Celebrating the Resurrection

Pastor Kim Gilliland
April 17, 2022 Easter Sunday
SCRIPTURE: 1 Corinthians 15: 19-26
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
1 Corinthians 15: 20 (NIV)

HE IS RISEN

Easter Sunday. It’s the best day of the year. It’s the day when we celebrate what we as Christians believe to be the turning point of history. Jesus, who was arrested, tried by a kangaroo court, beaten, whipped, and nailed to a cross where he died on Good Friday, rose from the grave on Easter Sunday. He broke the chains of sin and the gates of hell so that all put their faith in Jesus Christ can be with him forever in eternity. This is the best day ever!

That’s why we come to worship this morning and one of the first things we said was “Christ is risen!” And you shouted back, “He is risen, indeed!” And then we do it again and again to celebrate the joy that we experience today. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!

But before we go on with that, let’s take a few minutes to remember from where we have come. Good Friday is now in the rear view mirror but the memories are still fresh for the disciples. They followed Jesus for three years. They witnessed miracles and healings. Those were important and awe inspiring. But even more important were the words that Jesus spoke.

Jesus told them so many things and gave himself so many titles. He said that he was the Light of the World and the Good Shepherd. He said that he was the way, the truth and the life, the true vine and the door for the sheep. He called himself the First and the Last and the Living One, the Great I Am and the Son of Man. And then he said, “I am the resurrection and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He said so many other things. His teachings were so great that the disciples were convinced beyond any doubt that he was the one who was to come, the long awaited Messiah of God who would make all things right and establish God’s kingdom and reign on the face of the earth.

But then on Good Friday, reality struck home. Jesus, arrested, tried, beaten and scourged was marched up the hill of Calvary where he was nailed to a cross and died a few hours later. All of Jesus’ words fell away as if they were nothing at all. All of his teachings became irrelevant. All of the titles he had claimed for himself became meaningless. Then Jesus breathed his last. His broken body was hauled down and placed in a tomb. The second last thing that Jesus said as he hung on the cross were these simple words, “It is finished.” And it is. It is finished.

In their despair, the disciples forget two other things that Jesus taught. We’re going to take a look at them this morning.

THE RESURRECTION

The first thing that the disciples forgot was that Jesus also said something about the resurrection. Matthew 16:21 (NIV) records this: “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” In John 10:17-18 (NIV) Jesus says this: “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Somehow, the disciples missed this. To be honest, we can understand why. They didn’t know what to expect when Jesus said that he would rise on the third day. They’d never seen such a thing and had nothing to compare it to, no standard of measurement. And when Jesus died on the cross, who can really blame them for giving up all hope? I’m pretty sure we’d react in the the same way.

But then it happens. Very early in the morning, the women go to the tomb to embalm Jesus’ body and discovered it empty. Jesus isn’t there. His body isn’t there. But two angels are there and they tell the women the Jesus has risen.

So, they run back, all excited, to tell the other disciples. Not surprisingly, the others look at them like they have two heads. They can not believe the women because their story seems like nonsense to them. But Peter gets up and runs to the tomb. There he finds things just as the women had said and he wonders to himself what has happened.

The disciples, of course, eventually get it. Jesus shows up in all of his resurrected glory and convinces them that he really has conquered death and risen from the grave. But it takes some convincing as you might well expect. It is not an easy sell. But they eventually believe Jesus and that is why we are here today celebrating the resurrection.

A GREATER HOPE

That’s the first thing the disciples forget is that Jesus said he would rise from the dead. The second thing they forget – and the thing that we often forget too – is that not only did Jesus rise from the dead, he also said that the same thing will happen to us who believe. I want to spend the rest of the message talking about that. To do that we are going to use 1 Corinthians 15:19-26.

Let’s begin with 1 Corinthians 15:19 (NIV) which says this: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” That’s an interesting place to start because what it tells us is that faith in Jesus Christ is not only something that affects this life; it also has eternal consequences.

Yes, it’s important to put our faith in Jesus because it helps you to live fully in this life. It means that you’re never alone. It means that you have a God who hears your prayers and answers them in powerful ways. You have a God who give strength and comfort and wisdom and knowledge. And that’s all great stuff. But the value of faith does not stop when our mortal bodies die. It just changes into something eternal.

