The birth of hope and death of death…

Posted by on Apr 1, 2018 in Blog | 0 comments

I always enjoy preaching at my home church, Carey, and this morning got to speak at the Easter service. I spoke on the theme of “Easter as invitation” and this is roughly what I said…

Invitations. Have you ever had a discussion with friends about who has had the most impressive invite in your group?

I took part in that discussion once and quickly realised I was completely outclassed when two British friends started to argue amongst themselves as to whether his invitation to have dinner with the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair was more impressive than her invitation to have afternoon tea with the Queen. His argument was that his dinner was a fairly exclusive affair – with only a dozen people at the dinner party, whereas her afternoon tea with the Queen had been attended by a much larger crowd. She argued back robustly that a Queen trumps a Prime Minister – after all, Tony Blair might have been prime minister at the time, but isn’t now (Tony who?), whereas the Queen is still on the throne – to which he replied that cucumber sandwiches, even with a Queen, are all very nice, but they don’t really compare to a multi course dinner and equally multiple drinks with a Prime Minister.

Got to admit that I felt a little out of the conversation, although I was pretty impressed.

It set me thinking about invitations – those accepted, and those declined.

Take resurrection morning. Sunday. A small group of woman, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of Jesus and a few others have agreed that they would like to honour the body and memory of Jesus by making sure that it was properly anointed with spices. His hurried burial on the Friday had not met with their approval – but the approaching Sabbath and its many restrictions had severely limited what they were able to do. How was that anointing group selected? We have no way of knowing. Someone must have taken the initiative – as someone always has to. Did it begin as a sad conversation…

“Can’t believe this has happened. So alive one minute – and then that terrible agonizing death. Crucifixion. Barbaric Romans. So inhumane. And we didn’t even get to bury him properly. We should do something about it.”

“Yeah – I was thinking the same thing. Why don’t we collect our best spices and give him a proper burial.”

“Sure – you going to come with me.”

“Absolutely. Count me in.”

“And you? What about you Mary. You going to come as well.”

Having made the plan – the invites would have started to go out. “Will you join us? Have you got something you can bring?” It would have been considered women’s work, so men would have been excluded. I wonder if any of them said: “No, count me out. I’m exhausted. Been a draining little spell. And you are wanting to set out at such an unearthly hour. Thanks for the invite, but no thanks…”

We have no way of knowing, but was there someone who politely declined and forever afterwards kicked themselves for missing the opportunity to have been one of the first witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus – witness to hearing the words of the angel, t”his Jesus who was crucified has been raised again from the dead”?

You really don’t want to miss some invitations, do you?

Or put yourself in Thomas’s shoes. As one of the 12 disciples it would have been only right for him to have stayed with the rest of them as they tried to figure out their post crucifixion strategy. Did they have any future now that Jesus was dead and buried?

But it is all a little much for Thomas. We don’t know why Thomas was missing from action in the event recorded in John 20 – where we are told that the resurrected Jesus suddenly appeared to his disciples, but that Thomas wasn’t there at the time.

We do know that rather than admit that his absence had been a serious mistake, Thomas goes the bluster route. “Resurrected Jesus. Rubbish. I won’t believe that. We all know that dead is dead is dead. Like I missed something. The only thing I missed was seeing you all hallucinate. Unless I see the nail prints in his hands, and the spear wound in his side, I will not believe that he is resurrected.”

So annoying when people who weren’t there think they know more than those who were. But this time missing the party turns out to be not too serious. Thomas stays with the disciples a while, and Jesus returns. “Thomas, about those nail prints – here they are. About the spear wound – here it is.”

No bluster from Thomas this time. Just a collapse to his knees and the affirmation, “My Lord and my God.”

That encounter with the risen Jesus transformed those disciples. They literally sacrificed their lives to spread the story. That mattered little to them. They knew the resurrection was true, and that death therefore held no fear for them. And as they spread the news, they changed the world.

Invitations. Easter is an invitation. An invitation to ask the most important questions of all. Why am I alive? Does God exist? Is Easter true? Did Jesus really live, and die and conquer death, coming to show us what is on the other side of it? Can I live forever?

Easter is an invitation to stand at the empty tomb of Jesus and to ask not just, “so where’s the body” but, “what does this mean?”

And like most invitations, it can be ignored. But why would you? The question is of such fundamental importance.

Perhaps you’ve noticed the date, this Easter, 2018 – 1 April. Ah yes… as a child I loved telling outrageous stories and trying to get people to believe them and then proclaiming – April fool, April fool.

Perhaps Easter seems a little like that. Just, who can believe this? That God loves us so much that He dies for us so that every barrier to our relationship with Him can be removed. And that in his dying he not only conquers the power of sin and death, but breaks through death showing us what is on the other side of it.

April fool? Hmmm – not so sure of that. Actually no. No, this is the story that has reshaped our world – that reshapes all of human history. It is the “ah ha” piece in the jigsaw puzzle of life. Spot this one, and everything starts to make sense as you see life in the light of it. Miss it, and nothing really fits.

This Easter, the invitation goes out again. Come stand at the empty tomb of Jesus. What does it mean? And if you stand there long enough, you will discover that it means the birth of hope and death of death. It’s the start of the party that is eternal life.

The invitation has been issued. An RSVP is required. It is far and away the most important invitation you will ever receive…

As always, nice chatting. Incidentally, with Easter approaching, I’ve noticed that an old post from 2015 “Easter Cancelled, they’ve found the body…” has had heaps of downloads from all over the world. Here is the link if you are interested.

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