- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 29, 2007

The following are excerpts of a sermon given recently by Bishop Martyn Minns at Truro Church in Fairfax:

Let’s face it, the story does sound incredible: A dead man’s body, sealed inside a rock tomb guarded by an armed soldier, disappears, and He comes back to life. A man, who had been crucified, is now walking around, talking to people. How can we be sure? Those first disciples were just as skeptical as you and me, maybe more so because they had actually seen Him tortured and killed. They had seen His lifeless body hanging from that tree. They wanted to believe. They really did, but they couldn’t. It was just too hard.

The women insisted. They had been to the grave. The stone had been rolled back, and His body had gone. And then there were those angels, and their message was clear: “He is not here. He has risen.” It really happened. But the disciples needed more proof, and Jesus showed Himself to them. He began with those two disciples on the road to Emmaus and later made several appearances to the other disciples. All told, more than 500 eyewitnesses saw Him before His ascension to the Father. Since then, He has made a few return visits, most famously to the Apostle Paul on that road to Damascus.

Make no mistake about it. It really happened. But what difference does it make? I believe that it makes all the difference.

The Resurrection of Jesus declares that God can deal with our past. Several times during His earthly ministry, Jesus told people that whatever had happened in their past could be undone. He told a man who had been born blind that he could be healed. He told another man who was paralyzed to get up and walk because his sins were forgiven. At the Last Supper, in the upper room, He described the Communion cup as His “blood, which was shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

You see, Jesus linked our forgiveness with His death on the cross. He taught them and us that He was going to die for our sins. Now through His death and Resurrection we are all given the possibility of a new start.

By His Resurrection, God assures us that He accepts what Jesus did on the cross and that He did not die in vain. On the contrary, His death and Resurrection are the very grounds on which God is able to forgive us our sins and set us free from the past. I have been thinking of some of the people for whom this has been a welcome reality during our years of ministry here at Truro. I remember a woman. I’ll call her Mary, not her real name, who I met some years ago. She told me that she had ended an unwanted pregnancy with an abortion and now she was ashamed of her decision. She admitted that, at the time, she had never really thought about her pregnancy as involving a little baby whose life was precious to God. But now, it was too late. She couldn’t forgive herself. Every time she saw another baby, the nightmare of her guilt grew. She didn’t know what to do. I reminded her about the words of Jesus from the cross, especially when He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

I pointed out that if Jesus was willing to forgive those who had nailed Him to the cross, for sure He was willing to forgive her. She wasn’t convinced. She needed something more. I suggested that we use the traditional prayer book service for the reconciliation of a penitent. She agreed, made her confession and heard the words of absolution, and it took hold. Finally, her guilt was gone. The forgiveness that Christ had won through His death and Resurrection was hers. Mary was able to live a new life set free from the past.

As I look around the congregation there are hundreds of similar stories, men and women set free from the past and able to live a new life. I am thinking of a man who came to see me almost 16 years ago. He was an ordained Episcopal priest, but he had abandoned his ministry because his life was in chaos. He had already messed up two marriages, and he could see no way forward. He was a very gifted man. He knew a great deal about God. He had a graduate degree in theology, but there was no personal connection with God into his life. It was merely an intellectual abstraction for him. We began to talk and pray together. He opened himself up to the transforming love of God. He found out that Jesus was a real person and that He was still alive. He made a new commitment to be His disciple and began to experience the renewing power of the Spirit. It didn’t happen instantly, but over the years, he has discovered that the very same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in him. His name is Herb. Some of you know him. Today, Herb is a new man who knows what it means to be forgiven. He has been set free, and he knows it. He knows that the Resurrection of Jesus declares that God can deal with our past.

It is all because of the Resurrection of Jesus. It changes everything. The Resurrection assures us of God’s forgiveness, if we will only put our trust in His Son, Jesus Christ. The Resurrection declares that God’s transforming power is available to change the most stubborn life, if we will only ask. Finally, the Resurrection points to God’s promise for the future. We will have the victory. Nothing can separate us from His love. If we will only believe.

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