Tag Archives: Easter

The spirit of Easter: A sermon for Easter 2


Easter 2 – Freedom Day

SCRIPTURE:    Acts 2:14a, 22–32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3–9; John 20:19–31

The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed.

Today is the second Sunday of Easter; the day Jesus appeared again to his disciples in the upper room, and in particular, to Thomas.

Today is, of course, also Freedom Day (South Africa’s 20th ‘birthday’). I think that South Africans in 1994 had a lot in common with those who were around Jesus.

Change
The difficulty that the Jews had with Jesus – whether they were part of the establishment, or Zealots working against the status quo or the disciples themselves – the problem they had didn’t lie with Jesus, but with what they expected from their Messiah: what he should look like, how they expected him act, what he would teach.

That the Messiah would change the status quo was pretty much a given, whatever party you belonged to. But to what extent, and how ruthlessly was up for grabs. Much the same as South Africa in the early 90s. Apartheid had to go. That was a given for everyone, except for a few diehard denialists. But how it was to go and what would take its place was very much under discussion (to put it politely). Continue reading

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under Easter, Worship & Preaching

A meditation for Easter Sunday


This was my contribution to Prestbury Methodist Church’s  2014 Lenten Diary. The word was ‘Lamb’. (See previous post.)

Reading. John 1:29
The next day John (the Baptist) saw Jesus coming to him, and said, ‘There is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’

Meditation
The Lord is risen.
The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, is risen.
Lord, take away the sin of violence and terror that is tearing our world apart; the sin of greed and corruption that destroys trust, tarnishes every transaction and threatens to rot our society to the core; the sin of pride and arrogance that perceives love as weakness and self-sacrifice as foolishness.

The Lord is risen.
The Lamb of God, who takes away my sin, is risen.
Lord, take away the pride and arrogance and, yes, the violence within me. Help me to listen when you tell me that ambition is becoming an excuse for selfishness and greed. Warn me when confidence and conviction provide cover for pride and arrogance.

When Andrew heard John’s words, he found out where you were staying, called his brother and he followed you for the rest of his life. Lord, I hear the same call. Help me to follow.

The Lord is risen.
He is risen indeed!

Prayer
Lord, you are alive. You are alive to my sin and to my brokenness. You are alive to the sin of the world and to its desperate cries for help. Forgive me, Lord. Fill me with your love and use me as an instrument of your risen power, today and every day. Amen.

See also:
Easter: The act of God that changes everything — Lenten Diary 2013
Easter Sunday: Is “Amen” the end, or just the beginning? — Lenten Diary 2012

 

2 Comments

Filed under Easter, Lent, Prayers and Meditations

Easter: The act of God that changes everything


Reading. Luke 24:1–6
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen!”

Meditation
Why look for the living among the dead? Well, where else to look when all hope is gone? Where else, when cleaning up and dressing the body is all that is left to do?

And you and me? What has our faith become? Are we just dressing the body of Jesus? Is our worship simply a repetition of rituals (new or old), remembering a dead saviour?

The angels dressed like lightning have a message for us. “He is not here; he has risen!” It is the act of God that changes EVERYTHING. Nothing can ever be the same again. Our waking up, our family relationships, our attitude to neighbour, the work we do and, indeed, our worship—everything changes.

If Jesus is alive, he is sitting with you as you read this. If he is alive, he is with you as you greet your spouse, child, friend or neighbour.  He is there when you sit at your desk or pick up the tools of your trade. If Jesus is alive, he shares every meal with us, enters every conversation, and shares in every choice we make. And he asks, “How can love change this relationship, this conversation or this action? How can love change everything?”

“Christ is Risen—He is Risen indeed.”

Prayer
Lord, sometimes the implication of your resurrection makes us afraid. But you do not come to judge; you come to give us life—life infused and strengthened with love. Help us to acknowledge our brokenness today, our own weakness and vulnerability; and, in the power of the risen Christ, help us to choose love today, in every situation and every relationship. 

My Easter Sunday contribution to the Prestbury Methodist Church Lenten Prayer Diary. See note on Easter Saturday: Joseph, the secret follower.

