Church Sermon

"Where were you?" (Job 38:1-18, John 20:1-10, Hebrews 11:1-3, Hebrews 11:8-12)

Rev John Bremner, 20/04/2014
Part of the Festival Sermons series, preached at a Easter Day service

Easter Day Communion
John 20: 1 – 10; Job 38: 1 – 18; Hebrews 11: 1 – 3, 8 – 12

My friends, the majestic words of the Book of Job in chapter 38 are words which are very appropriate for this day. They speak of God’s mighty works, which are so far beyond our knowledge and understanding that we are reduced to silence. “Where were you…?” asks God. “Where were you when I did all this?” Our opening prayer spoke of the resurrection of Jesus Christ as God’s mightiest act, and the question addressed by God to Job, and to us, is, above all, applicable on this day. And we are reduced to silence, because we were nowhere to be found. We did not even realise that there was something to see!

Where were you, when Jesus Christ was raised from the dead? It is, of course, a question which seems ridiculous: you and I were not even born when Jesus Christ was raised from the dead! But in reality there are two possible answers: the first, false, answer is that we were there, waiting for it to happen. Think for a moment: how many pictures have you seen of Jesus Christ emerging from the tomb, a great blaze of light fills the canvas, Jesus, seemingly lighter than air, now in his resurrection body, face aglow, angels, soldiers, disciples, all surround him in various states of shock, confusion, wonder and worship. We would like to have been there ourselves, would we not? But the Gospel narratives of Christ’s resurrection make it quite clear: there were no witnesses to the event. The only people there, the soldiers, were asleep – and they awoke only afterwards to discover that the tomb was empty! The disciples, likewise, were not there; they only arrived afterwards, as we heard from our reading from John’s Gospel. “Where were you?” Wherever we were, it was certainly not at the tomb waiting for Jesus to rise from the dead!

So where were we? The true answer is that we were without hope, wandering in dark places. Or, if you prefer, we were still to be born, but our pathway through life was inevitably going to be one of hopeless wandering in dark places. For the disciples who had witnessed the arrest of Jesus, and for those few who were brave enough also to have witnesses the crucifixion, there was no light at the end of the tunnel of deep despair that morning. There was no sense of this horrendous experience being something to survive for a day or two, and then all would be fine again; Peter and John did not run to the tomb with any sense of hope or expectation, that Jesus somehow might not be dead after all: no, their thoughts were of yet more horror and tragedy. What had happened to the body? Who had taken it? Why had they themselves, and the other disciples, not been braver in at least guarding the tomb of their beloved teacher? Would there be no end to this dark despair which had trapped them in a blind unknowing? And that, whether we recognise it or not, is where we were – or where we were sure to be whenever we finally were born to live on this earth. Where were we, when Jesus was raised from the dead? Still wandering in dark places, spiritually blind to the light which was to burst upon the world. That is where we were.

And then comes Christ from the grave: ‘Lo! Jesus meets us, risen from the tomb!’ And in an instant, all is changed. From hopeless despair our situation is transformed into a new world of promise; from dark wanderings, our footsteps are suddenly enlightened and the path before us becomes clear: perhaps not instantly, and perhaps not always without shadows every now and again, but no longer is life a despairing trudge towards an eternal grave.

But how can this be? What is it about Jesus rising from the dead that transforms my life and yours? The answer is to be found in Question 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism and answer to that question. Before we look at that question and answer, however, I want to say something briefly about the Heidelberg Catechism. It was first published in 1563, and quickly became a much valued resource in the teaching of the Christian faith. Even today it is still used by the Hungarian Reformed Churches, and Reformed churches in Germany, Italy, Poland, and Switzerland. Over the next few months I intend to explore what is said in this Catechism as part of our Sunday worship and today, during this sermon, we will look very briefly at Question 1 and the answer given to it.

Heidelberg Catechism, Question 1: What is your only comfort, in life and in death?
Answer: That I belong – body and soul, in life and in death – not to myself but to my faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ, who at the cost of his own blood has fully paid for all my sins and has completely freed me from the dominion of the devil; that he protects me so well that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that everything must fit his purpose for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit, be also assures me of eternal life, and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

‘What is my only comfort in life and in death? That I belong, body and soul, not to myself but to my faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ.’ This, my friends, is the meaning of Easter. This is what transforms your life and mine. This is the Good News which chases away the darkness of our lives: that you and I belong to Jesus Christ. This is what Jesus Christ has accomplished by his cross and resurrection: he has claimed you and me as his own. What news! Suddenly, the world is transformed. From dark despair we find ourselves now moving forward in hope and in faith, faith in this great message of promise and hope. “For faith is the certainly of things hoped for, the assurance of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11 v 1) And suddenly, unexpectedly, we find ourselves alongside Abraham and Sarah, and Isaac and Jacob, and, before them, Abel and Enoch and Noah; and after them, Moses and Joshua, Samuel and David, Elijah and the prophets; and Peter and the beloved disciple – not on that early morning dash to the tomb in horror and fear, but later, meeting Jesus, risen from the dead, with all the disciples, now apostles, proclaiming the risen Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Suddenly, our world is transformed. We belong to Jesus Christ. The Heidelberg catechism explores what that means for you and for me, and for all who belong to Jesus Christ.

What is our only comfort in life and in death? That we belong to Jesus Christ. The question posed at the start of this sermon (“Where were you….?) is now something to rejoice in, for all this was done by God without our even knowing about it. Our salvation was accomplished before we even knew it was possible!

And that is what we celebrate as we gather around the Lord’s table to share in the gifts which our risen Lord now presents to us: bread and wine, the communion of his body and his blood. For our darkness is turned to light. Our despair is transformed into hope. We, who were not even there when our salvation was accomplished, find ourselves walking the path of life with all those of all ages and places who, like us, have heard the Good News. “Where were you…?” comes the question. And now we may reply with certainty: “Wherever we were, it matters no longer. For now we are at Christ’s table, with our risen Lord, for he has claimed us as his own.” Thanks be to God. Amen.

Tags: 2014, Easter Day

Job 38:1-18

1Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, 2Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? 3Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. 4Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. 5Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? 6Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; 7When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? 8Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb? 9When I made the cloud the garment thereof, and thick darkness a swaddlingband for it, 10And brake up for it my decreed place, and set bars and doors, 11And said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further: and here shall thy proud waves be stayed? 12Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days; and caused the dayspring to know his place; 13That it might take hold of the ends of the earth, that the wicked might be shaken out of it? 14It is turned as clay to the seal; and they stand as a garment. 15And from the wicked their light is withholden, and the high arm shall be broken. 16Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea? or hast thou walked in the search of the depth? 17Have the gates of death been opened unto thee? or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death? 18Hast thou perceived the breadth of the earth? declare if thou knowest it all. (KJV)

John 20:1-10

1The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. 2Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. 3Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. 4So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. 5And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. 6Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, 7And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. 8Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed. 9For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. 10Then the disciples went away again unto their own home. (KJV)

Hebrews 11:1-3

1Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2For by it the elders obtained a good report. 3Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. (KJV)

Hebrews 11:8-12

8By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. 9By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: 10For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. 11Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised. 12Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable. (KJV)

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