Easter Sunday 2014
20 April 2014
St Mary’s Hadlow
Readings: Acts 10:34-43 , John 20:1-18
May I speak this morning in the name of God, +Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Christ is Risen – He is risen indeed, alleluia.”
Sisters and Brothers in Christ we are here –Easter Sunday, the Sunday of Sundays, the first day of a new creation.
This morning we are, of course, thinking about and celebrating the events of that morning, about which we have just heard. A morning that dawned just two days after the terrible events of Good Friday and which promised to be just another day of grief for those who had loved and followed Jesus, but which became the day on which he rose from the tomb and changed everything.
I am happy to go out onto a limb here and say that the resurrection of Jesus is the single most important corner stone of the Christian faith.
As St Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:14 “…if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”
Without the resurrection we simply follow a preacher who was executed following an unjust trial in an harsh and unjust society. But with the resurrection we know that God is doing something new, that death does not have the final word, that the dividing curtain between man and God is torn in two and that Jesus is not merely a good man who lived and died but that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Without the resurrection everything is in vain, but with the resurrection everything is transformed, including you and I.
Bearing in mind the absolute centrality of the resurrection to the Christian faith it is interesting that none of the gospels seek to describe the moment of resurrection itself –it is not that the gospel writers were wary about such stories, you may recall that at the moment of Jesus’crucifixion there were reports of a mini-resurrection of some Holy People who went about in Jerusalem and, of course, the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead in his grave cloths is quite graphic. And yet, in relation to the resurrection of Jesus there is never an attempt by the gospel writers to do beyond the eye witness stories that they had.
The thing we are most curious about, the central fact of history is hidden from us. At his death, Jesus was laid like any human corpse in the secret darkness of a tomb. But in dark and hidden places God’s power is astonishingly at work. We expect new life to emerge from a womb (though it always seems miraculous), but who expects it to come from a cold grave?
So let us now enter into the events of that morning. The Gospels tell us that the initial discovery was a negative one: the tomb was empty. Jesus was gone. Even the small consolation of anointing his remains with Myrrh was denied to his friends. Mary Magdalene, coming to the tomb on that thwarted errand of loving service, is the first witness to this absence, and she reports it to the disciples. Peter and the beloved disciple race to reach the tomb and find out what is going on.
Having seen that she told the truth, Jesus’body is indeed missing, they then (according to John’s Gospel) do something that appears astonishing. They simply go home. They accept the extraordinary situation, and go back to their friends to ponder it. It seems that they have forgotten about the woman whose message alerted them to the news, and who not only ran to fetch them but accompanied them all the way back to the garden as well.
The next verse raises the hair on the back of my neck: “But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.”That “but”is the hinge between the story of Peter and John’s brief detective work, and Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the risen Christ. She stayed in the garden – perhaps there is a parallel here to the Garden of Gethsemane when the male disciples failed to stay with Jesus. On the subject of gardens there is also a very powerful parallel here with the Garden of Eden in which creation started and mankind fell from grace and the Easter garden in which creation is re-started and God’s offer of grace is renewed.
Mary’s primary emotion at this point is not curiosity or fear: it is the profoundly human response of grief. She is drawn to the tomb by longing for her Lord. She needs to be in the place where she last saw him.
When she does look into the tomb for herself, however, she sees rather differently from Peter and John. Where they had spotted only the discarded grave-clothes, she sees two angels, guarding the empty space like the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant. Blessed are those who mourn indeed. and the Angels speak to her: “Woman, why are you weeping?”
And she repeats to them the message she has already given to the disciples, but with a slight variation: not “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb,”but “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
The gratitude for her healing that caused Mary Magdelene to follow Jesus initially has deepened into love and devotion. She has already shown her courageous faithfulness when Jesus was arrested. When the hand-picked disciples who had been trained for leadership deserted him, she stayed at the cross. Here she is, a myrrh-bearer at his tomb as soon as the sabbath is over. Her actions are driven by grief and longing. She is passionate and steadfast.
“They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
As soon as the words are out of her mouth, and before the angels can say anything more, she turns around (perhaps she hears someone behind her) , and another mysterious stranger repeats the question of the Angels: “Woman, why are you weeping?”
Then he asks a significant follow-up: “For whom are you looking?”
Surely her heart leaps in her at the sound of that question, so like the questions she has often heard the Lord ask: “What do you want me to do for you?”and “Who do you say that I am?”
But the moment of utter conviction comes with the calling of her name: “Mary!”and her answering implied embrace.
But Jesus says that this is not the time for holding onto him –there is something even more important to do and that is to get and tell others the good news that Jesus is alive –and Mary readily departs with the message that has been personally entrusted to her.
So Peter and the beloved disciple had gone home as observers of an inexplicable event, to puzzle it over with the other disciples, but Mary Magdalene went home in response to an intimate encounter and a special commission. She came to the tomb carrying a pot of myrrh to anoint a dead man, but she sets down this gift for a corpse, and carries home instead the announcement“I have seen the Lord!”
Her first report to the disciples was of an absence – someone has taken Jesus’body – but now she is witness to a presence. And the presence that so strongly drew her has now released her into new freedom of action. She too has been transformed. A grieving woman becomes the apostle to the apostles. A band of despairing runaways begins to preach the good news that God is doing a new thing, that Jesus is the resurrection and the life and that by joining ourselves with him we enter into a new relationship with God.
The same Jesus who died and rose again asks us “For whom are you looking?”and calls each of us by name to recognise him and to proclaim to the world that we have seen the Lord, and he calls us to become part of his body here by being part of his church and by sharing his body and blood and so to share in the power of his resurrection. That is why, when all is said and done, we are an Easter people, we are crucified to the values of the world but through that crucifixion we are resurrected with Christ.
On one level today’s lesson is multi layered and complex and there are all sorts of theological parallels that can be drawn and that I have only touched on lightly. But on another level, and probably a more important level, the message of today is very simple:
“Christ is Risen – He is risen indeed, alleluia.”