Sunday, 5 April 2015

Sunday sermon: Easter, yr B

John 20:1-18
Acts 10:34-43

Let’s pray:
May the words of my mouth
the meditations of our hearts 
be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

‘Early on the first day of the week...’
The beginning of an old, familiar story.
The beginning of a story that cuts to the heart
of the Christian faith.
A story of darkness and light, for John’s recounting of that story begins
in the gloom and dark before dawn.
But we, as his audience,
know that light is coming...

The lone figure of a woman, Mary of Magdala,
makes her way through the darkness
to the garden tomb.
A tomb in which her beloved Lord has been placed 
after his recent, horrific execution.
As dark as it is outside,
Mary’s interior world is darker still.
She’s bereft. 
She’s grief-stricken.
And for Mary, the darkness is compounded
when she arrives at the tomb:
the massive stone covering the entrance
has been rolled away.
What’s going on?
What fresh horror is this?
In shock,     she runs.
Actually, there’s a lot of running
in this particular story.
She runs to find Simon Peter and the unnamed ‘other’ disciple - 
who most biblical commentators believe to be John.

She’s not sure what’s happened at the grave,
but whatever it is, it surely can’t be good.
Is there some conspiracy afoot?
‘‘They’ have taken the Lord out of the tomb,’ she says, 
‘and we don’t know where ‘they’ have put him.’
Even though they've killed him,
have the enemies of Jesus played one last cruel trick?
There’s no inkling here of resurrection,
of death defeated’,
only shock and maybe panic.
All of this happens, while it is still dark -
and for the writer of this Gospel,
darkness is working on several levels:
the darkness of pre-dawn;
the darkness of grief and despair;
and the darkness of confusion.
But we, as his audience, know that light is coming...

More running.
Peter and the other disciple run to the tomb.
The open tomb.
The first disciple peers in -
sees strips of linen,
the burial cloth,
grave clothes without a body.
And Peter, less hesitant, goes inside.
The cloth is folded neatly.
What’s happening here?
Does he think back to Lazarus,
remembering another tomb?
But when Lazarus emerged,
he was still bound in his grave clothes,
and needed help to get out of them. different.
There’s nobody here:
or, more to the point, no body.

The other disciple finally goes into the tomb.
We’re told that ‘he saw and believed’ -
but what is it that he believes?
Mary’s story of an empty tomb, sure.
But are we so sure that he believes
there’s been a resurrection?
Because, in our story, we have a
small editorial comment:
‘they still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead’.
Both disciples leave the tomb,
the rolled stone,
the garden...
and go home.
And, as they head for home,
is there a glimmer of belief, of light -
or are they still in the dark?
But we, who know this story well,
know that light is coming...
Light is already filling the skies:
as the morning sun breaks over the horizon
so too, the Son of God breaks the power
of death and darkness
and brings the light of hope,
the light of eternity into the world.

In the quiet of the early dawn,
the lone figure of a woman
can be seen in the garden,
weeping outside the tomb.
Having run back to the garden
with the two disciples,
she now dares to peer inside the open tomb.
The open tomb, that’s no longer empty:
Where the body should have been,
two shining figures are seated.
They ask a strangely obvious question:
‘why are you weeping?’
Obvious, because she’s standing there,
inside a tomb,
obvious, because the tomb contains - contained -
someone dear to her.
In the darkness of her grief,
she replies to the shining figures:
‘They have taken my Lord away,
and    I don’t    know    where they’ve put him.’

And then, another person enters the scene.
She has no idea who the stranger is,
but he, too, asks the same question
that the angels have just asked:
‘Why are you crying?’
And he follows it with another:
‘Who is it you’re looking for?’
She’s still in the dark as to who this stranger is.
All she wants to know is:
where have they put Jesus, and...
can she get him back?
For, at least if she can recover the dead body,
she can perhaps restore some dignity
to him at the last. 
Do one last kindness to him.
But she’s already living in the past:
clinging to it,
clinging to the comfort of the familiar -
for that’s what we do in the darkness of grief.
And, piercing through her darkness,
his voice:
he calls her name -
and, in hearing her name,
the darkness is lifted,
the light pours in,
and she finally sees the Teacher.
Tries to comprehend this staggering truth -
he    is    not dead.
And she is the first to witness this.

Having followed him before his crucifixion,
she’s now sent to be a messenger -
an apostle in the broadest sense,
for that’s what the word means.
She’s sent to tell the other followers -
to bear witness.
As he calls her by name,
so Jesus calls her to tell the news,
the Good News:
to spread the light of hope,
the light of the resurrection,
the light of new life...
of freedom,
and unconditional love.

Having wanted to cling to the past,
she’s shown, in the present,
in the garden of that first Easter morning,
the One who is the light
that shines in the darkness:
the light that can never be put out,
the light who even the darkness
cannot consume or contain.
Mary goes, as bidden, to the disciples,
begins to tell the story of the One
who died and rose again.
A story, which, 2 000 years later, is still being told.

We, who are gathered here on this Easter morning, know this story:
know that the light has come.
That Jesus, through his life, and death,
and resurrection,
offers us new life in him -
a way out of the darkness -
the darkness of harmful cycles of behaviour,
the darkness of grief and despair,
the darkness of injustice, hate, and oppression.
He offers us a new way of being of living as his people,
his body here on earth:
a people who live in the power of the resurrection here and now.

Over these last weeks,
we’ve walked through the wilderness of Lent:
and, in this last week, have journeyed
with Jesus through Holy Week,
through the palms and the cheers,
to Gethsemane and betrayal in the garden,
to arrest, and trial, and jeers, and crucifixion.
And in the darkness of that death,
held our breath
as time stood still,
and watched and waited.
And, we have dared to hope -
for we know how this story ends:
that there shall be no more tears,
that darkness is overcome,
that death is defeated,
that the light of the world can never be put out.

Here, with an empty cross,
grave clothes folded,
and with resurrected alleluias,
the questions Jesus asked of Mary
in the garden echo down through the ages:
‘why are you weeping?’
‘who is it you’re looking for?’
And, like Mary,
he calls each one of us by name -
for in his life,
his death,
his resurrection
he brings us life, and light, and hope.
He calls us not to cling to a dead body -
not to cling to the past,
but to walk in his light here and now
and also to look ahead to the light of eternity.

Like Mary,
he calls each one of us to go,
to tell,
to share the Good News -
to call others,
to watch the darkness lift,
and the light pour in
as they, in turn, see the Teacher
and comprehend the staggering truth -
that he    is    not dead.
He lives still.
And we are his witnesses -
called by name
and brought out of the darkness
into his marvellous light
For we are an Easter people
and ‘alleluia’ is our song.
Christ is risen!
Alleluia! He is risen indeed! 


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