There is one old story that never grows old, and it has an effect however often it is told. -- a sermon for Easter 2012
Saint James Fordham • Easter 2012 • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which you also stand, through which also you are being saved.+
Happy Easter! We come once again to the glorious morning on which we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. In the midst of the celebration, the flowers and the festivity, we might sometimes be tempted to miss the centrality, the vital importance, of this day. This is the day that makes Christianity what it is — the day on which God affirmed that Jesus was his beloved Son by raising him from the dead. And the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead is the heart and soul of the gospel, the good news.
To look at the teaching of some Christians, you might think it was otherwise. For some, the emphasis appears to be on the cross, the crucifixion, suffering and death of Jesus. And surely that is important, as I said last Sunday, “crucially” important. But as with a story that you understand only when you have read it to the very end, the importance of Good Friday depends entirely upon what happened on Easter.
Think about it for a moment: if Good Friday, and Christ’s death on the cross had been the end of the story, if the women had gone to the tomb and found it closed but perhaps recruited a helpful friend to roll the stone away, and then just went about the sad business of anointing the dead body of their dear friend with spices and then sealing the tomb back up — — in short, if Jesus had not been raised from the dead, I don’t think we’d be here this morning. As tragic as his suffering and death was; even as comforting as meditating on his passion and death has been down through the years for many suffering, wounded, or injured people — if that had been the end, then little note would have been taken, there would have been no resurrection to witness, no preaching of the gospel, no good news — the best news and the greatest gospel: that an innocent man who suffered and died was vindicated in being raised from the dead, and more than that: that he gave power and promise to all who believe in him to share in a life like his. This, my friends, this is the good news — not just that he “was crucified under Pontius Pilate” but that “the third day he rose again from the dead.”
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We need to be reminded of this, just as the people of Corinth needed to be reminded, as Saint Paul did in fact remind them. This good news is not just something told once, and then filed and forgotten. This is good news that never grows old — even as it becomes the “old, old story”— this isn’t like some story on CNN that gets told over and over again to fill the 24-hour news cycle, but is forgotten as soon as some other item rises to the surface and grabs our attention. Last year, didn’t we all get tired of watching that offshore under-water oil-leak, week after week, as CNN became the “Oil Leak All the Time Channel”? But the leak was quickly forgotten once it was stopped up, and people are right back on the drill-baby-drill bandwagon!
No, the good news of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not like that. This is good news that never grows old, except in that wonderful way of really good, old stories. The Good News is news we can hear over and over again. We can hear the old, old, story, that is always new, the one we love to tell, and we tell it out because it tells of glory. Not just death on the cross, but life, new life, triumphant.
And not only does it tell of glory, this gospel, this good news: it has an effect upon us, a saving effect. For the story of salvation is salvation itself. It is told so that we may believe, and believing, have eternal life.
Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if all that news “coverage” of that oil-leak could actually have covered the oil-leak and made it stop? But it didn’t. The story of the resurrection, however, the gospel of the good news of God at work in Christ Jesus — the story of salvation actually saves. For it is in hearing the good news, and believing it, that we are saved.
Saint Paul reminded the Corinthians of the process: of the good news that is first proclaimed to them, which they in turn received — for what good is a message if you do not receive it! But there is more: it is good news in which also they stand; that is, they hold on to it and stand on it and by it — which is to say they put their trust in it, their faith in it. And so it is through that message of the good news they are being saved. They have not believed in vain, but to a purpose and an end.
This is the fruitfulness, the productivity of the gospel message: Christ rose from the dead not just to rise from the dead, but so that we might be saved through him, through that proclamation, reception, holding fast and standing by that message. The gospel, and the gospel alone, bears the fruit of salvation.
Compare this with an earthly message, say, about that oil-leak. You can proclaim it — surely CNN did so hour after hour, day by day and week by week. I can receive it — and with cable TV the reception is pretty good, in HD no less. I can even believe it — after all, there’s the live under-water oil-leak-cam running in the lower corner of the screen, day and night, twenty-four hours a day, and seeing is believing.
But that’s the end of it. This news bears no fruit, does nothing for my immortal soul one way or the other.
Only one news story ever had the fruitful effect of bringing everlasting life, and you heard it once again this morning, as we do each Easter. It is a message first delivered to some frightened women, at first so frightened that they didn’t spread the news. But as the Gospel tells us, eventually they did, and Jesus himself began to appear to others, showing himself to have been raised from the dead. And the good news spread, from east to west, that sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.
So, my friends, do not let this Easter morning be the end of that good news, as good as it is for you. Even if this is the first day you’ve been in church for a season — do not let it be your last. And more importantly, become news-bearers yourself: Continue to tell the story, the old, old story of the good news of Jesus and his love, how he was raised from the dead, and through his resurrection brought salvation to the world. Alleluia, Christ is risen; the Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia.