by Rev. David Coster

Acts 3:12-19 & Luke 24:36b-48

Living out what it means that God raised Jesus!

This morning, I am helping some of you to reminisce, for I am quoting two of your previous Ministers. I suspect that at some point or other both shared something of what I have to say, with you.

The Rev John Hunt, who died earlier this year, published a book of twenty-two short dramas titled, “The Drama of Good Friday.”

In one of the dramas, John has a conversation between Pilate and Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph indicates to Pilate that he would like the body of Jesus to be placed in his own tomb.

Pilate replied,
You’re giving it to this wandering teacher? Such a tomb would not come cheap, Joseph. This is a very generous thing to do.”

To this, Joseph replied, “Maybe Pilate, I am not so generous. If what Jesus said about himself is true, he will need the tomb for only three days – and then I will have it back again.”

Pilate’s response was, “Need a tomb for three days? Our tomb is the one thing we need forever! I wouldn’t count on it, Joseph! Need a tomb for three days … that’s a good one.”

I suspect that the attitude of Pilate, portrayed by John, is one that most people would probably hold to. We don’t require a grave for only three days – we require it forever.

But, and with Jesus there is always a big but, the tomb, much to Pilate’s surprise was only occupied for three days. Joseph of Arimathea did get it back.

Easter means that Jesus was bodily resurrected from the dead. This is the earliest, most universal Christian acclamation: God raised crucified Jesus from the dead.

But what does that mean for us? God raised Jesus from the dead, but that was something that happened to Jesus. What happens to us? What does this mean for us?

The Rev Martin Stewart, well known to practically all of us, on his blog, had this to say, and I would like to quote his eleven points: (as I said, knowing Martin, you’ve probably heard them from him in a Sermon-but they are well worth repeating)

“This side of Easter, we are in the business of living out what it means that God raised Jesus.  I would venture to say that whatever the church thinks its business is, this ‘living out what it means that God raised Jesus’ has to be at the core of what we do.  Let me expand on that a little.  God having raised Jesus means this to me: God does things;

Death and all its cousins – fear, hopelessness, defeat, apathy, anxiety, doubt, and despair (to name a few), could not stop God doing things;

God does not fit our boundaries – resurrection was a boundary-defying event;

Even though he looked and acted differently in his resurrected state, God did something bodily with Jesus;

Because God did this, resurrection now becomes a category of possibility for us – by this I mean that we should not be surprised if still God raises things;

The Risen Jesus hasn’t been crucified again – in other words, he still lives;

We don’t know a whole lot about how he lives – but we do get glimpses of him… and many have gone before us who have stories to tell of this… John Wesley’s heart strangely warmed, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s courage, Martin Luther King’s vision, Mother Theresa’s self-sacrifice, and so on

We also receive these glimpses of him in our journeys of faith, in our experiences of God speaking to us even if they are hard to explain;

Jesus’ living means that he pops up all over the place… we don’t hold him, we don’t have his measure, and we can’t limit the ways he is at work, he is present with us and despite us… his generosity, his grace, his love, his capacity to forgive and raise up… they are without limit…

The church has to constantly re-learn what it means that God raised Jesus.  The church often behaves as if it is the bearer of God’s life in the world… we behave as if you have to come in here to get God, and worse, that God’s mission is defined by what we do.  Archbishop Rowan Williams makes a useful statement, “It is not the church of God that has a mission.  It’s the God of mission who has a church.”

We are in the business of living out what it means that God raised Jesus.  In this new framework of understanding the church has to find its way on the strange ground of knowing enough to know.  We don’t know everything.  We can’t explain everything.  We can’t explain resurrection very easily, nor can we explain it away.  But what God is doing is not limited by our intellectual struggles.  What God is doing wraps us up into it… we are caught up and embraced and called to live into it.  This is big!”

I couldn’t have expressed better, myself. Martin has captured what was at the heart of the proclamation of the early church after the resurrection and for them it was big. Shouldn’t it also be big for us?
Let me explain what I mean by “it was big for the early church after the resurrection.” Take Simon Peter for example. A mere few weeks after the greatest failure of his life when he denied Jesus three times, a transformed Simon Peter assumes the stage in the middle of a bewildered crowd in Jerusalem.
Moments before, a man crippled from birth had leapt to his feet at a word from Peter, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” A few simple words and a beggar turns dancer. No wonder the crowd responds with amazement bordering on reverence towards Peter.
Peter wastes no time in setting the record straight. He knows the healing had nothing to do with human words or abilities and everything to do with a crucified and resurrected Saviour. Peter too had been crippled – with fear, pride, and ignorance, three flaws that led to three denials when Jesus needed him most.
But God is a God of healing and forgiveness for beggars crippled from birth and for prideful disciples. Jesus was raised from the grave, and offered Peter forgiveness, restoration, and a second chance either to deny the good news or to proclaim it. In that moment Peter’s prior failure becomes a platform for triumph as he testifies boldly to the truth of what God is doing in Jesus Christ.

“Out of sight, out of mind! Dead and buried! Gone forever!” may have been what was running through the minds of Pilate and the Sanhedrin as they gathered for a few drinks to discuss the events of the crucifixion. All death-dealing slogans are intended to remind us that we are in charge of this world and we know how this world works.
But, if we fail to take account of God and what God is doing are we not deluding ourselves – just like Pilate and the Sanhedrin? As Martin Stewart rightly said, “This is big!”

To God be the glory. Amen