On Friday he died. His lifeless body was taken down from the cross on Calvary and placed in a temporary tomb until the end of the Passover when the women would return and clean and anoint his body in preparation for his final burial. His friends and disciples had been there when he was arrested. They had stood at a distance while he was tried in a kangaroo court and sentenced to die. They had followed at a distance as he had carried his cross through the streets of Jerusalem and up the hill to Calvary. There he had died on that lonely hill with only his mother a few brave friends to offer what little comfort they could.
The disciples sit in silence in an upper room, too stunned to speak. All of their hopes and dreams for a better world have crashed and burned. The celebrations of Palm Sunday are but a distant memory and they wonder how it all turned around so quickly. They thought he was the long awaited Messiah. They left their families, their homes and their livelihoods to follow him. But he was defeated, destroyed, dead and along with him all of their dreams. Immersed in despair, they wonder how they could possibly have got it all so very wrong. But what they don’t know was that while Friday was a day of despair, Sunday’s coming.
If there is phrase the catches the miracle of this holy weekend, that is it. It might feel like Friday but Sunday’s coming. When we look around at the world and see the problems that exist and the hopelessness that infests the lives of so many people, it feels like Friday. It feels like defeat and death and despair. But the one thing you have to know about Friday is that it is not the end of the story… because Sunday’s coming.
There’s a message of hope there. In a world of uncertainty where people aren’t sure about their jobs and aren’t sure about the economy and aren’t sure about how they are going to make ends meet, it might feel like Friday… but Sunday’s coming.
There people who worry about their families. They have parents who are sick and children who are doing things that they should not be doing. They have daughters who run away and sons who turn to drugs. In many inner city cores there are gangs and violence and social unrest and in those places it might feel like Friday… but Sunday’s coming.
We can be in despair about the state of the world. Terrorists attack civilian targets with regularity. There is fierce fighting in Ukraine as Ukrainians seek to defeat the Russian agressor. Violence, once again, has flared in the Holy Land. Super power emissaries haggle back and forth about who is to blame for the latest international incident. And we are tempted to go and hide because it feels like Friday… but Sunday’s coming.
In all the world, there are people in need. There are people who are driven from their homes, marginalized by institutions they do not understand, oppressed by forces over which they have no control. And for them it may feel like a never ending Friday but the message of the resurrection is clear because while it may feel like Friday, Sunday’s coming.
THE KINGDOM OF GOD
This hope that Sunday is coming is not a vain hope. It’s not some pie in the sky notion or wishful thinking. It is the sure and certain hope in what Jesus called the kingdom of God. That’s the hope that we have. That’s the hope that Jesus’ followers placed in him, that he would bring about the kingdom.
After all, wasn’t that a central part of his message? Isn’t that why the people followed him 2,000 years ago? Isn’t that one of the reasons why we follow him today? For the hope of the kingdom where God lives and mercy reigns and justice flows down like a mighty river.
That’s the kingdom that Jesus preached. Almost all of his parables are about the kingdom. We forget that sometimes. But look at them. They all begin in the same way. The kingdom of heaven is like mustard seed or a hidden treasure or a pearl of great price. Or the kingdom of God is like a man who scattered seed in field or like a woman who puts yeast into a large bowl of flour. Listen up because this is what the kingdom is all about. This is central to Jesus’ message.
When Jesus was teaching his disciples to pray one of the things he said was, “Thy kingdom come.” This is the kingdom that Jesus came to bring. It’s the kingdom that he referred to in his parable. It is the kingdom towards which we are called to work today.
THE KINGDOM IS NEAR
Jesus said a number of things about the kingdom but I want to highlight two of them this morning. The first one comes from Matthew 4:17 (NIV) where Jesus said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” What does it mean that the kingdom of heaven is near. I want to be clear about what this is not about. It doesn’t mean that it’s only one heart beat away, that heart beat being your last one. That kingdom might be where we spend eternity but Jesus is talking about something more immediate than that. He’s talking about the here and now.
Here’s something that many people – even Christians – don’t understand. You don’t need to die to get to the kingdom of God. Jesus said that it is near. That’s why he matches the idea of the kingdom with repentance. He said, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.” If it was going to happen only in the future, why repent now? Why not wait? No rush. But that’s not what Jesus calls us to do because the kingdom of heaven is near.
Jesus tells us to repent and he uses that word for a very specific reason. Some people think that to repent is to apologize, to say that you’re sorry. And to be honest, there is a part of repentance that is that. To repent is to understand that you have done something wrong and to feel honest remorse for that thing whatever it might be. If you hurt someone, you should repent. If you take something that is not yours, you should repent. If you gossip about someone else, you should repent. All of those things involve an apology. You need to be sorry for those things.
