Sermons

Sun, Apr 04, 2021

Christ is risen! Hallelujah?

A sermon for Easter Day
Series:Sermons

“Jesus Christ is risen today,

Our triumphant holy day,

Who did once upon the cross, 

Suffer to redeem our loss, Alleluia!”

 

Easter is a “joyous” occasion––

it almost goes without saying…

it’s such an ingrained part of our Christian psyche.

According to Mark Wilson––

the National Director of Australian Baptist Ministries—

“Being nailed to a cross outside Jerusalem”…

was 

“God’s plan to pay the price and make a way for you and me to have a personal relationship with God. Forever…

That is why we celebrate Easter”.

 

But is it?

 

Not according to the author of Mark’s Gospel!

Like all of the Gospel writers, he doesn’t offer any explanation…

or any interpretation…

of the Easter events.
He doesn’t––

in any way, shape, or form––

speculate upon what it might mean.

Nowhere does the author suggest that the cross was necessary for God to forgive.

Indeed, the fact that Jesus forgives people throughout the course of his ministry…

seems to negate that whole idea.

Of course, Wilson’s argument is predicated on the whole…

God-is-angry-at-our-sin-and-punished-Jesus-in-our-place-without-which-we-couldn’t-be-forgiven…

theology––

a theology which I have argued against numerous times.

So I’m not going to go there this morning.

 

Nor do I intend to dwell on the issue of how we understand “resurrection” itself.

Of course, there are some who understand the whole thing absolutely literally––

and I don’t just mean that they understand the story of the first Easter as literally and historically true.

I mean the whole concept of resurrection––

some understand it literally.

But there are others who find that hard to accept––

indeed, who find it unintelligible, especially in the modern world––

and who think that it’s better to interpret the resurrection as a foundational myth…

or, in the words of Bishop Spong, as “ultimate truth and literal nonsense”.

And, while I’m very much inclined towards the second camp…

as I said…

I don’t really want to go there this morning, either.

 

But I do want us to hear the story in Mark’s Gospel…

his surprising take on the resurrection…

even if, for some of us, that means approaching it with what Marcus Borg describes as “post-critical naiveté”––

that is, hearing the story as “true”…

even while knowing that it’s not “literally true”.

 

And when we turn to Mark’s version of the Easter story…

we discover that the author doesn’t just omit any reflection upon the meaning of the Easter event…

he doesn’t even present it as an occasion of joy.

The author finishes his story of Easter––

and, indeed, he finishes his whole Gospel story…

with the reading that we heard this morning.

The verses that follow our reading were not written by the author…

and were not part of the original.

In other words…

the author concludes his story:

So the women went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid”.

According to the author, the response to the resurrection of Jesus was fear

a fear so profound that it caused them to tremble––

sheer, absolute terror…

a sort of pee-your-pants terror.

 

What were these women so terrified about?

 

Was it because of what they saw?

 

No!

I mean, it’s not like they ran off as soon as they saw the empty tomb;

or, even, when they saw the so-called ‘young man dressed in white’.

Their initial reaction was alarm, not sheer terror.

Instead, they waited.

They looked.

They listened.

It was only then that they ran off in terror.

 

Were they afraid because they thought that they wouldn’t be believed?

No!

Note… 

we’re not talking about a mild sense of panic, concern, or anxiety.

They were physically shaking with fear.

Thinking you won’t be believed wouldn’t produce that kind of reaction.

 

Were they afraid because they thought that Jesus’ body had been removed––

that it had been stolen or relocated?

No!

That would provoke a different range of feelings— 

like anger, outrage, or confusion.

It wouldn’t produce utter terror.

 

Their terror isn’t a response to seeing the empty tomb.

Rather, it’s a response to the report that Jesus has been raised.

Their terror is a response to the possibility of resurrection itself.

That’s what fills them with utter terror.

 

But why?

Why would the resurrection of Jesus provoke such profound fear?

 

Even today, with all of our advances in technology and medicine, we all die––

at some point.

It really is the one great certainty in life––

a fact that we all have to come to terms with, at some point.

Everything that has a beginning, has an end.

What is born, dies.

End of story.

 

But what if death isn’t a certainty?

What if death isn’t an absolute?

 

Then everything we have always believed…

everything we have always taken for granted…

everything we have always assumed to be true…

our whole way of seeing the world––

even God––

begins to crumble or is shattered.

If the certainty and inevitability of death is destroyed—

then we live in a world that is not fixed.

We live in a world where nothing can be taken for granted anymore––

a world where nothing is secure or certain.

Paradoxically, the resurrection symbolises the death of all of our certainties.

If death has been overcome––

if the one great certainty in life is no longer certain…

if the one thing that we take for granted cannot be taken for granted––

then reality is wide open.

There are no longer any absolutes.

The resurrection symbolises the death of all of our certainties:

I could never forgive that person;

I will never find anyone to love;

there will always be war;

we can never feed everyone;

the rich will always get richer and the poor, poorer;

multi-national corporations will always exploit the third world––

and they will never seriously cut greenhouse gases;

HIV/AIDS will never be eradicated from Africa;

LGBTI people will never be accorded the same rights as everyone else…

and they will never be fully embraced by the Church;

there will never be genuine reconciliation between Aboriginal and white Australians.

The symbol of the resurrection challenges all of our certainties.

It challenges the inevitability of greed, prejudice, hatred, violence, and injustice.

Every assumption that debilitates us…

every assumption that constraints us…

every assumption that oppresses us… 

loses its power.

If the resurrection symbolises the death of all of our certainties…

then it also symbolises the birth of unimaginable possibilities.

It challenges us to embrace a vision of God––

and of the world…

and of human community––

that is shaped by freedom…

compassion…

peace…

justice…

inclusion…

equality…

wholeness…

reconciliation…

and abundant life.

The resurrection symbolises for us the promise of “a world that is open and vast”.

 

But, then again, maybe that is terrifying!

After all, that would mean that we would have to change.

That would mean that we would have to adopt new ways of thinking…

new ways of living…

new ways of being.

We would have to reorganise our priorities…

rethink all of our structures––

social…

political…

economic…

national…

and religious.

In the end, the symbol of the resurrection demands 

that we go back and start again from scratch…

that we begin all over again.

 

Christ is risen! 

 

Hallelujah?

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