From Christ Church, La Crosse, Wisconsin I wish you a glorious joyous Easter. I am sharing with you my Easter Day sermon. Salaam!
Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24, Colossians 3: 1-4, John 20: 1-18
Did Jesus Really Rise From The Dead?
This is a title of an article by Jay Parini published on Good Friday on CNN.com. It is a quest worth to be on. It is not knowledge about Jesus which brings one to faith in the resurrection. But the story in the Gospels that Mary Magdalene did not simply say, I have studied Jesus,” but as she did, “I have seen the Lord.” Easter proclamation is about witnesses in person meeting the risen Christ.
Russian Communist leader Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin was a powerful man. He took part in the Bolshevik Revolution 1917, was editor of the Soviet newspaper, Pravda, and was a full member of the Politburo. There is a story told about a journey he took from Moscow to Kiev in 1930 to address a huge assembly on the subject of atheism. Addressing the crowd he aimed his heavy artillery at Christianity hurling insult, argument, and proof against it.
An hour later when he was finished, “Are there any questions?" Bukharin demanded. Deafening silence filled the auditorium, but then one man approached the platform and mounted the lectern standing near the communist leader. He surveyed the crowd first to the left then to the right. Finally he shouted the ancient greeting known well in the Russian Orthodox Church: Xristos voskrese "CHRIST IS RISEN!" The workers had heard those words many times before at the Russian night service. From a thousand voices came crashing like the sound of thunder: Voistinu voskrese: "HE IS RISEN INDEED!"
It is the resurrection as fact of history that makes Christianity a faith. The facts in the gospels and the records of the early church tell us that eyewitnesses to the Resurrection were real men and women. They had seen Jesus being hung upon the cross and helped to bury him in the grave. Jewish men and women did not believe in dead men walking. They were not expecting the Resurrection.
To believe in the resurrection for them was a totally 180 degree turn. One must ask why followers of Jesus would do so. No group of Jews ever worshipped a human being as God. One wonders what convinced these orthodox believers of Jewish faith to come to such a conclusion. Holy Scripture and Jewish history show clear evidence that they did not believe in divine men or individual resurrections. What was the event or force that changed their worldview virtually overnight, not gradually, but instantly?
The fact about the resurrection is absolutely unprecedented in history. It sprang up full blown immediately after the death of Jesus. It was neither an intellectual concept reached by years of debate in the Councils of the early church nor a clever invention of ordinary fishermen from Galilee. For Paul, a Jewish rabbi, a highly intelligent and rabbinically trained scholar, to believe in the Cross of Jesus and the Resurrection was a huge stumbling block to his faith. He saw it as an obnoxious and blasphemous faith which must be rooted out.
A quite extraordinary and astounding event happened in the lives of Paul and the disciples of Jesus that turned their whole view upside down so that they were compelled by the fact of the Resurrection to blaze it forth to tell the world that Jesus is risen from the dead. This was a staggering and stunning experience to meet, in person, the risen Christ. Peter, who earlier had denied three times any association with Jesus, now, boldly and without shame or fear, stands out in the center of Jerusalem and shouts: “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).
As Pascal put it, “I [believe] those witnesses that get their throats cut.” Virtually all the apostles and early Christian leaders died for their faith, and it is hard to believe that this kind of powerful self-sacrifice would be done to support a hoax.
For me the Resurrection is evidence of the saving power of God. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ in the Gospels is as sure as it is true to us that the sun shall rise in the east in the morning and shall set in west in the evening. After more than 700 hours of studying this subject, Josh McDowell an American apologist wrote, “I have come to the conclusion that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is either one of the most wicked, vicious, heartless hoaxes ever foisted on the minds of human beings--or it is the most remarkable fact of history.”
The gospel does not hide that the disciples of Jesus were terrified after his death on the cross. They were cowering behind closed doors. How did they have courage to emerge from their hiding place and to accompany Mary, weeping sometimes, searching always, and ultimately blinded by the dawn of Jesus’ new life—surprised—delighted and miraculously moved to joy? It is the same for us this Easter morning not to keep this good news behind closed doors. We are called to believe what Mary and the disciples of Jesus saw: He is risen.
Remember, Easter is not a morning for artful arguments to prove the facts of resurrection. The only message of Easter is: Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and is not to be found where the dead are. As the angel of the Lord said, “He is not here; he is risen.” It is now our job to spread the good news that He lives; and by the way, relax, stop worrying, stop thinking that it all depends on you. It has been accomplished. It has already been done. It is this remarkable fact of history we celebrate today that Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave. I pray our lives will be permeated by the presence and companionship of the risen Christ in such a way that we may love to tell the story: Alleluia! Christ is Risen. He is Risen indeed. Alleluia!
 George Carey, Canterbury Letters to the Future, Kingsway Publications, 1998, p.125
 Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, Dutton, 2008, p.210
 Peter Gomes, Sermons Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living, HarperSanFrancisco, 1999, p.74.