Suddenly There

Matthew 28, 1-10

Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshipped him.

I don’t know if you’ve have heard of the Christian song­writer Geoff Shattock. One of his songs is about the resurrection, and it’s called “Suddenly There”: –

“It wasn’t what they expected,
it wasn’t that they suspected he was around.
But he was suddenly there.”

That’s what Easter morning is about, isn’t it? We can philosophize about new life and we can theologize about the resurrection at the end of the world, and we can argue with the sceptics as to what actually happened and where Jesus’ body got to. But in the end, the point is that Jesus was there.

Suddenly, Jesus met them…

I don’t think we can grasp what that must have felt like, even though we’ve heard it so many times, and even though we too have lost some of our dear ones and know all about the grief and pain involved in that. In some ways, perhaps, it’s easier for us to relate to the Saturday, the Sabbath when the disciples were alone with their grief – and I suppose went through the same phases that other bereaved people go through: Denial, anger – and perhaps frustration, for the women, because they hadn’t had a chance to look after Jesus’ body properly. Part of the grief process is to think of all the things we could have done or should have done, and we feel guilty about that on top of all the rest. Or perhaps they really hadn’t taken it all in yet, perhaps they didn’t have time to feel anything but numb emptiness. But Jesus was gone.

And then they had this incredible experience at the grave. Now those who know me know that I’ve got loads of questions about this. Angels in bright white clothes and all the rest – it’s a challenge to our more prosaic way of thinking. But the important thing is that the women were told that Jesus was no longer there – he was risen from the dead. What did it mean?, How did they feel?

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy… (28:8)

Did they believe it? Did they dare to believe it? Would anybody else believe them? Whatever they felt, they had to tell the others, so they rush off – but I suspect that quite a lot of things ran through their heads during verse eight, short as it is. And then we come to verse nine. It’s written so simply. No more angels and bright lights, no fanfares. Just: Jesus came to meet them and said “hi”, as if nothing had happened. They thought they had lost him for ever – but suddenly, he was there.

There must have been a hurricane of feelings when they saw him for the first time: Of course they were happy. Of course they were scared, too. But they did the only natural thing – they threw themselves on their knees and worshipped him.

And so it continued. Two of the disciples were on their way to Emmaus, confused about everything that had happened – and now these new rumours that Jesus was alive after all. They didn’t know what to believe until a man comes and explains it all for them, and he breaks bread, and says a blessing. And he was suddenly there. Jesus.

Thomas didn’t know what to believe either. The others said they had seen Jesus, but he wanted proof, he wanted to see and touch. And suddenly Jesus was there, and Thomas too fell on his knees and worshipped him – and in fact, according to John, became the first to call him God.

I suppose this was the experience of many people during Jesus’ ministry. Zacchaeus was just curious – but suddenly Jesus was there for him, and his life was changed. The blind beggar by the road who heard Jesus’ passing by – suddenly Jesus was asking for him, talking to him, healing his eyes.

The thief hanging on the cross, condemned justly according to the laws of that time, as he himself admitted. The cross was a miserable end to what perhaps had been a miserable life. But he realised there was something different about Jesus – and in those terrible moments before they all died of pain and exhaustion, Jesus was somehow suddenly there: Not just another victim like the thousands of others who died on a cross, but God’s Son, who could say to a man:

“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

Suddenly there. I could go on for ever – and Jesus is still doing this. Still meeting people. Not always where they expect to find him. Often quite the opposite, sometimes when they’re not even looking for him at all. He’s suddenly there.

And when he comes, everything is somehow different. The criminal’s death becomes a gateway to paradise. The women’s confusion turns into joy. Thomas’ doubt turns into faith.

Where are we today? Are we still living in verse eight, perhaps? We’ve heard that Jesus is alive. We want to tell others that he’s alive. But we haven’t really met him yet. Are we still standing outside the empty tomb waiting to see if he’ll turn up there? Perhaps he will if we wait long enough. But the women didn’t meet Jesus outside the tomb. They met him on the way to the others. Perhaps Jesus is waiting to meet us in some unexpected place? Not here, perhaps, but in our daily lives when we’re not so “religious”. Among the people we meet every day. Are we so awake that we would notice if he was there?

Perhaps there is something in our lives that would be different if we met Jesus again. I don’t think Jesus is a kind of “fixer” who solves all our problems. The thief on the cross still died even though Jesus was there. But when we meet him, the world looks different. We realise that there is more to life than what we can see. There are truths still to be discovered. There is hope, and love, and life even in our distress, even in death. When we meet Jesus, life is different.

In conclusion, let’s take a few moments to reflect. When did you really meet Jesus last? When did you notice he was there – no matter where or how? When did you last throw yourself at his feet to worship him? Is he waiting for you somewhere?

Easter morning: Jesus is here.

[This sermon was originally preached at the Salvation Army, Tunstall Corps, on Easter morning 2007]

Death, thou shalt die!

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So Jesus was dead.

Nobody at that time doubted that he really was dead. But just a few days later people were saying they’d seen him alive. Yet another paradox.

The resurrection never meant much to me until death became real to me. But now I realise that it’s at the very heart of the Gospel. Christianity is about new beginnings, new life. About the permanence of God in a world of constant change. About God’s ability to create life.

In practical terms, I have no real idea about how it happened. Did Jesus “come back to life”, like a coma patient suddenly waking up? Was his dead body suddenly transformed into something less physical, more spiritual? I haven’t got a clue – and I don’t really care. Once again, the thing that matters is that those who knew Jesus, those who were eye-witnesses, said that he was risen from the dead. Whatever it was that happened, that was the only explanation that fitted in with what they had experienced. Jesus was dead: But now he’s alive!

If Jesus’ death was the triumph of God’s love over human sin – then the resurrection was the triumph of God’s power over death. God doesn’t only love us in some abstract way. He also has the power to give us life. Physical life – and spiritual life. The Bible tells us that even while we are alive, we can be spiritually dead. If we cut ourselves off from God, the giver of life, then our “life” becomes mere existence. It may be very pleasant – you may even find it meaningful. But in the final analysis, you’re dead. And one day, when your physical life ends, you will realise just how dead you are.

But that isn’t what God wants! He wants to give us “life abundant”. He wants us to live to the very limits of our potential, to exploit all of the gifts that he has given us, to explore his universe, his love, himself. And by making us spiritually alive, he promises us a new kind of life that will continue into eternity. I’ve no idea what that means. Streets of gold and pearly gates leave me cold. But if God is the source of all life, the source of all that is truly good – then I want to be with him. And Jesus’ death and resurrection is my guarantee that that is not only possible – but it’s what God wants.