“Celebrating The Gift of Life”
March 23/08 Easter Sunday, John 20:1-18

Easter… brings to mind so many things doesn’t it? What was in your mind when you woke up this Easter morning? Excited children… chocolate… spring… What about life? What about Jesus Christ, risen from the dead?! Easter has to be the most important day of the year for Christians. Christmas is important, when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, and anticipate all he will teach us. But Easter is when all that he teaches us is fulfilled.

He died on Friday… we came together to reflect on his death on the cross. This morning, we come to celebrate his resurrection from the dead! Jesus is alive! The tomb is empty… he lives!

When Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw the stone was rolled away, did she remember what Jesus had said? No, she was in shock. The tomb was empty, someone had taken the body away! It was not until Jesus revealed himself to her that she recognized him, and remembered what he had promised.

In his life Jesus said and did many wondrous things. He healed people, he raised them from the dead, and he taught some tough life lessons about how we are to treat one another. As we’ve been reading here in church throughout Lent, we learn that through our belief in him, we have eternal life. When we believe in and follow the risen Jesus Christ, we will be welcomed into the kingdom of God. This is pretty amazing news!

Let me share with you some thoughts I’ve been having lately about the state of the church. Not just this one, or the United Church of Canada, but the church as a whole.

I’ve been observing the media lately, specifically the incredible thirst out there for “the spiritual”. People are buying up spiritual tools like crazy. Oprah’s latest book plug seems to be another type of spiritual examination. I haven’t read the book yet, but many people are producing huge amounts of spiritual material. People are hungry for a deeper spiritual meaning in their lives. It is a huge industry making millions of dollars. This is good news right?

But is it really? We are called the church. The body of Jesus Christ working in the world today. We have a God who gave us a son and raised him from the dead so that we may receive the grace and love of God through Jesus Christ. We should have a corner on the entire spirituality market!

Instead, we have closing churches… denominations that cannot recruit enough candidates to become ministers… buildings that once were full, now nearly empty.

How is it that we are missing out on this great movement in the world around us? Why is it that people, when they are thirsting for a spiritual awakening, why don’t they come to the church? It has to be a question we ask ourselves. What is the answer? I’m not sure, but I do know I have lots and lots of questions.

In scripture, we see how so many people welcomed Christ into their lives, both during his earthly ministry and after he ascended to be with God. The early church, recorded in Acts, saw days where thousands of people came to faith in Jesus Christ, from all nations and all walks of life. There was a spiritual thirsting there, and it was the disciples who introduced Jesus to them, and satisfied their need.

Jesus called himself the living water, the bread of life, the light of the world. How is it when people are hungering and thirsting for a deeper spiritual connection, they don’t come to the church to seek the life giving bread and water?

I think as a church, again I’m not picking on just a single church or denomination, but instead the whole of Christianity, we need to look at ourselves. We need to ask “How do people outside the church see us?” Are we living out in a spiritual way that would be seen as an invitation to join a community which lives in the Holy Spirit? I think we would be surprised by what we find out. Or maybe not.

Watch over the next couple of weeks, as we read in scripture how people react when they encounter the risen Christ. Mary Magadelene ran off very excited to share with the disciples her encounter with Jesus outside the empty tomb. She is our first example. Over the next few weeks we’ll see others. The rest of the disciples, the two people walking on the road to Emmaus. We can also read the book of Acts, to see just how the early churched grew through the excitement and preaching of the apostles.

When we look at the excitement around all the new age approaches to deepening one’s spirituality, people come. When someone makes a connection to a deeper longing within a group of people, it makes them want to be part of it. They want a piece of the enjoyment. They want to experience a deep, relational, spiritual awakening. Our souls long for it. We came from God, and we long to be with God once again.

This is the day where we should be celebrating in the streets that our Saviour is risen! Our Saviour is alive! We don’t say Christ was risen… we say Christ IS risen. We have been given the greatest gift one could ever expect to receive on this day. God has given us life through the death and resurrection of his Son.

Friends, when we look at ourselves through the eyes of another, how do others see our own joyous celebration in this unmeasurable gift? The gift of eternal life through our belief and following of Jesus Christ who gave his life for us.