This is a copy of my ‘sermon’ preached at the ‘Livestream’ Service from Billericay Rectory on Facebook on Easter Sunday, 12 April March 2020. If you didn’t get a chance to watch this live, you should be able to catch up at www.facebook.com/EmmanuelChurchBillericay .

Service sheets can be downloaded here:
Livestream Worship Easter Day 2020
Livestream Worship Easter Day 2020 – Visually Impaired

The link to the prayer Paula mentioned can be found here Daily Prayers For The Armour Of God

emptytomb-crosses-Easter-

Jesus’ resurrection is THE focal point of the Christian faith and Easter Sunday is the story of the impossible – a dead man comes back to life. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the cornerstone of Christianity. It explains the existence of the church; it establishes why we are here and that’s why 2.2 billion people around the world are celebrating.

Easter Sunday is the story of the ultimate triumph over evil, as God demonstrates his victory over death, the curse of this world, and it’s the ultimate story of love and forgiveness. And no matter what is happening in the world around us, pandemic or no pandemic, we celebrate the hope of the resurrection through it all. In fact we need it more than ever.

And the resurrection isn’t just a story that sits 2,000 years ago in history. It has meaning, power and hope for us today: meaning that should radically change the way we live our lives, power to transform the darkest situations, hope for even the most broken lives. In Holy Week, we remember that God suffers and works with us, in us and through us to bring good out of evil, healing from pain, new life from death and hope in the most difficult of circumstances.

In the UK, we are not used to death being ‘in the air’. It’s all around us. We see it through our screens; we hear it in the empty streets. We feel the reality of our own mortality. The reality of death. What do Christians have to offer in the face of death? The answer is – everything.

A few years ago, the world’s top historians gathered together with Time Magazine and made a list of what they considered to be the 100 most significant events in the history of the world. There were discussing things like the discovery of America, the invention of the airplane, nuclear fusion, the first printing press etc.

100 world events

Number four on the list of the most significant historical events was the life of Jesus. Now, initially, I was a bit upset that they hadn’t put it at number one, but then I realised they’d forgotten the most important part anyway.

They’d put the Life of Jesus. If Jesus had come and lived and then died like everybody else, that’s probably about the best you could say about Him – number four. Because there have been many other good teachers; moral philosophers; and other religious martyrs who have graced the world down the centuries.

But what makes Jesus different is that He is not only died on a cross, He came back to life. And nobody else has ever done that – and that’s what makes this the most significant event in history because it’s never been done. It’s a first, an original and, to date, still an absolute ‘one off.’

I always remember some graffiti that was written on a toilet door when I studied at Oak Hill – yes, they even have graffiti in theological colleges! You could say it was one of the best pieces of theology I came across whilst I was there, which is probably why it was left! It was simply this:

Tombs occupied

And the world, as a consequence of this empty tomb, has never been the same again. History revolves around this one, unique, amazing, event. It is world changing and it is life changing. I have a one-point sermon today:

The stone was rolled away: not to let Jesus out, but to let us in.

In the Gospel accounts of that first Easter Sunday morning, we read that those women who’d lingered at the cross after the disciples had ran away, went back to the tomb at dawn. I often wonder what their intentions were in going to the tomb.

Perhaps they just wanted to be close to Jesus. Perhaps they wanted an opportunity to continue their grieving and mourning – a feeling many of you will understand. They believed Jesus was dead, in fact, they’d seen, with their own eyes, Jesus’ dead body being taken down from the cross.

But it seems quite remarkable, to me, that the women didn’t believe Jesus would rise from the dead when he’d taught this truth so many times throughout his life (Matt 16:21, 17:23, 20:19, 26:32). But whilst the women wondered why the stone had been rolled away two angels appeared before them saying:

Why do you look for the living amongst the dead? He is not here; he has risen – remember what he told you?

The stone was rolled away: not to let Jesus out, but to let us in.

Of course, there are always those who doubt the resurrection ever took place: Some suggest that Jesus merely swooned or went into a coma – but those who were crucified had to be pronounced dead by a Roman soldier before they were even taken down from the cross.

A popular theory suggests that the disciples stole the body – however, a Roman guard (some of the most vicious and ruthless soldiers the world has ever seen), were keeping watch on the tomb. For them, failure in duty meant instant death. It would have been a miracle in itself for a demoralised group of disciples – who had fled in fear of their lives when Jesus was arrested, even denying him – to overpower the SAS of the ancient world!

The authorities knew what Jesus had said about rising from the dead, but they couldn’t produce a body to stamp out awkward and embarrassing rumours of Jesus NOT rising from the dead. And those disciples, who deserted Jesus to save their own skins, were so transformed by their experience in the weeks after Easter; they were willing to be put to death themselves rather than deny the fact that they had met the risen Jesus. It just doesn’t seem to add up does it? Would you die for a lie? I’d die for a lot of things: my family, my faith, my integrity – but I wouldn’t die for a lie.

