Celebrating the Resurrection

Pastor Kim Gilliland
Easter Sunday
SCRIPTURE: Luke 24: 1-12 and 1 Corinthians 15: 19-26
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep
1 Corinthians 15: 2- (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 defeated the chains of sin and the gates of hell so that all put their faith in Jesus Christ could 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 distance but the memories were still fresh the disciples. They had followed Jesus for three years throughout the Judean countryside. They had witnessed the miracles and seen the healings. Those were important and awe inspiring. But even more important were the words that Jesus spoke.

Jesus had told them so many things and given 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 and taught so many other things. His teachings were so great that the disciples were convinced beyond the shadow of the doubt that he was the one who was the 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. And 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 and 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 was. It was finished.

But, in their despair, the disciples had forgotten two other things that Jesus taught them. And 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 said 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 didn’t know what he meant when he said that he had authority to lay down his life and take it up again. They’d never seen such things so they 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. So let’s give them a break on that.

But then it happened. Brian read this morning how, very early in the morning, the women went to the tomb to embalm Jesus’ body and discovered the empty tomb. Jesus wasn’t there. His body wasn’t there. But two angels were there and they told the women the Jesus had risen. Then the women remembered what Jesus had said about being crucified and rising again the third day.

So they ran back, all excited, to tell the other disciples. Not surprisingly, the others looked at them like they had two heads and they did not believe the women because their story seemed like nonsense to them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb. There he found things just as the women had said and he wondered to himself what had happened.

The disciples, of course, eventually got it. Jesus showed up in all of his resurrected glory and convinced them that he really had conquered death and risen from the grave. But it took some convincing as you might well expect. It was not an easy sell. But they eventually believed Jesus and that is why we are here today celebrating the resurrection.

A GREATER HOPE

That’s the first thing the disciples forgot, that Jesus would rise from the dead. The second thing they forgot – and the thing that we often forget too – is that not only did Jesus rise from the dead, not only was he resurrected, the same thing will happen to us as well. 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. The value just changes into something eternal. That’s why the Bible says, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

There are all kinds of places that people can put their hope in this life. And some of them are really good things. A lot of people put their hope in science. I have no problem with that. Science is great stuff. Because of medical science, people are healed of diseases and, if they aren’t healed, at least they are given longer lives with better quality. Because of technology, we have the internet and cell phones and all kinds of things that we think are essential, even though past generations somehow managed to get a long quite well without them.

Because of agricultural science, 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, on April 10, we got our first glimpse of a black hole. It took combining data from eight different telescopes on four different continents. That’s just amazing stuff. There are good reasons that people put a lot of hope in science.

They also put their hope in other things, like family. That’s a good thing too especially when they are 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. I’m all for that.

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 – although it certainly is about this life. It is also about eternal life.

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 was 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. That’s important. The first born is unique. There can only ever be one firstborn. Even twins are not born at the same time. One always comes out before the other. Sometimes, it can be the next day. 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 the person to wake up again.

And that’s where it goes back to the whole concept of resurrection. To be resurrected is to rise again from the dead or, in the terminology of the New Testament, to wake up from being asleep.

This is affirmed when it says that Jesus is the firstborn of those who have fallen asleep. What that means is that the reason we will experience resurrection is because Jesus set the pattern for us. Because he died and rose again, so too will we.

That’s a part of basic Christian theology that some people find a little spooky and so we sometimes avoid talking about it as much as we should. But we should talk about it more because it is part of what Jesus taught. And if Jesus taught it, we should too.

DEAD IN ADAM, ALIVE IN CHRIST

1 Corinthians 15:21-22 (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.” What this is referring to is right back at the beginning of the Bible, in Genesis, Adam and Eve were in the garden of Eden. And they were initially sinless. But God gave them a few rules to follow. They were pretty simple. Adam and Eve could eat from any of the plants in the garden except for one tree. It was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and it was growing in the centre of the garden. Other than that, they could eat anything they wanted. You’d think those would be pretty easy rules to follow. There was all kinds of food: tomatoes, potatoes, pomegranates, apples, pears, Brussel sprouts – you name it. It was there. 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.

So what happens? The serpent tempts Eve who eats from the tree. She tempts Adam who also eats. They suddenly realize that they are naked and rush to make themselves some clothes. And when God next comes to visit them, God sees the clothes, realizes that something is wrong and says, “Who told you that you were naked?”

Adam and Eve were busted. God tossed them out of the garden of Eden where they would live by the sweat of their brows. Why? Because in disobeying God, they had sinned. And the wages of sin is death. “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.”

The reason why we need to be resurrected is because we all die because we all sin. The reason we will be resurrected is because Jesus is the firstborn of the dead. Because he rose again, we too will rise with him.

The next verses 1 Corinthians 15:23 (NIV) says this: “But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.” All this verse really does is emphasize what has already been said. That because Jesus Christ rose from the dead – the firstfruit – so too will be we raised from the dead just like him.

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 is 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. And 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 sometimes 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 sigh. 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 like 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 give thanks also for the generous donations of those who want to help restore Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Not only is it an architectural wonder, it is also an international symbol of the Christian faith.

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 Sharon and Mary. May your Healing Spirit fall upon them with power and grace.

We pray also for our nation. There have been many changes in provincial governments over the past few months. We ask, O God, that all parties in all provinces may work together for the benefit of all people and that we may come together as a people as divisions are healed.

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 21, 2019 / 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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