Alleluia, Christ is risen. Happy Easter.
It’s a great joy to be able to speak to you on this, the most important and crucial and significant Christian festival. When we celebrate the fact that God raised Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, from the dead and enabled us to become an Easter people whose song is Alleluia.
At the centre of the resurrection as recorded in the gospels, is the empty tomb. I remember as a young man, reading a book which had a big impact on me by a man called Frank Morrison. It was entitled: ‘Who moved the stone?’ It was an attempt to examine the evidence. As a scientist wanting proof, wanting analysis, I found it very convincing.
Later than that, I read a most wonderful book by Bishop Tom Wright: ‘The Resurrection of the Son of God’. That’s a huge tome in which he presents a closely argued and meticulously researched argument to the effect that when the empty tomb and the meetings with Jesus are combined, we’re presented with:
“Not only a significant condition for the rise of early Christian belief, but also, it seems, a necessary one. Nothing else that historians have come up with has the power to explain the phenomena before us.”
As people have tried to explain the empty tomb, they’ve wondered who might have removed the body. The Romans wouldn’t have done it, or if they had done so, they would have produced it in no time at all in order to show that this claim by the disciples of Jesus having risen was a lie. The same is true of anyone else. And although the Christians themselves could have stolen the body, it’s unlikely that they would have gone to their deaths proclaiming his resurrection as they did. So the empty tomb is right at the heart of our faith.
On one of my pilgrimages to the Holy Land, I was very affected by seeing a First Century tomb, which would have been very similar to the one in which Jesus was buried; with the huge stone, rolled like a millstone in front of it along a grove. No wonder that it needed several very strong men to move it. No wonder the women were so astonished when they got there to find that the stone had been moved. Of course the empty tomb itself is not a sufficient condition for the believing in the resurrection, it’s that, as Bishop Tom Wright maintains, combined with the meetings with the risen Lord Jesus. Meetings that we find recorded in the New Testament. Meetings which, in a different manner, following the ascension, have continued ever since.
The resurrection is what gives us hope. It give us the Christian hope and that hope is nothing less than that God has destroyed death; God has overcome death. It means that God’s love is stronger than anything that life can throw at us, and stronger than death itself. So it gives us hope for an eternal future.
But the resurrection is not just about the future. The resurrection is about the here and now. It’s about giving our lives now hope and meaning, purpose and conviction. My hope is that the resurrection of Jesus and its truth will so permeate your heart and your mind this Eastertide, that you will be filled with a new hope, an infectious hope, in that love of God; which created the universe, which created you and me and which raised Jesus from the dead. Yes, it was that love which raised Jesus from the dead and yearns to embrace you now and into all eternity.
God bless you this Easter and forever.