A Sermon Preached on Easter Sunday during the Holy Communion on Sunday 1st April, 2018
Holy Communion Lectionary Readings:
- Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
- Acts 10:34-43
- 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
- John 20:1-18
Christ’s mission was very clear when He landed on earth; it was to save mankind. In order to do this, He consistently laboured not only to bring about Religious Reformation but also Spiritual Transformation. Religious Reformation without Spiritual Transformation is a misnomer. Religious Reformation’s main focus is the religion and its systems of worship while Spiritual Transformation’s main focus is the individual’s spirituality. While religion demands obedience to practices and systems, without caring about an individual, Spiritual Transformation on the other hand is relational, it is a relationship with God. Individual is the focus in Spiritual Transformation. God is not so much interested in religion as in relationship with the “worshippers”.
Judaism created a distance / barrier between God and man. The Jewish custodians of Judaism filled the gap they had created between man and God. That is why God had to personally reach out to humanity through Jesus Christ, bypassing the religious custodians. Sometimes, God bypasses religion to directly transform His people. Religion as good as it is, sometimes becomes the barrier between God and people; especially when God is removed from the main focus and replaced with religion and its custodians.
Reforming religion is a dangerous mission that caused Christ His life and in the same vein it has caused many their ministries and their lives (like what befell Martin Luther and his compatriots of the Church Reformation of the 16th Century). This is because trying to remove power, influence and material benefits from the custodians of religion will be resisted at all costs. Judaism killed Christ because He dared to interfere with their hold on religion. When Christ tried to bring God to His rightful place, at the centre of religion, the custodians of Judaism had to use all means to perpetuate their hegemony on Judaism. So they killed Christ thinking that now they will take the place of God without any challenge. Jesus captured this in His prophesy in the Parable of the Tenants:
Mathew 21:33-43 “33 “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. 34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. 35 “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37 Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. 38 “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.” 42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” 43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.
I believe that Easter Sunday, with Christ’s resurrection, this prophesy has been fulfilled with a paradigm shift from Judaism to a focus on Spiritual Transformation.
This shift has brought about three crucial benefits:
- Women’s Ministry Brought at the Centre of God’s Ministry
With the resurrection of Christ, women ministry was main-streamed into the centre of God’s agenda for Spiritual Transformation as opposed to Judaism where women were to consult with their husbands at home as Paul alludes to in his epistle to the Corinthians:
1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 “As in all the congregations of the saints, 34 women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”
All the four gospel writers, have their resurrection narratives introduced by women:
Matthew 28:1 “After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.”
Mark 16:1 “1When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.”
Luke 24:1 “On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.”
John 20:1 “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.”
Isn’t it beneficial to the Christendom, that women were the first, not only to learn about the risen Christ, but also to see the risen Christ and to proclaim the message about the risen Christ first to the disciples?
It might appear difficult to comprehend why Paul only mentions men in his resurrection account:
1 Corinthians 15:1-8 “1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”
Paul, mentions no woman at all by name in this his resurrection account! Of course, as contradicting as it might appear in Paul’s resurrection narrative when he wrote to the Corinthians, we must understand the context in which Paul was writing, in that, Christianity was in its formative stages in the midst of Judaism and Paul was trying to appeal to the Jewish converts lest he antagonised them against the gospel by listing women as the first witnesses of Christ’s resurrection.
Judaism was a tribal religion. One was born into the religion; one inherited the religion. Anyone from outside admiring the religion and wished to join, joined as a “second class” worshipper with limited benefits and no full rights. However, the resurrection of Christ brought a shift in religious focus; from the Jews to all the nations of the world; from God, being the God of the Jews only to God, being the God of all peoples.
Cornelius was not born a Jew but followed Judaism since it was appealing to him. According to Judaism, Cornelius could only be referred to as God-fearing:
Acts 10:1-2 “1 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. 2 He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.”
A ‘God-fearer’ was a Gentile who gave general adherence to the Jewish faith, worship and practice without submitting to circumcision. To Jews, circumcision was one of the pillars of their religion due to the circumcision covenant between God and Abraham.
Peter, being a Jew, could not enter a Gentile’s house because Gentiles were unclean (Acts 10:14). It took God to convince Peter:
Acts 10:15-16 “15The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” 16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.”
When Peter heard Cornelius account on the events that led Cornelius to send for him, Peter began to understand what God was up to:
Acts 10:34-35 “34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.”
As Peter retold the resurrection account, God affirmed the shift to universal Spiritual Transformation by filling all the Gentiles who were present in the room with the Holy Spirit, even before they had received water baptism:
Acts 10:44-48 “44While 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 the Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, 47 “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.”
The resurrection story, is a story of paradigm shift, shifting from exclusion to inclusion and from a tribal religion to a universal family of God. It is a beautiful story of breaking the barriers and walls of partition, and bringing the whole humanity to be a people of God.
- Choosing the Way of Grace against Legalism
The resurrection of Christ inaugurated the advent of grace over legalism. Religion emits legalism and demands legalism. Whenever you mention religion, what comes to mind first is, what you need to do to be accepted by God, what you need to faithfully observe, how to behave, and the consequences in case you fail or fall short of what religion dictates. Religion is about human efforts to reach God.
However, with the resurrection of Christ, there is a shift to grace.
- By grace, the women were able to proclaim the resurrection of Christ
- By grace, Peter was able to enter a Gentiles house
- By grace, a Gentile, Cornelius was admitted into the full rights of relationship with God
- By grace, Paul, the persecutor; Paul the greatest sinner became an apostle of Christ
Paul wonderfully narrates how this amazing grace of resurrection, transformed him from a legalist to a spiritually transformed apostle of Christ Jesus:
1 Corinthians 15:8-10 “8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. 9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them —yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”
Christ’s resurrection is a narrative of a great shift from religiosity to Spiritual Transformation. Those who had been pushed to the periphery by the chauvinistic custodians of religion, by grace have become part of God’s universal Spiritual Transformation agenda. The women, the Gentiles and the sinners, by grace have become co-heirs together with the Jews through the resurrection of Christ.
Friends, this calls for celebration as the Psalmist (Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24) calls us to the celebration dance. Let us all dance together to this new music of resurrection. The beautiful tune of a new music does not discriminate any culture, race or language. When it is played, even if you don’t understand the words, you just find yourself, either nodding, swaying or tapping your fingers. I invite us to a dance to this new beautiful music. Please try a few lines with me; (you just echo after me – His love endures forever) let’s go:
“1 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good: His love endures forever.
2 Let Israel say: His love endures forever.
Our God is a mighty God: His love endures forever
Nyasachwa en Nyasaye manyalo gik moko duto: His love endures forever
Ngai witu ni munene na ni wa wendo: His love endures forever
Nyasaye wanje nomulahi: His love endures forever…
The Rev. Simon J. Oriedo Easter Sunday, 2018