Easter Morning sermon

John 20.1-18

It was dawn on the first Easter Morning.  Christ had risen from death, but as yet, nobody knew it.  Christ had risen, but the Romans were still in power.  Christ had risen, but the world looked the same: the sun still rose in the East and set in the West and the weather was not especially different from how it had been two days before.  Christ had risen, but those who were ill on the Saturday, were still suffering on the Sunday.  Christ had risen, but on the surface there was nothing different that morning from the day before. 

Jesus must have been alive again for a while by the time Mary Magdalene hurried through the dark only to find the tomb empty.  She still believed him to be dead, so she still grieved for him, and all the more so when she thought that his body had been snatched – for her, the resurrection was not yet real.  Jesus was alive, but she did not know it. 

Some of us, or perhaps people close to us, are today still living through their own Good Friday or Holy Saturday; the reality of grief and suffering and worry may be so great that the resurrection cannot seem real.  If that is where we are, perhaps we know it is Easter but it seems that nothing has changed, except that the flowers are back in church.  But perhaps we might also be able to hear along with Mary Jesus himself, asking in compassion, ‘why are you weeping?’ and to know that those words were spoken not by some pristine spiritual apparition but by the real Jesus, who also trod the path of suffering, the wounds of crucifixion still on his hands and feet.

But what changed it for Mary?  How did the resurrection become real for her?  How can it become a reality for us? 

When Jesus spoke Mary’s name, she recognised him, and knew that he was her Lord, alive again. It was in that moment of encounter that the resurrection became for her not just a profound prophecy or a nice but far-fetched idea, but a life-changing reality.  For all those living in the darkness of pain, worry, and grief, I pray that the sound of the risen, but still-wounded Christ calling your name may enable you to find hope renewed and joy rekindled. 

At many Easter day services the congregation are invited to renew their  baptism promises, recalling that moment when God called us by our name and we joined his family.  Why does this traditionally happen on Easter Day?  The water of baptism represents our dying to all that is old and dead in our lives and embracing God’s new life.

Baptism is a new beginning, so recalling our baptism reminds us that Easter day is more than just the happy ending to the story of Holy Week, more than just a song of joy and the sigh of relief after the abstinence of Lent and the drama and heartache of Holy Week.  It reminds us that the dynamic of the gospel remains forward looking, and that every new start comes with a commission.

What Mary Magdelene is asked to do in today’s gospel is to become the first apostle – the one who is so transformed by her encounter with Christ that she is empowered to bring the good news of the resurrection to the rest of the disciples. 

Simon Peter also experienced this.  The night before Jesus’ crucifixion he had rejected Jesus three times, but was later forgiven and restored so that, as we read in the Acts this morning, he could stand in front of Cornelius and the crowd and proclaim the good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection; the good news that had already spread throughout Judea.  God´s love for his creation is stronger than anything else we can possibly imagine.  To all who are in despair, like Mary Magdalene; to all who are caught by guilt, like Peter; the message of the Resurrection is this: God´s love is stronger.  If even death cannot defeat God, then anything is possible.  There is always hope, there is always forgiveness, there is always a future. 

Our calling by virtue of our baptism is likewise to be God’s agents, sent out from our own particular encounter with Jesus Christ to pass on the good news we have received, as we have experienced it.

We’re called to ‘Go on to Galilee’ – that is, into ordinary life, where Jesus is already present. When we get there, we will find ourselves commissioned to bring the good news and the new life of the risen Christ to all, just as Mary did when she went back with that astounding statement “I have seen the Lord!” 

Risen Lord Jesus,
As Mary Magdelene met you in the garden,
on the morning of your resurrection
so may we meet you today and every day:
speak to us as you spoke to her;
reveal yourself as the living Lord;
renew our hope and kindle our joy;
and send us to share the good news with others.

Common worship:
The prayer at the Easter Garden

 

Maundy Thursday

Two stories:

“I had been lying in the hospital bed for far too long.  I felt horrible, sticky, smelly, unwashed, unloved.  And then one of the nurses (it was in the days when nurses were not as overworked as they are now) came and offered me a bath.  I thought, ‘finally my dignity is completely gone’. But it was the most wonderful feeling.  I didn’t leave the bed, but she quietly, gently and thoroughly washed me, head to toes.  When she had finished, I felt ten years younger, and like I was the most special person in the world.”

