believe the claims of the Christian faith, that Jesus really was dead and really was raised to new life.

Christianity is not a speculative leap of faith; it is not just a made-up story or a myth – it is based on something that happened in history. It was a real event, with real historical evidence. It is not just an emotional decision for a select few. The two essential facts that help us see that Jesus really is alive.

1. He is absent from the tomb

There is no doubt about this. The body has gone. We know this because unlike any other faiths or political movements, the early disciples made no attempts to venerate Jesus’ tomb.

rainbows and resurrection

In fact, there is no evidence that after Easter Sunday morning they ever went back there. Why? There was no point – His body had gone!

Described in all 4 gospels – slightly different in each one – due to emphasise writers wanted to make. This year we are looking at Matthew’s gospel, so I will just comment on his evidence.

When the women arrived, not only was the tomb empty, this massive 1–2 tonne stone, was rolled away. Matthew says it was an angel – it certainly wouldn’t have been the guards. We’re told in the verses that follow today’s reading that they had been bribed to say that it was stolen, but they saw it move so therefore it couldn’t have been stolen earlier.

The fact that it is women who are the first to witness the empty tomb is very odd considering who wrote the gospels. The question is, why would they do that? In first century Jewish society women were not considered reliable witnesses. So why would the early disciples present this most important day of history, with women as the first witnesses? The answer is simply because that’s what actually happened. It was not a made-up story; they were the first to see the empty tomb. And Mary et al were the first to actually meet the risen Jesus.

We also need to realise that Mary and the male disciples had no expectation of the resurrection. Even though Jesus had told them many times what was going to happen, the penny had not dropped for them. They were as shocked and surprised as anyone would be.

As Jews, they may have believed in a future final resurrection at the end of history, when mankind in general would be raised from the dead, but they had nothing in their world-view that would suggest that a man could be raised up in the middle of history. So they were completely shocked. And so what we have here is not a concocted story, but the surprised and shocked reaction of a number of eye witnesses.

So the first essential truth is that Jesus is absent from the tomb. The second is that:

2. He is present with His people

It is one thing not to be in the tomb, but it is another thing altogether to actually show yourself alive. This is what Jesus did.   When the women met Jesus they were afraid, understandably.   Was it a ghost?  No!  They recognised him and took hold of his feet, and fell in full prostration as they worshipped him.  The detail regarding Jesus’ feet is another important piece of evidence to counter first century sceptics that he really was alive and not a ghost.   The ancient world’s understanding of ghosts is that they didn’t have feet. 

Over the next 40 days Jesus appeared to over 500 people, on eleven different occasions.   Every time they’re convinced, He is alive and as a result their whole lives are changed.  

But that was way back then…. It isn’t easy to go against the flow of scepticism in our society. You may have mixed emotions. You have found that people shrug off your faith as if it were simply a nice thing for you, but of no relevance to them. You may be tempted, as we all are, to think … have I been duped by a made-up myth?

Let’s just think about the women at the tomb – they approached feeling sad, ready to do one last thing for Jesus: anoint him for burial properly. It had been such a rush job on the Friday to get it done before the sabbath started at sunset.

They were surprised (that’s putting it mildly!) by the sudden appearance of the angel, accompanied by an earthquake and the huge stone rolling across the entrance to the tomb.

No wonder they were afraid. That is a normal response to seeing an angel. They are told, in no uncertain terms, that Jesus is not there. He confirms the fact of the crucifixion and his death and reminds them that he had told them that he would be raised.

Now, we all know that dead bodies don’t just get up and walk. They knew that. No wonder they were afraid. The angel invited them to see for themselves that the tomb was indeed empty. They didn’t have to take the angel’s word for it.

And in our journey of faith – from disbelief to curiosity and through to belief, we need to come and see for ourselves.

The women left the empty tomb, still in a state of fear but also joy mixed in. Could it be true? Usually when something is too good to be true, it isn’t. But in this case, they were to find, to their joy that it was true.

They met the risen Jesus. That personal encounter was important. He called out greetings to them and they went to him. When they recognised him, their response was one of worship.

We too, when we come and recognise for ourselves the truth that Jesus is alive and we encounter him, our response is to worship.

They then went to tell the others. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Their story and His Story – become our Story.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating.  When we taste and see that the Lord is good. We get glimpses of the glory that is ours.

Jesus’ resurrection provides the ultimate promise that life has overcome death, and that therefore death is not the end. Death is, for a Christian, just the beginning.

 I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?   (John 11:25–26)

Living with belief and trust in the resurrection enables us to be free from the fear of death but it also frees us from hopelessness and the grip of despair.

On the days between Good Friday and Easter Sunday the disciples were in the grip of despair. Their hopes dashed; their dreams destroyed.    

Despair affects all of us at some time. Sometimes everything outwardly can be OK yet we feel a real sense of emptiness. Life just doesn’t seem to have purpose.

The good news about Easter day is that the love of Jesus can overcome our despair. He can help us through some of the most trying and turbulent times in our life.

With Jesus’ resurrection God started something new.  The New World, promised long ago was dawning and had arrived.

We are living in the new era – the new age – of God’s kingdom on earth.

Over the next few weeks of the Easter season, we’ll be able to explore a bit more what resurrection means for us.  But today, let’s just celebrate:

Alleluia, Christ is Risen!   he is risen indeed, Alleluia!

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