Sermon – Easter Sunday, 17th April

– Resurrection

1 Corinthians 15: 19 – 26     ‘If only for this life we have hope’

Luke 24: 1 – 12        The resurrection of Jesus

  1. Introduction.         Can someone under 12, someone still at Primary School, tell me what type of bird, what species this bird is? 

   A Dodo.  Yes.

   What can anyone still at school tell me about the bird?

   It is extinct.  Yes, that means there are no known living Dodo birds left in the world.  They lived on an island, called Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean.  The last believable report of a living bird was by a sailor in 1752.  There is a common expression associated with the Dodo.   Can someone tell me? Perhaps a teenager or if not an adult.    ‘Dead as a Dodo’.  

          In 1972, I was due to go with other members of the Royal Air Force Ornithological Society to the large island of Madagascar, off the E coast of Africa. In my preparation, I read that occasionally, remains of Dodo eggs were found on the island.  The bird was about twice the size of my drawing, about 1 m high, that is just over 3 ft or if you prefer, two cubits, high.  The eggs were probably about 8 inches (20 cm) in diameter.   Sadly, though no living birds are there either.  Also, I never went on the trip, because a political problem in the island resulted in the cancellation of our trip.       The Dodo is dead.

          Ah! But! It was announced quite recently that a group of scientists had succeeded in collecting sufficient DNA, possibly to bring to life a new Dodo, using the same cloning technique as used to breed Dolly the sheep.  If scientists can seriously think of resurrecting a Dodo, let it not seem strange that we as Christians believe that God raised his Son Jesus from the dead.  The Dodo is dead but may be brought to life.    Jesus has died.    Jesus is alive!   Alleluia!

Jesus’ resurrection.         But let’s consider the reaction of those most intimately involved on that first Easter Day.  In our gospel reading we are told that a group of women went to Jesus’ tomb very early in the morning.  The first- named is Mary Magdalene.  She is recorded in all four gospels and certainly seems to have been the prominent person at the tomb, seeing the empty tomb, the folded grave clothes and then at a later point meeting the risen Christ himself.  We rightly remember her in the Church calendar on the 22nd July.  The collect for that day, reads, “Almighty God, whose son restored Mary Magdalene to health of mind and body and called her to be a witness to his resurrection:”.    We know more about her than the others who get a mention.  In Luke’s Gospel, he records Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the others with them.  The only other person to get a mention by name is Salome, recorded by Mark in his gospel.  Presumably it would have been safer for women to go to the tomb with spices to embalm Jesus’ body, rather than any of the apostles, all men, who might have been accused of attempting to steal and then conceal Jesus’ body to ‘prove’ that Jesus had risen.

          In fact, when the women came to the apostles, they were met with incredulity.  The women’s account of the empty tomb and the angel who had met them and told them that Jesus had risen, seemed like ‘an idle tale’ (NRSV), like ‘nonsense’ (NIV).  The men were understandably fearful.  The Apostle John records that later in the day they were together behind locked doors, for fear of the Jews.   Their leader had been arrested. Would they be next?   Their situation was not very different from Ukrainians sheltering in basements with Russian soldiers advancing on their city.

          There was however, one of their number, namely the Apostle Peter, as recorded by Luke, who together with the Apostle John, as recorded by him in his Gospel, had the courage to go out and follow up the women’s story to see the empty tomb for themselves.  At the tomb John, is the one who comes to believe, before Peter, that the women’s account was true and that Jesus had risen.

          It was not easy for any of these people, followers of Jesus, to accept that, following his crucifixion, Jesus had risen from the dead. Today in our gospel reading, we focus on the evidence of the empty tomb and the angelic messenger.  This of course is followed up by various appearances of the risen Jesus to disciples, as the gospels record and as the Apostle Paul records in his first letter to the Church in Corinth, in the earlier part of Chapter 15, from which our first reading came.  Later on, we realise what a tremendous difference this all made to the apostles and other disciples, when, believing and filled with the Spirit, they boldly proclaimed right in Jerusalem, even with the temple precincts, that Jesus had risen.

  • Application.          What of us?  Do you truly believe in the resurrection.  I believe that the evidence is very good.  The implications very significant.  If we truly believe then,
    • We need not fear death,
    • We have a freedom to serve,
    • We have joy in serving,
    • We have hope for the future.

These four characteristics of the Christian are interlinked.

  • I expect many of the older members of the congregation have at some time in their lives faced death or at least its possibility in some form.  I have.  In one case, when I was 21 years old, in a serious car accident, which, as a passenger, I anticipated a few seconds before it happened, I remember thinking. ‘This could be the end’.   Actually, the outcome for me was physically quite minor, more serious for the driver, but I was certainly quite shaken up.  I never thought then or later that I would still be alive and well at 86.   I thank God for health and strength.  I don’t look forward to the process of dying.  I would like it to like that of the great 19th Century missionary to South Africa, Robert Moffat, father-in-law to David Livingstone, who went to live in Leigh for the last four years of his life, having served in Kuruman in S Africa for 50 years.  He said one day to his wife, “My dear I feel rather tired.  I am just going upstairs to lie down”, and thus he died.
  • I said that believing in the resurrection of Jesus, gives us freedom to serve.  If we know that we are doing God’s work, whatever that may be, we can trust in Jesus to guide us, to be with us in our service and not to fear the challenges on the way.
  • More than that, serving Jesus is not a matter of grim determination, it is a matter of joy, even if at times there are difficulties, challenges or even hardships.
  • Fourthly, as we journey with Jesus, we have a great hope for the future.  Death is not the end, it is not the worst thing that can happen, as some advertisements say.   Rather it is the transition to a glorious future to the joy and perfection of heaven, where there is no more suffering or mourning or death.
  • Conclusion.    Lewis Carroll in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ almost brought the Dodo back to life.  The Dodo appears briefly at the end of Chapter 2, ‘The Pool of Tears’ and then with an intelligent and active role in Chapter 3 ‘A Caucus-Race’.  I have a delightfully illustrated version of the book, from Julia’s childhood.  She found in on our shelves after I had done my drawing.  I am glad to say the two are similar.  Whatever the future of the Dodo may be, let us on this Easter day, renew our faith that Jesus has risen.

Word count: 1327 words                                                                                                                    Christopher Miles

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