Easter Sermon - New Life for Old
New life for old Luke 24: 1-36 When I was young and growing up in the West Riding of Yorkshire I used to enjoy it when the rag and bone merchant would come along our road. He came with his horse and cart piled up with old clothes, curtains and bedding as well as various old metal objects, collecting these from the residents of the houses he passed; and you would always know that it was him coming along because as he drove along he shouted out “rag and bone”. I also used to enjoy going to the pantomime around about Christmas time; and one of my favourite shows was Aladdin which I remember also had its merchant, a wicked magician, who came along shouting out “new lamps for old” so that everyone flocked out to see him, laughing at the thought that he would give away new lamps for any old rubbish they had hidden away in their cupboards; but then of course we knew that he was after Aladdin’s magic lamp … These merchants then certainly left no one in doubt as to what they were about as they shouted out what they had and what they required. On the first day of the week after that terrible week that had just past which ended with Jesus’ crucifixion and death, the women went to the tomb where he had been laid. It was the first day of a new week but actually it was the first day of a new era because on that day a whole new world, a whole new perspective for the world, had begun to come into effect. And yet the followers of Jesus on that so special day when they found his body missing from the tomb very much had their doubts, their questions, in fact they were extremely confused as to what was going on. In verse 4 of our passage for example we read that after finding the stone rolled away and the body gone, the women wondered about this. And then, after the two angels appeared to them and told them that Christ had risen, they went and told the eleven about all that had happened but they didn’t believe them, because what they were saying “seemed to them like nonsense”. And so we’re told that Peter went to find out for himself, that he saw things as they’d described them, but that he also “went away wondering to himself what had happened”. And then this general confusion is underlined as we read on and we’re allowed to listen in on a conversation between two disciples, Cleopas and another, perhaps his wife, as they’re walking back together the seven miles from Jerusalem to their home or homes in Emmaus; because again we discover that they were baffled and bewildered about the meaning of all that had happened … especially concerning that days news that Jesus was alive again. So what was happening here? Because the truth of the matter, for all these people, was that they had already been prepared for everything that had taken place; its meaning had been explained to them by Jesus himself on so many occasions. From our perspective, with the benefit of the gospels and their many accounts of the Lord’s doings and sayings, it seems difficult to understand why there was all this confusion because Jesus had clearly stated what was going to happen, had firmly put them in the picture. This was what the angels had been saying to the women when they met them at the tomb: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again’” And then the women remembered that Jesus had indeed told them these things … but then they still didn’t fully understand what they meant and they returned to the disciples where their words of explanation about what had happened and what they had seen, didn’t shed any further light on the matter for them either … they were in effect simply blind guides trying to lead the blind. Peter was totally bemused, and the two who walked home a little later were just as confused and disturbed. Everything that had occurred, Jesus’ betrayal, his death and resurrection, everything was equally meaningless to them. But then should we be surprised by all this confusion? Were these people who found themselves in a new world not simply being typical of mankind in general who, without the light of God shining upon them, can understand nothing of him? Because the fact is that even today most people live through life’s events without any real awareness of their meaning. They take life as it comes, they react to situations as they arise, trying to squeeze as much enjoyment and satisfaction out of their lives as they can. As the old Church of England Prayer Book says, ‘Like brute beasts that have no understanding’, rather like the dog which, when its master points to a bone, sniffs not at the bone but at his finger, they simply can’t see what all these things point to. The truth is that their needs, both physical and emotional are all that concern them … whilst that deeper need, the need to understand what it all means, to be fully in tune with what life is really all about, remains unsatisfied. And yet at the same time when they’re offered the answer, the real meaning to it all, which is a supernatural, spiritual, answer, they become frightened because this challenges all their presuppositions. It threatens to overturn all that they’ve based their security on up until now. They see the danger of it taking away the control that they feel they have, and want, over the course which their life is taking … and so they shy away from the answer. What is needed then is for that supernatural message to break forcefully through into their consciousness, for the living word of God itself to pierce their hearts … and this is exactly what we find happening here in chapter 24 of Luke. Firstly for the two travellers to Emmaus. Because, as they were walking, wondering where to turn for answers, we’re told that “Jesus himself came up