“In my first year of being a priest, I was dreading the Maundy Thursday service.  Although I knew that the congregation all wash their feet really well before they set off for the service, I just didn’t want to touch someone else’s foot.  Feet are dirty, smelly, and basically private things – useful but not attractive.  But in that moment in the service, I found that the 24 feet in front of me were somehow transformed into the most beautiful things I had ever seen, and in that moment I thought I knew what it must be like to look upon human imperfection with the eyes of God.” The washing of feet

In Sieger Koder’s beautiful painting of Christ washing Peter’s feet, we can see Peter’s hesitation in his left hand, even as he embraces Christ with his right.  We recognise his reluctance because we have felt it ourselves, at one time or another. We resist being served, possibly even more than we resist serving others.

Why?  Because so many of us assimilate and perpetuate a culture of independence that is deeply destructive of the human soul, and runs counter to all that God hoped for when he created us.

The bible may teach us that it is better to give than to receive, but in this story, we are taught that the economy of love is about interdependence: a network of giving and receiving, of serving and being served.  If that were easy to grasp, Jesus would not have had to teach it to his friends so painstakingly.

In the painting we see the face of Christ only as it is reflected in the foot-dirty water.  We are drawn to it, asking ourselves where it is and in what circumstances we can most clearly see the face of Christ. We are then further drawn to ask ourselves what happens to our own reflection when we engage in those situations and with those people.  We might even look down at our own reflection and see the face of Christ looking back at us.

 

Palm Sunday sermon

A sermon for Palm Sunday.

We have heard read to us the story of Holy Week.  It’s the story of Jesus, and the last days before his death on the cross.

But it’s also the story of Jesus’ friends – the way they fail to understand, their fear, their betrayal. Perhaps today we can bring to God our own confusion, our lack of understanding, our fears, and our awareness of the times that we have failed to acknowledge him before others, the times that we have kept quiet about being friends of God.

And it’s the story of the Religious leaders – their anxiety, their plotting and manoevering. We might find ourselves sometimes in their place, struggling to find a balance between the good of the whole and the needs of the individual, and the times when we are aware that we have not tried hard enough, or have colluded in injustice, sacrificed a little of our humanity for the sake of what we see as our task or duty.

It’s the story of Pilate, and his soldiers, drawn into something they can’t fully understand – and perhaps don’t want to understand.

It’s the story of the crowds, pulled this way and that by their own desperation, and by the fervour of the moment – their hope and expectation, as Jesus rode into Jerusalem. We might sometimes see something of ourselves in them: The things in which we place our hope, our dreams for ourselves and for the world.  And then in their condemnation, shouting ‘crucify!’  It is easy to knock down those whom we have raised up, and it is easy to rush to judgement. 

It’s the story of two thieves, struggling to come to terms with their own death, and to understand Jesus’ death alongside them.  We might on occasion find ourselves on the crosses either side of Jesus – in our times of greatest suffering, we may struggle, sometimes raging at God just to get us out of this, and sometimes finding the serenity to ask for the greater gift of salvation and eternal life.

It’s also the story of Barabbas – inexplicably free, given back his life and left to wonder what to do with the years he never thought he would have. We might put ourselves in his place – using this Holy Week to understand the kind of Love that let Christ accept suffering and death for us and for our salvation. 

Each character in the drama of Holy Week sees Jesus differently.  Some see a political revolutionary, and are filled either with hope or fear.  Some see a victim, who ended up as a disappointment to those who’d pinned their hope on him.  Some see a blasphemer, never getting beyond the words ‘Son of God’ to see the reality of it. Some saw a friend and teacher, who they’d hoped would be around for ever, cruelly put to death.

But a criminal and a soldier both somehow, in the midst of what looks like failure, see more.

The Roman soldier looked up at the body on the cross and instead of seeing just another Jewish trouble maker, suddenly saw the Son of God.  Perhaps, as a soldier, he had witnessed death countless times, and was able to grasp in Jesus’ own moment of death an insight into who he was, what his life had meant. In that moment of realisation is encapsulated the shift from king of the Jews to King of the world, from Son of their God, to Son of the God. One man’s leap of faith is more significant than the shouting of the adoring hundreds in the palm Sunday crowd.

So, what is the moment for you when you see Jesus as he really is?  What is it in the story of Holy Week that gives you the most profound glimpse of God at work?  What part of the story touched you most today, and showed you something of what it means to be the Son of God?

This is Jesus’ story, and it is the story of Peter, and Judas, and Caiphas and Pilate, and Barabbas, and all the countless and nameless others, but it is our story too. So where are you in the passion story today, at this moment in your life?  Where do you stand on the way of the cross?  There were no witnesses to the original Holy Week, only participants. And they could not be left unchanged by what happened.  If it is to be our story, too, then we cannot be left unchanged either.