Church at Home Resources – 12th of April, 2020 – Easter Sunday

A very strange Easter Sunday since we all have to be at home. I have provided here some resources which I hope will help you to worship at home on your own or with your family. Below I hope you will find something to help you read and reflect on the Bible, something to guide you in your prayers, and something to encourage you to sing God’s praises today. We still have the most amazing reason to celebrate today, so rejoice! Christ is risen!

Love,
Rev. John.

Read

Today I invite you to read and reflect along with me from John 20:1-18. I will be reading it in the video below, but if you would like to read it in advance here is the full passage:

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!’

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped round Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’

‘They have taken my Lord away,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’ At this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realise that it was Jesus.

He asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’

Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’

She turned towards him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means ‘Teacher’).

Jesus said, ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: ‘I have seen the Lord!’ And she told them that he had said these things to her.
(John 20:1-18, NIV, Anglicised)

Easter Sunday is the biggest celebration in the Christian calendar. This year we must celebrate it at home. This is a dark and uncertain time. We cannot ignore the seriousness of our situation, but we must also not forget our hope. One of the mottos of the reformation, especially dear to Calvinists, was the phrase “Post tenebras lux”. After darkness, light! 

Even now we have reason to celebrate. Because light has dawned. A light that will never go out. Our hope rests on what happened that first Easter Sunday morning. Our entire faith hangs on what happened that morning – if Jesus isn’t risen then none of this matters. But if Jesus is risen, then that changes everything, and we have a hope that nothing in this world can put out.

If Jesus is risen then what he taught about himself is true and his way is the way of true life. If Jesus is risen then something new has happened. New life and new creation has begun to creep into this world.

Let’s read the text of John 20:1-18, together. Stopping to reflect as we go. Verse 1:

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.
(John 20:1, NIV, Anglicised)

In the dark of the early morning, Mary Magdalene gathered her spices together and went to the tomb to anoint a dead body. Jesus, who she had followed to Jerusalem. Jesus, who had given her peace from her demons. Jesus who had promised so much. Jesus, who she had seen cruelly mocked and murdered in the foulest, most humiliating way the Romans had to kill a man. Jesus, who, for all of his teaching, all of his power, all of his promise, hung on the cross until he died – just like any other man would. Mary went to anoint a corpse, of that she was sure. She had seen his death with her own eyes.

Crucifixion was designed not only to kill a man, but to publicly humiliate him as he died slowly and painfully. Jesus died this death. He died slowly and painfully, naked and exposed to the mocking of the crowds. Mary saw this. 

He was dead. This was the cold, hard truth that Mary was sure of in the dark of the early morning. She gathered her spices to anoint the corpse of her beloved friend and teacher, the man who had changed her life. Her dreams were crushed, her Jesus was dead.

Most Jewish people at the time held to a belief in the resurrection. They believed that there would come a day, at the end of this world, when creation would all be made new and God would raise up all of his people. They believed that the physical things of this world were made by God and therefore mattered, and so that meant a bodily resurrection for God’s people on the last day.

But that day had not yet come. This was the first day of another week and it looked like it was going to be a very hard week. Whatever God might have in store for the future, the here and now looked bleak. Reality appears to move on, unstoppable, uncaring, moving over Jesus and his band of radicals. Whatever might happen on the last day, today was a sad day for Mary. 

There was no expectation in Mary’s mind that Jesus could have been resurrected. That would mean that something of the last day had been brought forward to the present day. Unthinkable. It would mean that the new creation had started to creep into this world. It would mean that heaven and earth were coming together. 

When Mary sees that the heavy stone covering the entrance to the tomb has been rolled away, she doesn’t think that Jesus is risen. As if it wasn’t bad enough that they have killed Jesus, now it looks like they have stolen his body! Verses two and three:

So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!’

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb.
(John 20:2-3 NIV, Anglicised)

Mary’s cry is not a celebration of the resurrection, it’s a cry that Jesus’ body has been stolen, because the thought hadn’t entered her mind that resurrection might be possible.

Christians make a very bold claim: we believe, and have believed and proclaimed since the beginning of our faith, that Christ is risen. Not that he continues on in our hearts in some sentimental way, not that he just “went to heaven”. We believe that something happened, on this first day of the week, that has never happened before. We believe that Christ rose – physically, actually, really – from the dead.

The resurrection was unexpected and unprecedented, but it happened and the church has proclaimed it from the beginning – Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

The resurrection may have been inconceivable to Jesus’ disciples on that first Easter Sunday, but it was not unexpected to Jesus. Jesus knew that he would be crucified and that he would rise again in three days. Jesus even spoke about his death and resurrection. Sometimes he spoke about it in metaphor, but Jesus also spoke very plainly. In Matthew’s gospel, chapter 20, it says:

Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, ‘We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!’
(Matthew 20:17-19, NIV, Anglicised)

You can’t get much more plain and explicit than that. Jesus knew what would happen, he was prepared for it. But to the disciples, Jesus’ resurrection was so inconceivable that they didn’t think that he could possibly mean that he would be raised from the dead.

