April 4th, 2021
There is an old church myth about a young curate, having been asked to preach on Easter Sunday for the first time, got up into the pulpit and said: ‘Christ is Risen. There is nothing more to say.’ He then promptly sat back down.
In some ways, he is exactly right! Christ is Risen. He has conquered the final word of death; he has overcome the grave. He is Risen and we are saved.
There is more to say though!
Sue and I chose Mark’s Gospel for this morning which is not the popular one. Many of you might prefer John’s version with the beautiful portrayal of Mary Magdalene mistaking the gardener for Jesus. John has the tension and drama of Peter and John running to the tomb, Peter runs right in while John peers cautiously although he got their first. Mary, Peter and John all had their own reasons for being at the empty tomb that morning and we can reflect on where we place ourselves in this version.
Each of the Gospels has a slightly different account of that first Easter Day. All four Gospels have women being the first there. Mark (closely related to Luke’s ending) has three women Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome going to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. This was and is a sad job.
They approached the tomb with their practical concerns of the giant stone needing to be rolled away. These women seemed to have no hesitation about what they might find inside the tomb as they seemed to have walked right in. They knew, at least in their minds, what needed to be done.
But their morning ritual is upended by the young man in a white robe telling them that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Mark’s version does not have a glimpse of the risen Jesus or running disciples. We do not get the same sense of celebration or joy found in Matthew, Luke or John. The young man tells the women to go and tell Peter and the disciples that Jesus will meet them in Galilee. According to Mark they leave in terror and amazement and tell no one. This ending does not leave us with great feelings of hope!
Maybe this year, we need Mark’s version of the Easter story. Maybe we all need some time as the women did to sit with the terror and amazement at the resurrection of Jesus. Maybe we don’t need to shout right away.
I came across a little book by Thomas Merton called ‘He is Risen’. It begins with:
‘He has risen, he is not here… he is going before you to Galilee. (Mark 16:6-7)
Christ is risen. Christ lives.
Christ is the Lord of the living and the dead.
He is the Lord of history.
Christ in the Lord of a history that moves.
He not only holds the beginning and the end in his hands,
But he is in history with us, walking ahead of us to where we are going.
He is not always in the same place.
Let this be a helpful guide to us this Easter Day. He is not always in the same place. But walks ahead of us to where we are going. He met his disciples in Galilee. Jesus was good to his word.
Maybe many of us feel dislocated from church, from our faith at this time. The enormity of what many people have endured in this last year is striking and largely unprocessed. All the loss and disappointment, the grief experienced. It would be disingenuous to stand up today and ignore that.
We will move on though in hope, in the glory of the resurrection. We see this in the Acts reading in Peter’s speech. Peter the zealous follower turned Good Friday denier turned Easter Sunday runner to being restored by Jesus on the shores of Lake Galilee – is now preaching and teaching in Caesarea.
Peter knows what he is saying is true because he witnessed it, he lived it. Peter has taken the commandments of Jesus to share the Good News seriously and is living it out. It took him a while though. The women, did tell the others, we know they did because the other Gospels record it. We also know because if they hadn’t – we wouldn’t know any of the story as it would never have been passed on.
This Easter Day we can trust that God is still in charge of Easter – whether we are indoors, outdoors or on Zoom. The tomb is empty, death has been defeated. Jesus lives.
I will finish with a little more Merton:
Christ lives in us and lead us,
through mutual encounter and commitment,
into a new future which we build together for one another.
That future is called the Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom is already established;
The Kingdom is a present reality.
But there is still work to be done.
Christ calls us to work together
in building his Kingdom.
We cooperate with him in bringing it to perfection.