Sermon: The Resurrection – Universal, yet Personal

A sermon preached by the Revd Dr Trevor Jamison at Saint Columba’s United Reformed Church, North Shields, March 31st 2024

Luke 24:1-12; John 20: 11-18

Watch the whole service on YouTube


‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.’ (Luke 24:5)

There’s a great question for Easter: ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.’

It sounds like good news, and it is good news, though to appreciate its significance you need to know the wider story; the story about Jesus; the story of God; the story of the resurrection, available to us through the witness of the women at the empty tomb all those years ago.

Our two Gospel readings, from Luke and from John, provide us with that background story to the astonishing events of the first Easter Day. They have different emphases though. Luke tells us about the group of women who were the first to hear the good news that Christ had been raised from the dead. John focuses upon one woman – Mary Magdalene – the first person to meet with the risen Lord Jesus Christ.

It was a group of women who came to the tomb ‘at early dawn’ (24:1). They came bringing ‘spices that they had prepared’ (24:1) in order to anoint the body of Jesus. Usually, anointing the body of a man was considered man’s work, but the male disciples just weren’t up to it on this occasion.

Luke names some of these women: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and states that there were others present too. (24:10) A few verses earlier he informed readers that they had come down from Galilee with Jesus (23:55). Several chapters further back, Luke revealed that these women were part of Jesus’s band of disciples from the early days of his ministry, accompanying him, and also providing significant financial support for the enterprise. (8:1-3)

It was they who found that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb which no longer contained the body of Jesus. (24:2-3) It was they who were ‘terrified’ by the sudden appearance of ‘two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them.’ (24:4) And it was these women who were the first recipients of the message, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.’

But that was not the whole message. As well as being informed about what had happened at the tomb – ‘he has risen’ – the women were urged to connect that with what had gone before: ‘Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ (24:6-7)

Remembering these words of Jesus (24:8), the women then headed off to tell the other disciples the Easter good news. But before they get there let’s ponder what Jesus had said to them in Galilee; a universal message, yet one personal to each one of us: ‘the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’

‘The Son of Man must be handed over to sinners.’ Not to “the Jews”, not to “the Romans” – to ‘sinners’. Anyone here want to claim that they have never sinned? If I claimed that I had never sinned you wouldn’t believe me, and you would be right not to do so. We all have sinned, and we have all been the victims of sin; either though the actions of other individuals, or by being caught up in the sinful structures of the way this world is organised.

There’s no point in trying to scapegoat one group concerning the death of Jesus. The consequences of the centuries-long history of Christians doing that to Jews have been appalling. And no one I know thinks that present-day Italians should be held responsible for what some officials and soldiers of the Roman empire did on one occasion in Palestine two thousand years ago. No! Jesus said that he would be handed over to ‘sinners’ – to human beings like you and me – and that they would crucify him.

Aware of this universal human predicament, of our failure to live up to being the people God wants, with its terrible consequences for life in this world, God has acted by coming to be with us in the person of a human being: Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus represents both God – he’s God’s Son – and humankind – he’s the ‘Son of Man’. He embodied the life that God wills for us, and confronted what was wrong with the world. And humankind – sinners all – responded by crushing him, by crucifying him. And the women at the tomb were being told not to forget that.

But universal sin, which leads humankind to kill Jesus, does not get the last word in the divine story. Yes, he would be handed over to sinners. Yes they would crucify him, kill him, but then ‘on the third day he would rise again.’ All the forces of the world – all empires and other authorities; all of the collective weight of human sin, failure, shortcoming, and wrongdoing proved insufficient when compared with the power of God’s love for the world, the universe, that God has created and sustains. In the person of Jesus, God’s love had not been overcome. Christ had risen again.

And that group of women disciples were the first to receive this universal message of hope and joy; good news for them and for us too, and for our fellow sinners everywhere and in every age. But this message that is for everyone is also for each one of us as individuals. It’s for everyone and it’s for you. And to appreciate that we shift from Luke’s Gospel to John’s Gospel; from a group of women to one woman; from a message about the resurrection to an encounter with the risen Jesus Christ.

We are with the tearful Mary Magdalene at the tomb. And John, in his Gospel, wants to focus upon this one person and their individual encounter with Jesus. The other women are still around at this point in Matthew’s version of events, but disappear in John’s Gospel. John wants to remind us about the one-to-one relationship we have with God through Jesus Christ. We have moved from the universal to the personal.

Here, Mary Magdalene is the first person to meet with the risen Jesus, and is a very personal meeting. It is when Jesus says her name – ‘Mary’ – that she realises that the one before her is not the cemetery gardener. It’s her Teacher and Lord. He says her name, and she responds with ‘Rabbouni’ (20:16), or ‘Rabbi’, or we would say, ‘Teacher.’

We should never make the mistake of believing God’s universal love to be an impersonal love. Instead, it’s a case of both/and: God loves everything and everyone in the whole of creation, including you … and me! Whatever you have done or not done, whatever has happened to you, it cannot separate you from the love of God, because not even death itself is capable of doing that. (Romans 8:38-39)

In Luke’s Gospel the women disciples were commanded, ‘Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ (24:6-7)

This is the message of universal and personal good news. It applies to everyone. It’s a message that the women, including Mary Magdalene, shared with the other disciples (Luke 24: 10; John 20:18). And it’s a message worth sharing with each other, and with others today: Jesus Christ, who is God-with-us, was killed by us sinners, but God’s power and God’s love is greater than the worst we can do, and Jesus has risen again: alleluia!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.