There are all kinds of places that people can put their hope in this life. Some of them are really good. A lot of people put their hope in science. I have no problem with that. Science is great stuff. Because of science people are healed of diseases. Because of technology we have the internet and cell phones and all kinds of things that we now think are essential.

Because of advances in agricultural, we can produce more food on less land than at any other time in history. And while there are still starving people in the world, many many more people have full bellies than was the case fifty years ago. Because of astrophysics we understand something about the scientific origins of the universe in which we live. These are all good reasons to put some hope in science.

People also put their hope in family. That’s a good thing too especially when the family is functioning well. Families stick together. Family members support each other because families are one of the key building blocks of society. People need to have a place to belong and to grow. They need a place where they can find security and love. We call that family. Lots of people put their hope in families.

But science is only good for this life. And families are only good for this life. What they don’t answer are the eternal questions that many of us face. What happens when I die? What happens after this life is over? If you’re someone who believes that nothing happens, that we simply cease to exist, that’s all well and good. I’m not going to sit here right now and argue the point. What I will say is that I believe that there is something beyond this life. I believe that, when we die, we are transformed into something different, something eternal. That’s why Paul’s words ring true for me: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

What this tells us is that faith is not just about this life. There is more.

THE FIRSTFRUITS

And now we get into why that is the case. 1 Corinthians 15:20 (NIV) says this: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” It begins with the affirmation that Jesus has raised from the dead. That’s what Easter is all about. But then it calls him the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. What’s that all about? The firstfruit is like the first born. It says the same thing.

The first born is the first child to be born into a family. The first born is unique. There can only ever be one firstborn. So, the first born has a special place in the family.

Jesus is the firstborn of what? He is the firstborn of the family of God. He is the firstborn of the brothers and sisters of Christ. He is the firstborn of those who have fallen asleep. But who are those who have fallen asleep? In the New Testament, to fall asleep is often used as a metaphor for dying. Why? Because when you fall asleep, you expect to wake up again. For Christians in the early Church, they referred to dying as “falling asleep” because they expected to wake up again.

Since Jesus is the first born, because he died and rose again, we too can expect to rise again after we die. Jesus set the pattern for us and so we can look forward to eternity with him.

DEAD IN ADAM, ALIVE IN CHRIST

1 Corinthians 15:21-23 (NIV) give us some hints about why we are resurrected: “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.” This refers right back at the beginning of the Bible, in Genesis, with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. Eden is great and they can live there forever with everything they will ever need. All they have to do is follow a few simple rules. Adam and Eve can eat from any of the plants in the garden except for one tree. It is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and it grows in the centre of the garden. Other than that, they can eat anything they wanted. There is all kinds of food: tomatoes, potatoes, pomegranates, apples, pears, Brussel sprouts – you name it. Have all you want. Just don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because if you do you will die.

Most of us know what happens next? The serpent tempts Eve to eat from the one tree that is forbidden and she does. Then Eve tempts Adam who also eats. Later in the day God comes to the garden for his daily visit and discovers what they have done.

Adam and Eve are busted. God tosses them out of the garden of Eden where they will live by the sweat of their brows. Why does this happen? Because in disobeying God, they sinned. And the wages of sin is death. As it says in verse 21, “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

Just like Adam and Eve, we all sin. We all make mistakes. But because Jesus defeated sin and death, we will rise with him. We might die like Adam but through faith in Jesus, we will rise like him into eternal life.

THE END

The final question, of course, is this: When will all of this happen? When will this resurrection take place? When will the dead rise again? I don’t know because that’s one thing Jesus didn’t tell us. But the Bible does tell us that it will happen during the second coming which is described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 (NIV): “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” This passage describes the second coming of Christ. It says that one day, at a day and hour unknown, Jesus will return to earth. When he does the dead in Christ – those who are asleep – will be resurrected. After they have risen to meet Jesus, then anyone who is still alive when Jesus returns will also rise to meet him. And we will be with the Lord forever. That’s good news!

And now I want to flip back to 1 Corinthians 15 which tell us what happens next. 1 Corinthians 15:24-26 (NIV) says this: “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” After we have been resurrected, Jesus will destroy all worldly powers. What he means by that is all the forces of this world that trap, oppress and imprison people and prevent them from living the full life that Jesus promised. That will happen because Jesus will establish his kingdom, completing what he began when he first walked the earth 2,000 years ago.