5 Comments

Filed under Easter, Prayers and Meditations

Easter Saturday: Joseph, the secret follower


Reading. Luke 23:50–54
50-51 There was a man named Joseph from Arimathea, a town in Judea. He was a good and honourable man, who was waiting for the coming of the Kingdom of God. Although he was a member of the Council, he had not agreed with their decision and action. 52 He went into the presence of Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took the body down, wrapped it in a linen sheet, and placed it in a tomb which had been dug out of solid rock and which had never been used. 54 It was Friday, and the Sabbath was about to begin.

Meditation
There are many legends about Joseph of Arimathea, but far more important is what the Bible wants us to know. Whatever he may have done later in life, all four Gospels tell us how Joseph buried Jesus in his own tomb; and he is one of very few people whom all four mention by name—a suitable honour.

John tells us that Nicodemus helped Joseph with the body of Jesus. Both were secret followers of Jesus. Perhaps in their fear they encouraged each other in their faith.

But the hour that changed everything for Joseph was when Jesus was put to death. Perhaps the cock crowed for Joseph as well as for Peter that night, but at the most dangerous moment, he declared himself. Joseph had been afraid; now he knew that the Way of Jesus was not a private, secret thing. Jesus demonstrated God’s love in his life and in his death; it was time for Joseph to do the same. He left his Sanhedrin colleagues to do their worst, and declared his love for Jesus. The secret follower moved into the spotlight in the most public act of support for Jesus of that entire weekend.

Our Easter journey is nearly at an end. What needs to change in your life and in your relationships? How can you express God’s love in your relationship with Jesus, with your family, with your work, with the creation?

Prayer
Lord, thank you for the faithfulness of Joseph of Arimathea. You helped him overcome his fear and stand tall and strong. Though I may feel small and weak and vulnerable, give me boldness to demonstrate your love in all my relationships today.

It was my privilege this year to write the Easter Saturday and Sunday contributions to the Lenten Prayer Diary our church produces each year. It is an amazing collaborative effort with more than 40 members of our congregation contributing around a given theme. This year the theme was John van der Laar’s book, The hour that changes everything.

4 Comments

Filed under Easter, Lent, Prayers and Meditations

Easter celebration, a matter of life and death


Easter

Easter (Photo credit: 427)

We went to the gym last weekend (Easter Saturday morning); I hope everyone is impressed.  Oh alright, to be brutally honest, after swiping our cards and going inside, we sat down at the coffee shop to enjoy a healthy breakfast.  What weights?  What treadmill?

While enjoying the fare we heard the folk at the next table talking about religion, and bits of their conversation drifted over to us.  “You know what they say,” one of them joked.  “Jesus saves, but Moses headed it in on the rebound.”  (I wondered whether it would become more profound, or was that it?)

“Religion’s a good thing I suppose,” said one. “Especially for those who are dying; it helps people get ready.”  (Well, it wasn’t much, but it was better than the joke.)

“Yes, that’s true,” another one added.  “But really, I don’t believe all this Christianity. I mean, Christ wasn’t really born on 25 December. That was just a pagan festival. The people who invented Christianity decided to use it because it would get more people involved.” (That’s what he said: “Invented”.)

“Ja,” another one agreed. “Easter too, with those Easter eggs.  It’s all part of a fertility cult that the Christians have taken over.  It’s not Christian.”

On the same day a man was quoted in a vox pop conducted by The Witness.  “I do not celebrate Easter, neither do I associate myself with anything that has to do with this holiday. I’m a Christian and don’t believe that it has anything to with Christ.” 

Well, however cynical it all sounds, all of them have got it right; but they have also, sadly, got it spectacularly wrong.  Of course we don’t know when Jesus was born; we could use any day of the year.  It’s not the day that matters, or what other people do with it; it’s what we do with it.  Whether it’s on that day or another, we celebrate with the angels: “Glory to God in the highest, and to earth peace and goodwill to all humanity.”  Immanuel, God with us.  That’s something to sing about. That’s something to be excited about.

There are those touched by Christianity who refuse to celebrate Christmas.  For some it’s a theological rejection of the humanity of Jesus, but that’s a topic for a different time.  Others refuse to celebrate Christmas and Easter because they have been commercialised.  But that means they have thrown out the Babe of Bethlehem with the bathwater of commercialisation.  How sad to allow the world to dictate what we will hold on to and what we will discard. If the world misinterprets or misappropriates part of our faith, must we jettison it?  In that case, instead of confidently proclaiming our faith, we are constantly looking over our shoulders, and we end up with a cut-and-paste set of beliefs pretty meaningless to everyone, including ourselves. 

