Toorak Uniting Church

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"There is something new under the sun"

Matthew 28: 1 – 10     Psalm. 118:1 – 2, 14 – 24
Rev. Ian Brown
Easter, 27 March 2005

I wonder if you saw last week where the new "SYNCHROTRON" was open to the public out at Monash University. You may have an interest in science, or not and many of the people there were just the same – not a flood of scientists come from everywhere, but ordinary Melburnians out to have a look at a building that will house some very expensive apparatus. Most were very impressed by the fascinating new thing that wasn’t there yet.

The story left me thinking; what a curious lot we are, and then it made me wonder about our attraction to things that seem to be new. In the realm of science, things like this synchrotron promise new advances, new techniques, a new way of looking; and it is intriguing, attractive, this promise and hope.

We human are very strange animals in some ways, always excited by "new" discoveries, new projects, new arrivals, some of us even get excited at new policies, publications and prognostications! No one advertizes "old formula" products, there just wouldn’t be the interest.

There is, of course another side to the story. A perspective that also contains much truth. Truth that would sagely warn us that there is, as the writer of the Hebrew wisdom book, Ecclesiastes puts it, " there is nothing new under the sun." That in fact, much of what we think of as new is a repackaging of the old in a different way. And that in fact most of human experience is the same as it has ever been.

The language of the Psalm for today expresses how we would expect the events of Jesus passion to unfold, how it has ever been in the story of our great figures – "the right hand of the Lord does valiantly" – yes we think of God triumphing. "I shall not die, but I shall live" – yes life is affirmed by God, death is defeat. "the Lord has punished me severely, but he did not give me over to death" – this is how the script should have gone, to the brink , not over it, – but not for Jesus.
No, Jesus plumbs the absolute depths of tragedy, of agony and suffering, and death.
And then there is truly a new beginning, like no other.

The story of the resurrection has a wonderful newness, in fact really, a shocking newness about it. There are the frightened women, the earthquake, the shining angel and the surprise meeting of this man they knew had been dead.
The story of Easter goes against the grain of all we expect in life – it is the ultimate positive twist at the end of what is otherwise the most awful tragedy.
Let me suggest some possible parallels.

The shocking newness of the Easter story is perhaps;
what it would be like in the Middle East if peace and prosperity were to suddenly break out and overtake the whole land, with everyone becoming friends, – impossible! But just the most marvelous, unexpected good news.

Or Easter is perhaps like what it would be like if Lisa Simpson won the Nobel Peace Prize; – just the most surprising unbelievable totally new thing.
Or how the people of Bandeh Aceh might have felt if after the terrible tsunami on boxing day – it had been followed after three days somehow by the flowering of a real new beginning.
Or for us like coming to a quiet Holy week service, and finding the church full of eager, devoted seekers after God.

That’s very much like the story of Jesus. Unexpected, unimaginable!
Think for a moment about the surprises or shocks you have had when something really new has happened – some news, good or bad, an event or new invention. It can take a long time to adjust to a new idea, a new way of being because we get used to the way things are – our beliefs are often formed mostly around our experience of the way life is. Common belief used to be that people couldn't fly, that black people couldn't be equal to white people and that the earth is flat. All these "truths" have since been proved false, and so for Christians – since Jesus, has the truth that death is the end. This is a different, new experience of the way life is.

It is really a radical new experience, in fact Easter is a more truly shocking event than Good Friday, for people die brutal deaths all the time, but resurrection and new life beyond the tomb is more than just extraordinary!

In the gospel account there are bits and pieces about the consequences of the resurrection, but nothing written about it at all.
Instead there is the simple proclamation of the fact, "Christ is risen!"
The very existence of the New Testament and the church proclaims this truth. For unless something shockingly new, real and true had taken place on that strange confused morning, there would be no Christianity!

Easter shouts the truth that the great love of God knows no bounds, that even death cannot defeat it.
The resurrection tells us, "God affirms life, affirms the ultimate value of all that God has made."

This is the nature of the resurrection, it is surprise, the most unbelievable good news, good beyond measure, but against the grain of all we should expect. Here there is something truly new under the sun!

Like the women in the story, we would expect to find a body in a tomb, we would expect to search for him using our senses and capabilities.
But instead, the new thing has leapt out of the grave and Jesus finds us, the good news springs out of nowhere, because he is alive. The truth of Easter is of the sort that makes us and the world different and renewed. And the confession of the church is that – In Christ all are made alive!
"This is the new day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it."
Amen.

© Rev. Ian Brown, 2005


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