St John the Baptist Parish Church

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Sunday Sermons

Sunday 16th April - Easter Day 8am

Theme: The meaning of the resurrection

Readings: Acts 10:34-43

               Colossians 3:1-4

               John 20:1-18

This year the National Trust has re-named their Easter egg hunt: “The Great British egg hunt”. They have turned an event celebrating the most important Christian Festival of the year into a nationalistic one. Yet, another indicator of the fact that we live in a secular society and example of political correctness gone mad. If it were not for Easter, they would not be hosting an egg hunt at all.

But take heart - by contrast, Mr Sainsburys sent me a “Happy Easter” card, adorned with eggs and an Easter bunny, enclosing a £3 voucher to spend in store.

Why do we have Easter eggs anyway? That is probably a question for the all age service, but in case you need a little reminder, Easter eggs symbolise both life and death. On the one hand, the egg reminds us of the stone rolled in front of the entrance of the tomb where Christ was laid. On the other, it signifies new life: as the chick hatches out of the egg, so Christ was raised from the dead and we are given new life in Christ.

A symbol is something that stands for something else, it is multivalent; it has layers of meaning. The National Trust, among others, has sought to empty the Easter egg of its meaning. It is now just an ordinary egg, with no point of reference beyond itself. Secular society becomes vacuous – there is no purpose beyond the experience itself – in this case a chocolate egg hunt.

But if we dare to peer into the empty tomb, the Easter experience leads us beyond the veil of this world to the heavenly realm beyond.

This morning we heard John’s first hand encounter with the empty tomb but it is Mary Magdalene who sticks around and comes face to face with the risen Christ. Easter is imbued with meaning.

What was the meaning for the disciples?...

The disciples were slow to apprehend the meaning of it all. It is certainly not what they anticipated. No one thought of “resurrection” as happening to one person within ongoing history. It would happen at the very end, when God would raise all his people to share in the new heavens and new earth. This belief system needed a reappraisal; a radical reorientation of their world view. One man had been raised from the dead, not like Lazarus into the same mortal body, but this time raised immortal. Jesus had gone through death and back out the other side. It was earth shattering.

All the things that Jesus said about himself, which the disciples failed to grasp at the time, shifted into a new focus in the light of the resurrection. Jesus was more than their rabbi, their friend, their master, their servant; the evidence was overwhelming that he truly was the Messiah, the Son of God. The chasm between heaven and earth had been bridged. A new era was dawning, which would still take them a little time to fathom.

By the time of the post-Pentecost reading from Acts, the whole jigsaw was coming together. Peter delivers the gospel in a nutshell in the house of Cornelius, a Gentile. Peter was well qualified for this, having borne witness to the events. The new thing for Peter to learn on this occasion was that Jesus was truly Lord of all – this was not salvation for the Jews alone but for the whole world. Peter declares: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

And so, what is the meaning for us today?...

The invitation to believe in Jesus, receive forgiveness of our sins and the gift of eternal life, stretches through the bounds of time. We might inhabit a different context and culture but the gospel message remains unchanged. In a postmodern and post-truth society, which devalues the past and preaches that the latest is always best, it is easy to lose sight of timeless matters of truth. This world may be temporal but it is not all that exists. Jesus invites us to exchange the temporal for the eternal.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul writes: “if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above”. This does not make our life on earth irrelevant but rather it becomes shot through with the things of heaven. As we go about our daily lives, if we are followers of Christ, we also inhabit another reality, a heavenly reality which can transform the earthly reality in which we live. If we surrender our small kingdoms, to His greater kingdom; if we allow Christ to become the centre of our lives, displacing our self-seeking egos, then we will bring about his kingdom inch by inch. We will learn to be guided by Him and find our true purpose in life.

And so this Easter, surrounded by the eggs, chicks and bunnies, we remember that they are not an end in themselves but point to a more profound historical event which impacts our lives today. To conclude with a poem by Peter Dainty[1]:

 

Chicks

When chicks hatch out of their eggs

and stand on their spindly legs,

chirping a cheery song

in the new world to which they belong,

they remind me of Easter Day,

when the Lord Jesus broke away

out of the dreary tomb,

in a garden where flowers bloom;

and the birds sang a loud song of praise

to the God who alone can raise

a man from the grip of death,

and give to a chick new breath.

Amen.

Rev Lisa Cornwell


[1] The Electric Bible, p.163