But that’s not where it ends because repentance is more than saying you’re sorry. There are also two other parts to real repentance. The first one is that you’ll do your best to try to make things right and the second one is to make a commitment to not do it again. Repentance is not just about apologizing. It’s also about making restitution and changing your behaviour.
There are many examples of this in the Old Testament. The Ten Commandments, for example, are found in Exodus 20. That’s where God began to give the people of Israel the rules that he expected them to live by. One of the commandments – You shall not steal – is found in Exodus 20:15. But that’s a pretty general statement and as long as everyone agrees to follow the rules, all is well. But what happens when someone steps out of line and steals something, say a cow? Then what happens? If you flip over to Exodus 22, you’ll find out. What we discover there is that if someone steals a cow and then butchers the cow or sells it to someone else and gets caught, that person owes the original owner five cows. If, on the other hand, the person gets caught and the cow is still alive then he only owes the original owner two cows. This is part of repentance, making things right, paying restitution for the harm that we might cause to others.
But it’s also about something else. It’s about a commitment to stop doing whatever it was that caused harm to others. Let’s go back to the example of the cow thief. Say he steals a cow and gets caught. The cow is still alive so he has to give the original owner two cows. But he does it again and gets caught. That’s two more cows. You can see that this is not working out for the thief because he’s not a very bright thief and so he does it again and again and again. But eventually, if he keeps stealing cows and getting caught, he’s not going to have any of his own cows left to make restitution. What happens then? That’s where Exodus 22:3 comes into play which says that if the thief runs out of cows and cannot make restitution that he must be sold into slavery to pay for his theft.
There is a real incentive built into the Jewish laws to change your behaviour. Everyone is going to make mistakes. It’s part of life but if you keep on doing the same wrong things over and over and over again, eventually it will cost big time so you might as well change your behaviour while you still have a few cows left. And hopefully, you will change your behaviour not only because you are being forced to but rather because you have seen the error of your ways. Remember what Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery. She was about to be stoned for her unfaithfulness but Jesus saved her life. After saving her, he said, “Go and sin no more.”
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near. It requires that we have legitimate remorse for what we have done wrong, that we make restitution for the harm we have caused others but also that we make the commitment to change our behaviour. Why? Because the kingdom of heaven is near.
THE KINGDOM IS WITHIN
Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is near. In Luke 17:20-21 (NIV), he also said this: “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” It is near you but it is also within you. It is near and it is here – right in your heart. What Jesus is getting at is that if we really want to build the kingdom of God in our midst, it has to begin from within, in your heart.
That does not mean that it starts inside of you and that you can do it all by yourself. Rather, it means that the Holy Spirit plants seeds of the kingdom within you so that those seed will take root and grow and in growing they will transform who you are, what you do and your priorities. You will become a kingdom follower who can do the work of building the kingdom in this world.
Transformation is at the heart of the Christian Gospel. How many of us here today know the transforming power of the resurrected Christ in our lives? How many of us can’t imagine what life would be like had we not given our lives to Jesus. Maybe that was a long time ago or maybe it was just last year. But your world would be very different had you not given your life to Christ and been filled with his Holy Spirit. From that Spirit you have been given strength and wisdom and love beyond measure which have allowed and enabled you to become the person God created you to be from the very beginning. Let the Spirit transform you so that you can fulfill the purpose for which you uniquely and individually were placed on this earth.
CALLED TO GO
On the first day of the week Mary Magdelene and some other women go to look at the tomb. But when they arrive at the tomb they discover that an angel has rolled the stone away. It must feel like Friday all over again. All they want to do was give their teacher and friend a decent burial but even that has been denied to them. Someone must have stolen the body. Those vicious, deceitful religious leaders who had Jesus crucified, it had to be them. It had to be their scheming and conniving that is at the behind this last bit of inhumanity.
But the angel says to them, “Do not be afraid for I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. I understand your despair. I get your disappointment but I want you to know something else. It might feel like Friday but it’s not. It’s Sunday’s.” And then he says, “He is not here; he has risen just as he said he would. Come and see the place where he used to lay.”
And then the angel gives them a command to go quickly and tell the other disciples what they have seen. Jesus is risen from the dead and will soon meet them. They must feel delirious. Could it be true? Could Jesus really rise from the dead? Will they really see him again? And so they hurry off, afraid and yet filled with joy to tell the other disciples what they have seen.
