Acts 5: 27-32. This could act as a creed at any time or place summarising what we believe about Jesus. He is Lord of all; He came preaching Peace; full of the Holy Spirit; He did good and healed people; put to death; raised on the third day by God; appeared to the ones chosen to be his witnesses; and commanded them to preach about him to the world that anyone who believes in him receives forgiveness and declared righteous by God.
1 Corinthians 15: 19-26. Paul’s defence of resurrection reaches its climax, for as Christ has been raised, that means that we are all also raised. Jesus’ humanity is central to this argument. Because Jesus’ human body was raised, our human bodies will be raised. Jesus is the “first fruits” of a completely new thing that God has initiated. The resurrection means that the world is now filled with new life and hope.
John 20: 1-18. There are different stories that attempt to tell us what happened on that first Easter morning, but none are more beautiful and personal as this story about Mary Magdalene. Mary is transformed from being distraught to being filled with joy when she recognises Jesus when he speaks her name. Hearing your name; knowing that God knows and cares for you is the point when we too are transformed from death to life.
The central affirmation of the gospels is that Jesus Lives! He is a figure of the present, not a figure locked away in the past. The person that the disciples knew before the crucifixion was experienced by them after Easter as a living presence.
You cannot prove that the resurrection happened. You cannot even construct a coherent story from the different gospels that hangs together completely because they all say slightly different things.
But the proof if proof were needed lies in the countless millions of people who have lived since and experienced Jesus as a living presence and influence in their lives. That is the experience that guided the gospel writers to write down their accounts of the life and death of Jesus for our benefit. Because the Jesus story didn’t stop at his life and death. What followed was the resurrection and the empowerment of his followers with the Holy Spirit.
While the gospels differ on details, the central claim that led them to write anything at all – the claim that unites them is that Jesus lives! And that Jesus was vindicated by God. It was a giant No – a giant thumbs down for the powers that put Jesus to death – and a giant vindication of the Kingdom of God.
We are the living proof that Jesus lives! We are as the Bible tells us, all saints, which means we are “witnesses”. That’s what the word saint means actually - a witness – but a witness to what? A witness to the fact that Jesus lives and our lives are influenced and shaped by the spirit of a man who lived about 2000 years ago.
Peter’s address in the house of the Roman centurion Cornelius, stands as a testimony to fundamental Christian belief and it was while Peter was giving this address that the Holy Spirit came upon everyone who heard him speak which amazed the Jewish followers because it was proof positive that the message of Jesus was for the whole world and not just for the Jews.
That Jesus was raised from the dead was presumably the basic belief of the Corinthian church as well of course but some couldn’t then make that leap and understand that in his humanity Jesus had drawn back the veil and revealed that because God had raised Him, he had actually revealed the future of humanity also – namely that we are raised to life too.
In whatever way we understand the divinity of Christ we must never lose sight of the fact that Jesus was a human being just like me or you. His human body was raised. It was certainly different and held different properties. He was no longer a figure of flesh and blood confined to time and space, but was a reality that could enter locked rooms, travel with his followers unrecognised, be experienced in both Galilee and Jerusalem, vanish at the moment of recognition and be with his followers always “unto the end of the age”.
Of all the accounts of the resurrection, I like this one from John’s gospel that we heard today of the meeting between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. It is beautifully told. Mary arrives at the tomb and discovers it empty. After telling Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved (presumably John) and them leaving the scene she breaks down sobbing and looking into the tomb she is confronted by two angels who ask her why she is weeping. It is at this point that she turns around and sees someone standing there who also asks why she is crying?
She didn’t apparently recognise either his face or his voice at first until that is, he spoke her name – “Mary”.
This is personal. Jesus knew and spoke to Mary by name, and he knows and speaks to each one of us by name as well.
Hearing your name spoken by the son of God, is a metaphor of course.
It is a metaphor for that personally felt and believed knowledge that Jesus died and was raised for you. As well as for everyone else. People often find it easier to speak of the grand gesture, acknowledging that of course Jesus died for the whole world, “for those who are near and for those who are far off” without personalising that knowledge and applying it directly to themselves.
Making that transition from understanding that Jesus died and was raised for us to Jesus died and was raised for me.
I pray that each one of us hears their name on the lips of Jesus, the living reality and knows that because Jesus was raised and is alive for ever, that is our destiny too.