Saturday, April 18, 2015

Why Does Easter Matter? (Easter 3, April 19 2015)

Yr B Easter 3.  April 19 2015.  St. Albans Church
Readings:  Acts 3.12-19; Ps 4; 1 Jn 3.1-7; Luke 24.36b-48

Why does Easter matter?

You might recall that last week our gospel was about Thomas and his doubts about the resurrection of Jesus, and that my question to you was “what do you need to know that Easter is real?”

This week I have another question for you:  “Why does it matter?”

Why does Easter matter?  What is the significance of the resurrection?”

This isn’t a new question.  In fact, once Jesus’ disciples managed to wrap their heads around the reality of the resurrection, this was the next question that they wrestled with and tried to answer.  Why does Easter matter?  It’s a pretty good question for us too.  After all, as a matter of historical fact, we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Easter, if those first followers hadn’t witnessed to the amazing fact that Jesus was raised from the dead.  So it must matter.  Why?

I want to start by turning to our readings this morning because embedded in them are some of the reasons why the early church thought Easter mattered, and then once we’ve had a look at these, we may want to think about our own reasons.

So here we go, seven reasons why Easter matters, why the resurrection of Jesus is so significant, as drawn from today’s readings:

Let’s start with our reading from Acts, a speech that Peter gives in Jerusalem, soon after Pentecost, perhaps a couple of months after Easter.

First reason why Easter matters, from Acts 3.12:  The resurrection is significant because in and through it God has glorified his servant Jesus.  Peter proclaims this in his speech.  Easter is a vindication of the way of Jesus.  Jesus was not just another failed would-be Messiah, whose counter-cultural ways of compassion, love and forgiveness were crushed by the might of the Roman Empire.  No, God has vindicated and glorified Jesus by raising him from the dead.  Jesus’ ways are actually God’s ways, and so Jesus’ work and mission continues in his followers, and will prevail, and you should get on-side.

Second reason why Easter matters:  It matters, continues Peter in his speech in Acts, because by raising Jesus from the dead, God has fulfilled what he foretold in the prophets.  You see, there is a trajectory here.  When the prophets were talking about justice, about caring for the weak, the orphans and widows, when they were talking about God’s grace and mercy being for all people, when they condemned greed and oppression, even though they were usually ignored, they weren’t just whistling in the dark.  They were part of a trajectory, God’s trajectory, fulfilled and vindicated in the resurrection, a trajectory and a way of living that we are called to be a part of, repenting and turning to God.  Because if we don’t, then the words of the psalmist in today’s psalm apply just as much to us as to the people of ancient Israel:

“You humans, how long will you dishonor my glory, how long will you worship dumb idols and run after false gods?”  The false gods of the 21st century are not the statues and dumb idols of the ancient world.  They are more likely to be things like the desire for wealth, fame, and power, the seeking after security, stimulation, and consumption.  Do we run after those false gods, because if we do, we’ve missed the boat, because Easter tells us that what God wants for our lives, the things foretold by the prophets and confirmed in the resurrection, is very different.

So different in fact, that a new status or identity has been given to us through the resurrection.  “See what love the Father has given us,” writes John in the letter we read this morning, “that we should be called children of God, and that is what we are.”  Third reason why Easter matters:  in Jesus’ resurrection we are made to be children of God, in fact God himself declares us to be his children.  That is a remarkable thing.  I can’t explain to you exactly how it happens.  But in the wake of Easter the followers of Jesus somehow realized, somehow experienced, that through the power of the resurrection they had been brought into a new relationship with God, best expressed as the relationship between a parent and his offspring.  “See what love the Father has given us.”  On the one hand, the image of the child of God conveys to us the amazing love that God has for us.  But we have to be careful not to limit this image to that of a young child.  We are adults, most of us, and the Greek word here can also be translated as the offspring of God, the descendants of God or the posterity of God.  We are the ones who are the inheritors of God’s ways, the ones who are to bring honour to the household of God, the ones who are the image of God in the world.  As children of God we are loved and we take on the responsibility of bringing honour to the Father and bearing God’s image in the world.

John’s letter also gives us our fourth reason as to why Easter matters:  through the resurrection the Son of God was revealed in order to destroy the works of the devil.  By works of the devil, we can reasonably assume that John means things like evil, oppression, violence, hatred, sin, and perhaps even disease and death itself.  That opens up lots of questions which we won’t get into this morning.  But the early church was convinced that Easter matters because through Easter God has destroyed the power of evil.  Even though we may still struggle with many things, ultimate victory is assured.

Let me turn now to our gospel reading from Luke.  We are now back on the evening of Easter Sunday, in fact it is probably the middle of the night.  The disciples are up, they’re talking, trying to figure out what to make of the first reports of Jesus’ appearances.  And suddenly Jesus is in their midst, and his first words to them are “Peace be with you”.

Easter matters because it brings peace.  Not just peace in the sense of the absence of conflict, but peace in the full sense of shalom:  healing, well-being, comfort, completeness and harmony.  The disciples were at that very moment something of an emotional trainwreck:  startled, terrified, disbelieving, wondering and joyful all at the same time.  In the midst of those conflicted emotions, the risen Jesus brings peace.  The disciples were full of doubt: in the midst of doubt, the risen Jesus brings peace.  Easter matters because it brings peace.

The sixth reason, according to Luke, that Easter matters is because, verse 45, it opens our minds.  Sometimes, we can be a bit close-minded.  We have our own way of seeing things, our habitual ways of understanding, our standard views of the world.  Easter opens all that up.  Easter is mind-blowing.  It gives us a new way of seeing; that leads to repentance, to new perspectives, a change of mind.  It gives us new insights into scriptures, into our story, into the story of our universe and of our lives.  The resurrection is significant because it opens our minds.  There is more to our lives and our world than we could have ever imagined.

And the seventh and last reason that I’ll draw from our readings today on why Easter matters is this:  Easter matters because it makes us witnesses of all these things.  The resurrection gives us a job to do.  It’s not just a matter of intellectual curiousity, it is a powerful reality that will change our lives.  “You are witnesses of these things,” writes Luke, and you are to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to the ends of the earth.”  That’s a big job.

Why does Easter matter?  What is the significance of the resurrection?”

The writings of the early church, and in particular our readings today give us seven reasons.  Easter matters because:

1.   God has glorified and vindicated Jesus.  His way is God’s way.
2.   God has fulfilled what he foretold in the prophets, putting us on that same trajectory.
3.   God has declared us to be and made us children of God.
4.   Evil has been destroyed.
5.   Easter brings us peace.
6.   The resurrection opens our minds.
7.   And Easter gives us a job to do.  We are to be witnesses of all these things.

Do you remember, four years ago, when Jack Layton died, he wrote a letter which he ended with the following words?

“My friends, love is better than anger.  Hope is better than fear.  Optimism is better than despair.  So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic.  And we’ll change the world.”

Those words had a lot of resonance with Canadians.  We desperately want them to be true.  But are they true, or are they just whistling in the dark, wishful thinking that just doesn’t line up with the ways of this world?

I believe they are true.  I believe that love is stronger than hate, that life is stronger than death, that our lives have purpose and meaning, that evil will be defeated and  that this universe and human history have a trajectory which is God’s trajectory.  And the reason I believe things is because of Easter.

We are an Easter people.


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