As they are rushing back, they are halted by another surprise. This time it is not a angel who stops them; it is Jesus himself with his own message: “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee and there they will see me. I will meet them and they will meet me. Right now they may feel like it’s still Friday but let them know that it’s Sunday.”
Twice in these last few verses, the women are called to go. First the angel commands them and then Jesus himself repeats what the angel said. They are to go and tell the disciples that it is no longer Friday. Friday is past. it is finished. Sunday’s here and Jesus is risen.
Like those women, we are called to go and share that message. There are so many people in our world for whom every day is Friday. Because they are hungry it feels like Friday but we need to let them know that Sunday’s coming. Because they are poor it feels like Friday but we need to let them know that Sunday’s coming. Because they are lonely it feels like Friday but we need to let them know that Sunday’s coming. Because they are sick or are in prison it feels like Friday but we need to let them know that Sunday’s coming. Because they are possessed by the demons of addiction it feels like Friday but we need to let them know that Sunday’s coming. Mary and the other women were called to announce that Friday was past, defeated by Sunday and we’re called to share the same message.
And here’s the kicker. Not only do we let them know that Sunday’s coming, we also need to do our very best to bring Sunday to them by sharing the words of salvation through faith in Jesus but also by doing things that make a difference in this world so that love may abound and justice flow like a mighty river. We are called to go and be the voice of God to those who need to hear and be the hands and feet of Jesus to those who need to feel his healing touch.
And to do that, we need to know one thing and one thing only. For those people who feel like it’s Friday, Sunday’s coming. But for those who are in Jesus Christ, Sunday’s here. Alleluia!
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Holy and Mighty God, we gather to remember the Resurrection of Jesus on that first Easter Day. We thank you for the life that is ours in him. We praise you for the forgiveness and reconciliation that has come to Creation because of his victory over sin and death.
God of Mystery, we stand in awe at how Jesus was raised from the dead. Today we pray for people who have lost the sense of mystery, who are not able to believe in the resurrection and the power of new life in Christ. We pray for those who are afraid to wonder, and suspicious of things that they do not understand. Bless them with eyes of faith that will enable them to see the truth.
God of Life, you raised Jesus from the grave. Today we pray for those who mourn. Bless them with the knowledge that you are with us at the point of death and beyond, and that even after death you offer new life.
God of Power, you sent you angel to roll away the stone, and the guards fainted with fear. Teach us to trust in your strength, and not in the power of armies and guards. Teach us to be like those first Christian women and men whom you sent out to change the world.
God of Hope, you gave the disciples a new sense of purpose for their lives. Today we pray for people who feel hopeless to change what needs to be changed, or to live the way that you want them to live. Help them, and us, to know that things do not always have to stay the same. Help them to know that with you evil cannot triumph.
God of Love, your good news is for everyone, not just for a small group. Today we pray for our community, for our country, for our whole world. We pray for an end to suffering and oppression. We pray for an end to cruelty and needless death. We pray for peace and understanding between peoples who are different. We pray that our whole world might be filled with the joy of new life, and new hope, and new mystery for Jesus Christ truly is risen! Alleluia! We pray in the Risen Name of our Saviour and Lord. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
April 9, 2023 / Easter
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Matthew 28:1-10; Acts 10:34-43; Colossians 3:1-4
CALL TO WORSHIP
ONE: Christ is risen!
ALL: He is risen indeed!
ONE: Christ is risen!
ALL: He is risen indeed!
We are blessed, O God of Life, that on this day, Jesus was raised from the dead. In him we find eternal life. In Jesus you make all things new. The price of our sins if paid. The chains of death are shattered. The gates of heaven are opened. May we, who are witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection live his risen life. May we always be your Easter people, we pray through Jesus Christ who is alive forever more. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
On this day of resurrection, we remember that it is our sinfulness that took Jesus to the cross of Calvary. He gave his life for our transgressions. Despite his sacrifice, we still turn away from you and follow a path of our own making. We confess that our lives fall short of your plan and purpose for us. There are days when our sinful natures get the better of us. But you, O God, continue to offer your healing love and forgiveness. Hear our confessions … Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
The gates of hell are broken, the chains of death shattered. God’s love stands victorious over the pain of sin. In Jesus, our sins are forgiven and we have life.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
Jesus gave his life for us and called us to give our lives for others. These offerings, O God, are the visible signs of what we do for you. We come with our gifts, praying that you would bless them to your purpose and will. May they be used so that all people may come to know the joy of the Risen Saviour. Amen.
Christ has risen. He is risen indeed. Let us now rise and leave this sanctuary with the sure and certain knowledge that, in Jesus, we are redeemed. That message is ours to live and to share with all Creation.