I have absolutely no theological or religious reason for eating hot cross buns.  I eat them because I like the taste, and I love the tradition of eating them after service on Good Friday, and on Easter Sunday morning just after a sunrise service.  On the other hand I don’t eat Easter eggs as a rule.  But again there is no theological reason.  I simply like chocolate too much to spend money on a hollow shell made from poor-quality chocolate.  Of course, if you insist on buying me a Lindt bunny (or reindeer) you will find me most gracious and appreciative.

But do Easter eggs and Easter bunnies, or a white-haired old man in a red coat, define our faith?  Are they even peripheral to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus? Of course not.  Yes, the commercial word has muscled in; that’s what it does.  But that’s got nothing to do with us and our faith, or with how we celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection, or with how we share the Good News with the world.

What happened that first Christmas and that first Holy Week goes way beyond such trifles.  And it is far greater than our celebration of it in any form.  I also have news for my neighbours at the gym: it goes way beyond preparing us for death.  It is not about death, although a death is at the heart of it, but about life.  God has always participated in history not to prepare us for death but to prepare us for life—life in all its fullness.

When we as Christians bicker about Halaal stickers on “our” hot cross buns, or when they should be eaten, or whether people of other faiths should be allowed to have Christmas Day off work, we cheapen our faith, and we give the impression to a cynical world that faith is trivial and has no real meaning for life.

When we spend more time quarrelling about the “right” way to worship than we do reaching out to a broken world, when we spend our time pointing out the faults and shortcomings of others, criticising and condemning instead of encouraging, we engage in activities that lead to death rather than life.

In our worship and celebration, in our ceremonies and traditions, let us never forget that it’s about life not death, and that the focus is on God and not on our limited understanding of him.  Let’s put aside those things that hinder our relationship with God or our relationships with others, or that make it difficult for others to relate to God.  If they are too precious to put aside then let us at least ensure that in the way we live and the way we celebrate we keep the focus on Jesus, and not on the mere elements of our celebration.

1 Comment

Filed under Christmas, Easter, Through the Year

Easter Sunday: Is “Amen” the end, or just the beginning?


“Amen”

Amen; the very last word of Handel’s Messiah, sung about 49 times for emphasis.

But what does it mean?  The end?  Does it mean, “That’s done and dusted, you can all go home now”?  Well, that might be true at a performance of Handel’s Messiah.  And in our prayers “Amen” often just means, “That’s the end of the prayer; we can move on now.”  But forty-nine Amens suggest that Handel wanted to convey something more.  

Amen is a Hebrew word.  Used in response to someone else’s words it means, “That’s true,” or “Let it be true; so be it.”  Jesus used it uniquely at the beginning of some of his own sayings—usually translated “Verily” or “Truly”, as in John 3:3  “I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again” (GNB).  The Message translates it, “Listen very carefully”.   It suggests that this isn’t something to say a casual “Amen” to and then carry on as before.  This is going to change your life, so listen up.

The Interpreter’s Dictionary describes Amen as “an exclamation by which listeners join in what they have heard, and affirm their readiness to bear the consequences of this acknowledge­ment.”

On this great day, we declare, “The Lord is risen; he is risen indeed.”

What now?  Jesus, who died for you and for me, and for our neighbours, and for our enemies and friends, is risen, and we say, “Amen!”  But does it mean that is the end, and now we get on with our lives?  Or does it mean that we affirm our readiness to bear the consequences of our acknowledgement, to allow the risen Christ to reign in our lives, and to follow him in the world?

The Lord is risen.  Will you let that change your life today, forever?

Prayer
Risen Lord Jesus, you said “Amen” to your Father’s plans, and laid down your life for me.  Let my “Amen” today affirm my commitment to bring your life into my world, and the world of my friends and enemies alike, today and every day. Amen

This was my contribution for Easter Sunday to “The Lent Diary”, a devotional project of Prestbury Methodist Church to which some 40 different people contribute each year.  This year the meditations were based on the readings used in Handel’s Messiah (My mother edits the Diary; maybe that’s why my contributions get published each year?)

4 Comments

Filed under Easter, Meditation & Prayer