at Wingrave Methodist Church
The Gathering — Hymn
300 - Hail the day that sees him rise
Opening prayers confession
Collect for Easter Day
247 – I danced in the morning
1st Reading – Acts 10
34 Then Peter began to speak: ‘I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached – 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
39 ‘We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen – by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’
44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.
Then Peter said, 47 ‘Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptised with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.’ 48 So he ordered that they be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
Reflections on Acts
The 2 chapters 10 and 11 in Acts represent the central truth in the whole book, if not the entire New Testament. The first Easter dramatically changed the way the early Christians understood God’s activity in the world. This truth is played out in Acts, that God shows no favouritism in whom he calls.
At the time, if anyone thought Christianity was for the Jews alone, or if they believed they had joined a sect within Judaism, they were to be proved wrong in dramatic fashion.
At the start of our reading, Peter is addressing the family of Cornelius the centurion. Cornelius had a vision, and was instructed to send for Simon Peter who was in Joppa. Peter was unsure how to respond, and himself had the vision of the clean and unclean animals.
Cornelius was a gentile, of course, and a powerful man, but probably a proselyte. As soon as Peter heard about his vision, it became clear to him that salvation through faith in the crucified Christ and the grace of God was for all people, not just the Jews, and the family of Cornelius was filled with the Holy Spirit and baptised that very day.
The readings from Acts are set as compulsory for Easter Day. The reason for this is evident from what I have said. We can contemplate the grace of God towards us and all people as we hear once again the witness of Peter, firstly to God’s impartiality, and then as a witness to everything Jesus did, which ended in his death and resurrection.
42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’
14 The Lord is my strength and my defence;
he has become my salvation.
15 Shouts of joy and victory
resound in the tents of the righteous:
‘The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!
16 The Lord’s right hand is lifted high;
the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!’
17 I will not die but live,
and will proclaim what the Lord has done.
18 The Lord has chastened me severely,
but he has not given me over to death.
19 Open for me the gates of the righteous;
I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord
through which the righteous may enter.
21 I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
you have become my salvation.
22 The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
23 the Lord has done this,
and it is marvellous in our eyes.
24 The Lord has done it this very day;
let us rejoice today and be glad.
25 Lord, save us!
Lord, grant us success!
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
From the house of the Lord we bless you.
27 The Lord is God,
and he has made his light shine on us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
up to the horns of the altar.
28 You are my God, and I will praise you;
you are my God, and I will exalt you.
29 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
Commentary on Psalm
Psalms 113 — 118 used at Passover. 113,114 said before the meal. 115 — 118 afterwards, with 4th cup of celebratory wine. Parts of 118 read in all 3 years on Easter Sunday and Palm Sunday.
All 4 gospel writers quote v26 in their Palm narratives: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. In Mark 12, Jesus quotes v22 The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone; as his explanation for the so-called Parable of the Vineyard. Parts are also quoted in Acts, Romans and Hebrews.
Might have been sung as a hymn. Obviously familiar to people generally. Referring to corner stone, the psalm adds: 23 the Lord has done this,
and it is marvellous in our eyes.
The Hebrew word “marvellous” can also be translated “difficult to understand”. Here today, as we contemplate the empty tomb, we echo the words of the Psalmist.
306 – Now the green blade riseth
Gospel – John 20
The empty tomb
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.2 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!’
3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped round Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.
The resurrection appearances in John’s gospel include 4 distinct events that focus on 3 people — Mary Magdalene (twice), Peter and Thomas. This morning, we are concerned with Mary and Peter (plus an unnamed disciple).
John the Evangelist could have told his story very differently. Could have described atmosphere, crowds, drama, mystery. Instead he focuses on reactions and acts of certain individuals. Quite brief. Just description of what happened as they reported.
1. Mary Magdalene
Jesus makes first appearance to Mary. A woman. A disciple, but not from inner circle. She finds at the tomb the “stone rolled away.”
Does not say she looks into tomb. Goes to Peter — complains “they have taken the Lord away; do not know where they have laid him.”
Why does she assume body of Jesus missing? Why does she not just report stone rolled away? Can she see from outside tomb that contents have been tampered with? Does she assume theft of body as only reason for tomb being open? We don’t know.
2. Peter and unnamed disciple. John?
Peter runs to tomb, but is overtaken by ‘other disciple.’ Disciple hangs back, but Peter goes straight in. Sees body cloths. Sees rolled up head cloth separate from others. Sees tomb is empty. “Sees and believes.” What does he believe?
Both disciples just go home. Do not report to others. Too early? Dispersed? Dangerous? Peter believes, but may not understand truth behind what he has seen. Did not believe in resurrection necessarily — that would take a lot more faith than from merely observing a missing body. But convinced something marvellous had come about — not merely theft of body by Roman soldiers anxious to avoid ‘martyrdom.’
This level of belief only led to faith when they had processed what had come about, and this meant not only seeing empty tomb, but Jesus himself. Could there be any other explanation for what the disciples all did next, transforming from frightened, disbelieving, quarrelsome bunch to men of strong faith, standing up for what they had witnessed to the death.
3. Mary (again)
Encounter in garden. Mary could not rest. Went back to tomb — woman invisible posing no political threat to authorities. Had vision of angels. Sees someone she assumes to be gardener. Post resurrection, Jesus’ appearance was different than it had been before.
Mary tries to hold on to Jesus — hold on to incarnation — not let go. Then returns to other disciples and announces “I have seen the Lord.” Again, it was a woman who confessed the truth as she saw it first. It was to a woman that Jesus first appeared in post resurrection form.
Then writer of John’s gospel states his purpose: ‘that you may believe, and may have life in his name.’ What are we to believe in?
Not just stolen body. Not just empty tomb. Not just Jesus come back to life again. Empty tomb means more than all these. It’s the bedrock of our faith. Most doctrine and many events related in scripture can be negotiable — no particular set of beliefs is mandatory. There’s little we have to buy into, in order to call ourselves Christians. Except the Empty Tomb, without which our faith is meaningless.
And the Empty Tomb means resurrection to new life, not only Jesus himself but us in Jesus and through his name. This is what I mean when I say the Empty Tomb is the bedrock of our faith, because without it, our faith is no different from so many other forms of religion, which make less demands and are more readily believable. For Jesus himself conquered sin and death through his incarnation and sacrifice, and each and every Easter Day reminds us afresh of what all this means for our salvation. Nothing could be more important. Nothing could be more critical. Our response, each and every year, is to emulate Peter. “He saw and believed.” But unlike Peter, 2,000 years of interpretation and revelation have passed. What we are called on to believe, as Peter found in the days and weeks to come, is so much more than he believed at the start. This is the message of this and every Easter Day. Blessed are those who have seen and believed. Blessed are we, who have not seen, and yet have believed. Amen.
568 – Alleluia sing to Jesus
Prayers of Intercession
Led by: John Cotton — Use pp164-166 and enlarge on the prayers — finish with Lord’s Prayer.
Creed and Peace
351 – In Christ alone my hope is found
Followed by Prayers and Dismissal
94 – To God be the glory