But the beloved disciple, John, when he sees the graveclothes lying there in the empty tomb, things begin to dawn on him. Verses 3-10:

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped round Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
(John 20:3-10, NIV, Anglicised)

John, the beloved disciple, crouched looking into the tomb and he must have remembered the last time he stood before a tomb. Just days earlier he was in front of the tomb of Lazarus when Jesus raised him from the dead. Lazarus’ resurrection was not the same as Jesus’ resurrection. Lazarus was revived, returned to this present life, where he would again one day die. Lazarus was brought back from death, Jesus went through death and out the other side. When Lazarus was raised he stumbled out of the tomb and Jesus called for those present to unbind him from his linen. This time though, the grave clothes lie where Jesus lay. Grave robbers don’t take time to unwrap the body and leave the linen neatly back in place. The linen lays there as if Jesus had just passed through it.

The text doesn’t say that Peter believed yet, but John has come to believe that Jesus has risen like he said he would. That belief would go on to grow and develop as he met the risen Jesus, learned more about the nature of Jesus’ resurrection, and as he understood the predictions of Jesus’ death and resurrection in the Old Testament and saw that this was always the plan.

We’re seeing different stages of belief in this text. John has come to believe based on the empty tomb, that Jesus has risen like he said he would. Peter, we’re not too sure about. The passage doesn’t say that Peter came to believe then and there, but it does say that he went home, perhaps he went to think, to let things settle in. What Peter didn’t do is stick around to try to find the body. Mary however, is still convinced that Jesus is dead and that his body has been taken.

Verses 11 to 13:

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’

‘They have taken my Lord away,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’
(John 20:11-13, NIV, Anglicised)

Those “men” hadn’t been there before, or had they? Mary, in her grief, does not seem to realise what’s going on. She doesn’t realise that this is a new and special thing, that what was unthinkable, unprecedented and unexpected has happened. Jesus is risen. The new creation has begun to creep into this world and heaven is touching earth at this place.

There’s someone behind her. Verses 14 to 16:

At this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realise that it was Jesus.

He asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’

Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’

She turned towards him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means ‘Teacher’).
(John 20:14-16, NIV, Anglicised)

Mary doesn’t recognise Jesus at first, possibly because she just gave a quick glance and couldn’t make Jesus out through her tears. Seeing Jesus standing there was the last thing she expected. Whatever reason she didn’t recognise him at first, when she heard him call her name, her eyes were opened.

Snapped out of her grief and into belief, Mary was overjoyed and clung to her teacher. But she can’t continue to cling to him, she can’t hold onto the way things used to be. Jesus has given Mary a job – she is now the apostle to the apostles, sent to deliver the good news to them.

Verses 17 and 18:

Jesus said, ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: ‘I have seen the Lord!’ And she told them that he had said these things to her.
(John 20:17-18, NIV, Anglicised)

Pay very careful attention to the message Jesus gives Mary, because in this we can see that everything has changed because of what Jesus has done. Up until this point Jesus has referred to God as “the Father” or “my Father”, but now it is “my Father and your Father” and “my God and your God”. Something amazing has happened.

Jesus is risen and that means everything has changed!

Jesus’ crucifixion has dealt with our sin – the thing that separates people from God. He was punished in our place for our sins. He took the brokenness of his people upon himself and he rose again because God’s love is bigger than our brokenness. 

Whatever you think you have done that stops you from coming to God, the resurrection is proof that the damage has been dealt with, payment has been accepted and the battle to free us has been won. This is proof that God’s love is bigger than your biggest mistakes.

Jesus’ death in our place has repaired our relationship with God. Now to know and believe in Jesus and his sacrifice is to return home to our Father who loves us.

In the first chapter of this gospel, John writes:

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
(John 1:10-13, NIV, Anglicised)

Those who, through faith, follow Jesus have been adopted by God. Jesus refers to the disciples, not just as disciples, or even just as friends, but as “my brothers”. God is not just “the Father” anymore, he is our Father, your Father and my Father.

New life, new relationship, the new creation has broken into the present world. God is doing a new thing. Sin and death are defeated and we have a living Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ.

After darkness, light! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! From that first morning on, this message has gone out and the church has proclaimed it ever since.

May you all hear Jesus call you by name and may you, like Mary, proclaim the wonderful news that Christ is risen, in your words and in the life that you live, in the hope that you have. May the resurrection give you the courage to follow Jesus in the most difficult of circumstances, knowing that this world is not all that there is, knowing that even death is not the end. Knowing that the damage has been dealt with, the debt has been paid, the battle has been won and the tomb is empty.

Pray

Loving God, we praise and thank you for our great hope and the reason we celebrate today and every Sunday: Jesus Christ is risen! Thank you, Lord, that because of what Jesus has done we have been brought into fellowship with you. You are our Father in Christ and because of what he has done.

Even in dark times we have this hope, that you Lord are at work redeeming your creation and your people. Death has been defeated!

We pray that you would draw near to and comfort those who are finding these days especially difficult.

For those who are unwell we pray for healing and for strength.

For those who work to treat and care for others please protect them, continue to bless them with great skill and energy for their work.

For those who are working hard at finding new treatments please bless their work and grant them success.

For our leaders, please give them wisdom, courage and compassion.

For the most vulnerable people we pray for your protection.

Lord, help us to hold on to this bright hope that we have in Jesus during these dark days. May we never forget the wonderful truth of the gospel: Christ is risen!

In Jesus’ name we pray.
Amen.

Sing

Here are some Easter songs to help you to worship God this Easter Sunday

One Reply to “Church at Home Resources – 12th of April, 2020 – Easter Sunday”

  1. Very good sermon John. Good to have that link each Sunday when we can worship anywhere.

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