Welcome to Easter Sunday worship. This is much shorter today because our Territorial Leaders Commissioners Anthony and Gillian Cotterill are leading online worship with contributions from across the United Kingdom Territory.
Bible Reading: John 20:1-18
Easter Bible Message (Major John Ager)
In the account of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, we begin to glimpse something of what he went through spiritually, mentally and emotionally before his physical suffering and death on the cross.
But why am I going back to Thursday on Easter Sunday?
Actually, I could go back further, to Palm Sunday and even back beyond that. On Palm Sunday he rode into Jerusalem in defiance of the people’s expectations, they misunderstood the nature of his coming and purpose. He came as the Prince of Peace, having previously set his face towards Jerusalem, resolved to go the way of the cross.
Jesus never took the easy way out of a situation; he wasn’t going to be turned from his final challenge. He knew the direction his life was taking, he wasn’t a weak-minded person overtaken by events, he was in full command of what was happening. Yes, this resolve was thoroughly tested in Gethsemane, but his mind had already been made up, and we see his composure during the trial. Jesus even spoke of his coming death as an accomplishment, referring to it as his victory.
So it’s not just about the victory of Easter morning, but the victory secured when Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem.
The time of anguish in the garden sums up his whole life and ministry:
‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’ Mark 14:36
We see both his humanity and his divinity; his humanity telling him to escape the situation, his divinity telling him to obey. We can’t attempt to fathom the depths of his suffering at this time; we do not know, we cannot tell, what pains he had to bear.
Luke tells us that Jesus, being in anguish, prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. Luke 22:44
The words in an earlier verse cannot adequately be translated into English; he experienced severe horror and suffering. The best we can do are the words distress and anguish, different versions try to plumb the depths of his experience.
My music of choice on Good Friday is Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. It selects itself and still has the power to shock and move the human spirit.
This moment is powerfully expressed:
He is ready to taste the bitterness of death,
to drink the cup into which the sins of this world,
hideously stinking, have been poured.
That’s the victory, the mystery of God’s love that Christ should suffer for us. The paradox of a loving God and a suffering Christ, we can’t fully explain it, the reality will always be bigger than the theology of our finite minds, yet:
We believe it was for us,
he hung and suffered there.
The innocent one suffered for us and, in that moment of death, took upon himself the whole load of humanity’s sin and folly.
He quoted Psalm 22 on the cross:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Sin separates us from God and, as Jesus took on our sin, it separated him from his heavenly Father, in a moment of true abandonment.
Yet the psalm has a positive ending, it’s victorious. It foreshadows the Resurrection, so Jesus was able to say, Thy will be done.
I hope you can see now why I’ve gone backwards from Easter, because the Resurrection was the vindication of the victory already achieved in his life.
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9-11
Be Easter people in a Good Friday world.
See also: Resurrection (Rob Bell)