and walked along with them”, and at his prompting they began to give a full account of the gospel, telling of Jesus’ ministry in word and deed, of his crucifixion and of the hope of redemption that it represented. Then they told about the resurrection and of the apostolic witness to it. They gave then a full and clear testimony to all that had happened then, but that was all; it was a gospel accurately told but without power to change because it was without illumination from the living Christ, good news without the necessary response to that good news. And this was despite the fact that for most of their journey Jesus had actually been walking with them! Somehow or other “they were kept from recognising him.” Despite the fact that he who they needed was right there beside them their hearts remained cold. Although, as he pointed out their foolishness and began to teach them from the Scriptures about himself, so their hearts began to burn within them; no doubt the reason why they were led to ask him to stay with them. And then it was as they faced him over the table that their eyes were finally opened and they recognised that the Lord Jesus Christ was indeed alive and they were filled with joy; and with this now powerful gospel they returned immediately to Jerusalem to make it known; now they themselves had become part of the new age that had just begun; now they had stepped from confusion to understanding, from darkness to light, having indeed received new for old, new lives for their old lives. And when they got back to the other disciples in Jerusalem, including the eleven, they discovered that Simon Peter had also had his need to understand met by the living Lord. And then Jesus was there amongst them all, responding to the fears and doubts that were still there by enabling them to grasp the truth of the scriptures and gently and lovingly proving to them that he was indeed their risen saviour. Before he gave them each a job to do: once they’d received power from on high they were to go and tell the world what they’d discovered. And so these people, who’d themselves been so slow to learn and to recognise the truth, began to spread that truth and today, throughout the world, millions of people are declaring that Christ is risen, risen indeed, with joy in their hearts because they too have been made new people in Him. However, for millions more Easter means little or nothing; and that’s because the reality is that many still live in a state of confusion and bewilderment. There are so many eyes that we look into, which are filled with questions; so many souls hungering for answers and enlightenment, and yet finding none. They’ve maybe heard the message of Easter but it seems just too fanciful, they can’t understand how it can have any meaning for them. Even for some who know the details of the gospel back to front there is still a hunger for the truth of the matter, because they’ve never actually seen the living Christ in the story … in fact that’s all it is for them, a story, no more. For all these people the words about Jesus, his life death and resurrection, simply don’t seem to have much relevance in terms of their ordinary day to day lives, and so they remain grappling with the problems and cares that he would lift from them, if only they would let him. But no they continue to live in the old world, having the old perspectives on things whilst the real world, the world of the world’s saviour and of those who now live in it, has moved on. And yet, just as the risen Lord Jesus came to Cleopas and his companion who were bewildered as to what all that had happened that first Easter week meant, just as he came to Peter and to the rest of the disciples, just as he has come to all who have admitted their confusion and cried out to him for understanding since then, so he’s available to each person today. Because the wonderful truth is that God promises that if we seek then we shall find; the Lord doesn’t wish that we should remain in ignorance. And so he comes to even us, where we are, speaking to us in ways that we as individuals can understand. He knows our capabilities, our needs, and our weaknesses. So whether we’re the sort of person to be found walking along a road with a friend discussing spiritual matters, openly and earnestly seeking truth, whether we’re only able to make our own way to an empty tomb with questions on our minds, or whether we’re just waiting where we are praying for the answers, he promises to be there. And we need only turn to him and acknowledge him as the risen saviour. And, praise God, still his Word continues to be declared with power; the message is proclaimed from churches and places where Christians meet, by groups and individuals who have all met with the Lord Jesus Christ … the wonderful news is told that he has indeed risen from the dead so that new life, new life for old, is available to all who will hold out their hand and accept it. That’s what that first glorious Easter Sunday is all about, Christ Jesus is alive for evermore the firstfruits of all those who put their trust in him. This is the message that all of us who have received him into our hearts are entrusted with. We who are commissioned to announce that there is clarity and certainty and understanding to be found in what is, without God’s forgiveness and new life in Christ, a confusing and uncertain place to be. So let’s do just that, let’s make sure that we do live out the truth that we’ve discovered, let’s not be the blind leading the blind but rather let’s be clear examples of people who know the truth, who believe in the truth, and rejoice in the truth. So that people loudly hear the truth and have the opportunity to respond to it.