I believe the resurrection could not have been maintained for a single day, for a single hour, if the emptiness of the tomb had not been established as a fact for all concerned.

History is littered with politicians, religious leaders, academics, researchers, lawyers, detectives, who have all attempted to establish that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, yet their conclusions, however disagreeable to them and, sometimes to us, state that only a resurrection from the dead can adequately account for the phenomenon they were investigating.

A former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Darling, said of the resurrection:

Lord Darling

The evidence is overwhelming.

I recognise that the empty tomb may be difficult to understand, that it may exhaust our imagination and push our ability to reason breaking point. But that is no reason not to believe in it, and in what it points to – a God who cares so much that he entered our world and shows us a better way to live.

The stone was rolled away: not to let Jesus out, but to let us in.

Did you know that, in his younger days singer Lionel Richie was a star tennis player and accepted a tennis scholarship to attend Tuskegee Institute?  Did you also know that Richie seriously considered studying divinity to become a priest in the Episcopal Church? He was also a talented musician. He ultimately decided he wasn’t cut out to be a sportsman or a priest and opted for a musical career – in which he has sold 90 million records and become one of the most successful recording artists of all time – and a multi-millionaire in the process. Guessing he made the right decision!

Lionel Richie

Anyway, I saw him interviewed on TV by Jeremy Vine, and he was explaining that he came from a very poor background but started to make money out of his singing. And one time it was his father’s birthday, and he gave his father this huge present, and his father was really excited about it.

But as he took off the wrapping paper, he found there was more wrapping paper inside. And then he took off another layer; there was more wrapping paper, and more wrapping paper. And this present just got smaller and smaller and smaller and smaller, and he could see his father’s face falling. And eventually he got to the heart of it, which was just a little tiny piece of paper. And on the piece of paper it just said this: `All debts paid.’ And his father said, `What, you’ve paid my credit card debt?’ He said, `Yeah, I’ve paid off all your credit cards.’ `Well, what about the car?’ He said, `Yeah, I’ve paid off the car.’ His father said, `Well, what about the mortgage?’ He said, `Yeah, I’ve paid off your mortgage, too’

All debts paid—that’s what Jesus did on the cross: He paid all of our debts. As Jesus said: “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

you are free

The stone was rolled away: not to let Jesus out, but to let us in.

You may be a bit sceptical about Jesus’ resurrection, but one thing we can’t deny is the experience of the many Christians down the centuries, and around two billion people in the world today, who celebrate Jesus’ rising from the dead and who would testify to the fact that a risen Jesus has changed their lives.

But some people don’t want to believe because Jesus’ rising from the dead means that He is who He says He was and that’s (almost) frightening isn’t it? Philip Yancey echoed this sentiment when he wrote:

In many respects I find an un-resurrected Jesus easier to accept. Easter makes him dangerous. Because of Easter, I have to listen to his extravagant claims and can no longer pick and choose from his sayings. Moreover, Easter means he must be loose out there somewhere.

And if Jesus is ‘loose out there somewhere’ then we have a responsibility to look for him, don’t we?  But it’s not a game of hide and seek! God doesn’t hide so we have to look for him in obscure places, he isn’t so concealed that we can’t find him; he revealed himself through Jesus.

The stone was rolled away: not to let Jesus out, but to let us in.

In the early years of the twentieth century, the explorer Ernest Shackleton put an advertisement in various London newspapers to try and find men who would join him on his polar expedition, on his ship ‘The Endeavour.’ The advertisement went like this:

Shackleton

Needless to say, there weren’t many applicants.

Jesus’ gives us a similar invitation. I’ve often said to folk that if you value your life for what it is don’t go looking for Jesus. Or, to put it a different way, if you value your life being what it is, you should stay away from Jesus. Why? Because following Jesus is a risky business.

When Jesus is around, He messes everything up! He’s an inconvenience. He changes us. He turns our lives upside down (downside up!). He challenges us our priorities and our morals and values and ethics. Strange and dangerous things happen when we follow Jesus. Our lives are never the same again.

Luke writes that the women, having heard the words of the angel: He is not here, He is risen, ran to tell the disciples who were confused, angry, fearful and hiding away? They didn’t believe what they heard but went to look for themselves.

A bit like some of you this morning, who may not believe what you’ve heard and who may want to start looking for yourselves. It maybe that God has spoken to you this morning – that still small voice that won’t go away or the sound of silence that deafens.

Perhaps it’s time for you to start trusting and believing in a God who has the power to change lives. Perhaps it’s time for you to start taking your faith seriously. Perhaps there’s that niggling doubt in your mind that Jesus could be right, he could be wrong, but you’re not sure. Is Jesus really the only way to God? Can the very little I know about him be true?

 The stone was rolled away: not to let Jesus out, but to let us in.