Sunday, April 1, 2018

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed – Alleluia!

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed – Alleluia!

We gather here this morning to celebrate one of the greatest historical events that has taken place since the beginning of the world – the Resurrection of our Lord. I use the word 'historical' deliberately – for ours is a faith that is grounded in history, in things that took place at certain places and at certain times, happenings which we need have no doubt are completely and utterly true. And we know that they are true because the documentary evidence that supports the facts that took place during our Lord's time on this earth are more varied and of greater reliability than we have for any other event that took place around that time.

Some will say the Gospels and the other New Testament writings are not to be trusted because the writers had an agenda. But all writers have an agenda. Why should a writer be trusted more because he wishes to glorify some military or political leader than one who wishes to share the good news of Jesus Christ? If we are to apply such a standard fairly, then we must say that there is nothing we know from written sources of what happened in the Ancient World that can be relied upon. Most would, rightly, regard such a position as nonsense; and therefore the idea that the facts as related to us as in Scripture as to the details of our Lord's life are not to be trusted are equally nonsensical. The same standards must apply to both; what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

This means that the events that took place in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover Festival in the year of our Lord thirty-three are to be accepted as absolute fact. Jesus did indeed enter the city to the acclamation of the crowds shortly before the festival began. A few days later one of his own closest disciples betrayed him for money and handed him over to his enemies, the religious authorities of the city. They, regarding him as a danger to their own power and as someone who might bring down the wrath of the Roman overlords upon the region, conspired against him, falsely accusing him of blasphemy to turn the people against him, and of fomenting rebellion so that the Romans would have cause to execute him. The governor, Pilate, saw through their deception, but allowed the execution anyway rather than risk a riot in the city and out of fear that the Jewish leaders would send false reports about him also to Rome. And so Jesus was scourged, made to carry his cross, and crucified. And after a few hours upon the cross, he died and was buried by two members of the Council, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, while women from his group of followers watched.

All are happy, whatever their religious persuasion or none, to accept this account of what happened in Jerusalem during those frightful days. And had the story ended there, no one would have raised any issues. It would simple be the tale of a holy man like Buddha, who lived and died; or a wise man like Socrates, conspired against by his enemies and executed. But the story does not end there; and that is what makes it one of the greatest historical events to ever take place. For Jesus did not remain in the grave – he rose from the dead. Such things do not happen say the scoffers. But the evidence that he did is just as good as it is for the facts concerning how he died; to believe those and refuse to believe the rest is to fail to be consistent. These are the historical facts. Jesus lived. Jesus died. And Jesus rose from the dead.

Not only is this true, it is something that all should want to be true. For it is a truth that gives ultimate meaning to all our lives. Without it the coming into being of the universe is an inexplicable occurrence; the existence of life is a matter of highly unlikely random chance; and that there is intelligent life is even more unbelievably unlikely. Without it all our lives are just the blink of the eye in the vastness of eternity – we came into being for no reason, our brief time consciousness is without significance, and soon we will die and all too quickly what we have done will be forgotten … even those lucky few whose lives and deeds are remembered for a short number of decades or even centuries after their deaths are little better off, for time will consume the universe and everything that exists will fade into nothingness.

But we know that this is not the case. We know this because Jesus rose from the grave, proving to us and all the world that what he told us was true. We have a God who loves us so much that he became man for our sakes; a God who made both the world and us; a God who created us so that once our lives on this earth was over, might live with him for all eternity in heaven.

And we know this to be true not just because it is something that we want to be true, not just because it is something that are hearts know to be true in spite of what logic and reason tell us, but because the plain and simple historical facts, documented and attested beyond all doubt, tell us that it is true. This day all those many years ago Jesus rose from the dead and left behind him an empty tomb – breaking the bonds of death for all and letting us know that our lives and every life is precious and full of meaning – not just now but into all eternity. No wonder we celebrate this day – it is something that we should celebrate every day for the rest of our time on this earth – and then, please God, continue celebrating with him throughout all eternity. For Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed – Alleluia!

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