And finally, last of all, there will be no more death. When Jesus rose from the dead, he had a physical body – we know that from the accounts of those who met him – but it was a transformed body. His first body was mortal. It could die. In fact, it did die on the cross of Calvary on Good Friday. But his new resurrected body – the one that rose on Easter morning – is immortal. It can not die. Because of that, Jesus will live forever.

And here’s the best part. Because Jesus is the firstborn of the family of God, it means that we too, as followers of Jesus Christ, will be given transformed resurrected bodies that will last forever. And we will live in peace in God’s kingdom that in the Bible is called the New Jerusalem.

The last couple of chapters of Revelation describe it well. Listen to John’s words in Revelation 22:1-5 (NIV): “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.”

Every time I read those words, I can’t help but to smile with satisfaction. We don’t know much about the kingdom of God from this short description but we know it will be something better. It will be a place of peace and a place of joy. It will be a place of justice and a place of love. There will be no more pain and no more suffering, no more hunger and no more thirst. It will be what Eden was intended to be and we will live forever the way God intended us to live, in his presence forever and ever. Amen.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

We come to you, O God, thankful for the new life that you alone can offer. We are so blessed to be so loved by you. Unworthy though we are, you make us worthy. You save us and redeem us by the power of your grace. How can we thank you enough for the wonderful gift of resurrection which we celebrate this day?

We offer our thanks for flowers, sunshine, and warm rains that refresh the earth. We see the birds as they migrate north to their winter breeding grounds. The tulips which this week are, once again, pointing their leaves towards the sky. We give thanks that spring will not be denied. All around are signs of new hope and life.

We thank you for the people of our community who make this place a good place to be. Whether we live in Cottam, Kingsville, Essex, Windsor or anyplace else, help us to appreciate those whose only payment is the thanks that they receive. And when they don’t receive thanks they just keep on volunteering. Thank you for these examples of loving conduct for us all.

Our prayers are lifted up for the sick or recovering of our congregation and community. We remember especially Carol, Mark, Ron and Pauline. May your Healing Spirit fall upon them with power and grace.

We pray also for the people of Ukraine as they seek to overthrow the oppressor. Give them strength and courage. May the world support them in their just cause.

God of Love and Hope, God of Coming Easter and New Life, help us to increase in love for others, not only for those who like minded and believe as we do, but also for those who do not believe at all for it is they who are in greater need of hearing your message. Enable us to demonstrate your love for all people in all situations regardless of how inconvenient or uncomfortable it may be. Jesus gave himself for us as we are called to give ourselves for others. We ask that you would help us to exemplify your character at all times, and in all things. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE

April 17, 2022 / Easter Sunday

SCRIPTURE

Isaiah 65:17-25 or Acts 10:34-43*; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24;

1 Corinthians 15:19-26 (or Acts*); John 20:1-8 or Luke 24:1-12

CALL TO WORSHIP

This is the day of God’s victory!

This is the hour of salvation!

This is the perfect moment of God’s presence!

Christ is risen! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

PRAYER OF APPROACH

Living God, we lift our hearts in praise to your amazing love and power. We thank you for the assurance of your infinite blessings and promises. It is a comfort to know that the life that you offer to us is eternal. Enable us, as we worship, to better understand your sure and certain promises, to boldly lay hold of those promises, and always trust in your unchanging character and faithfulness. We come to you in life and worship to give you praise and glory. Amen.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

The Tomb lies empty. The stone is rolled away. In our celebration, help us to remember, O God, why Jesus’ lifeless body was placed there in the first place. We are not perfect. Our actions do not always reflect your love. We fall to temptation and cause pain to others. In our joy, allow us these few moments to confess our sinfulness. Take our burdens that we may stand in your glory.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

The Empty Tomb is God’s sign of new life. When we unroll the stones that hide our darkest secrets, God’s light enters and redeems us. Our God is compassionate and caring, full of love and eager to forgive. Through Jesus’ victory, we are whole and blessed.

DEDICATION OF OFFERING

Your works, O God, are many. Your love, O God, reaches to the depths of Creation. In love, we offer to you the works of our hands, made holy through Jesus’ blood and the renewing power of his Resurrection. Amen.

COMMISSIONING

Let us go in the Spirit of the Risen Christ to share the Good News of God’s redeeming grace. Through our lives, may God’s love be known and shared with all Creation.

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