Easter Sunday 2010 9.00

Sermon Date: 
4 Apr 2010
Bible Base: 
Acts 10:34-43; Luke 24:1-12

David Jeans

This Easter weekend there have been threatened strikes by BA aircrew and by those working on the railways. We have not really had serious strikes for many years now. If schoolchildren were studying recent British history one of the periods they would probably look at is the infamous winter of discontent in 1978-79. How many of you lived in Stocksbridge in the winter of discontent?
The best way for today’s children to find out what the winter of discontent was like would be for them to talk to eyewitnesses like you. I always think that the most interesting programmes on TV about recent history are the ones that interview eyewitnesses and ask for their memories. As Viv and I anticipate the arrival of our first grandchild we are looking forward to the times when he or she will ask us about what we remember about “the olden days”.
We of course have access to history through books and through television programmes. Isn’t it strange to look at TV and newsreel footage of the times we grew up in?. Andrew Marr’s ‘The Making of Modern Britain’ was brilliant in its use of old footage like that. I remember one programme in particular, which began by pointing out how you worked out someone’s place in British pre-war history by the kind of hats they wore.
At the time of the Bible there were of course no television or film programmes; and people did not really have much access to books – after all, everything was literally a manuscript – written by hand. So the approach to finding out what had gone on was one much more based on eyewitness accounts. To find out what happened thirty one years ago you did what we have just done – you asked eyewitnesses.
I’ve been reading a book called “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”, which argues that in New Testament times if you wanted to know what happened you asked eyewitnesses of the events. For the first few years after Jesus the church would have relied on the accounts of the eyewitnesses. But as the eyewitnesses began to die, they realised that the accounts would need to be written down for future generations. And that is how we got the accounts we know as the Gospels.
And that is why there are all these names in the New Testament. When they told the story of Zacchaeus, for example, he might well have been sitting in the back of the church and they could check out the details with him! So here in the account of the first Easter Day in Luke’s gospel, he mentions the eyewitnesses who were present – Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James. It is highly likely that these people would have been prominent people in the New Testament church, precisely because of having been eyewitnesses, so Luke will have checked out the story with them . Look at Luke’s introduction to his gospel (Luke 1:1-4). And of course Luke was probably writing around the early 60’s AD – about thirty years after the events of the first Easter. Which is the same gap as between us and the winter of discontent. So some of Luke’s readers/ hearers may well have heard Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James telling the story themselves! And if they visited the church in Jerusalem or in Galilee they could check it out with them! It is significant that Luke mentions three names (though we know from the other gospels the names of some of the others) – and that’s because 3 witnesses were needed for testimony in a court to count.
Isn’t it an amazing thing, that of all the 80,000 people thought to be in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus, the few whose names we know include the first witnesses of the resurrection! Not the rich people, not the ones who thought they were important, but the witnesses of the resurrection. Witnesses who as we heard in our Acts reading proclaimed the good news of Jesus’ victory over death, and that those who believed in the good news of Jesus would receive forgiveness of sins through his name. Who was Joanna? All we know is that she was one of the women who followed Jesus from the beginning; she had been healed by Jesus; her husband, Chuza, was the manager of Herod’s household – but we only know about him because she was a witness to the resurrection! Joanna could be the woman Junia, mentioned by Paul in Romans 16 as foremost among the apostles (who were all witnesses of the resurrection).
Maybe it’s because of being about to become a grandparent, but I become more and more aware of our calling to pass on this good news to our generation and to the next generations. And I become more and more thankful for those generations who have passed in on to us. It’s only about 80 to 100 generations when you stop to think about it! So today I remember those who passed the good news on to me – particularly John some 46 years ago. Wouldn’t it be great to be remembered in 46 years time for passing on the good news to someone else? It’s the best thing of all to be remembered for.
There is of course something very odd about these women being mentioned as eyewitnesses to the resurrection. We know from the Jewish historian Josephus (writing about AD 90) that women were not used as eyewitnesses in those days because their testimony was regarded as unreliable (and we get echoes of that attitude in verse 11). So if you were Luke writing some thirty years after the event, in a culture which did not accept the testimony of women why on earth would you pick on the testimony of women? Wouldn’t you try to find a bloke who was one of the first to get there, a solid, reliable male witness and not one of these giddy women?
One of the things we need to do about our lifestyle is to change the progamme on Viv’s radio alarm. At the moment it is set on Radio Sheffield with Toby Foster. On Thursday morning there were two things that I heard on Toby’s programme. The first was about sightings of the “Oroli Flap” – a bird about the size of an ostrich but which unlike the ostrich could fly with a wing span of about 2 metres and with purple tail feathers. People were phoning in with sightings – one from near the KP factory in Rotherham because the ‘Oroli Flap’ is always on the lookout for nuts .....If you have no idea what I am talking about just remember what day Thursday was, and rearrange the letters from ‘Oroli Flap’!
Toby also talked about going to his daughter’s school Easter service in church – and he made some comment about her coming home this week saying ‘Dad, did you know that Jesus died for our sins’ – bless her!. He then made some comment like ‘Yes, we’ve all got imaginary friends’ – I trust he did not actually say that to his daughter.
The Easter Day gospel accounts are not made up stories; they are stories that have the ring of truth of eyewitness testimony. There is the level of confusion in the accounts – one men, two men or were they angels? Was the first male disciple Peter or John? It is all a bit blurred – as eyewitness accounts are! But crucially in that culture, if you were making up stories you would not have women as your star witnesses! Why did the gospel writers write about women being the first witnesses of the resurrection? The only reason that makes any sense is that it was true!!! And isn’t it a wonderful example of the upside down way that God works, that the much despised women should be the first to know the wonderful truth of Easter!
One final thought about the witnesses to the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Greek word for a witness is ‘marturion’. It’s the word from which our word ‘martyr’ comes. And many of the first witnesses to Jesus gave their lives for their faith – you don’t do that for something you have made up.
The consequences of Easter Day are immense.
Because of Easter we know that Jesus was who he claimed to be.
Because of Easter we know that his work on the cross was accepted.
Because of Easter we know that death is not the end and we have eternal life.
Because of Easter we know that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ, because sin, death and evil have done their worst and God in Christ has won the victory.
That is the ground on which we stand, and because of the faithful testimony of the women who were the first eyewitnesses, we know that is solid ground.