Easter 7: Ups and Downs


Acts 1:6-14
John 17:1-11

Life and the world can often feel up and down. Prices are up, spirits are down. Interest rates are up to try to keep inflation down. We can be happy one minute and weeping the next. In our Gospels since Easter there have been many ups and downs. Jesus was lifted up onto the donkey and hailed as a hero. Next he was beaten down and lifted up onto the cross. To be brought down and put into the tomb. We are told he descended to the dead and rose again on the third day. According to the end of some of the Gospels and the opening verses of Acts, Jesus has been travelling around in human form meeting and eating with people. Seemingly appearing and disappearing at will.

This past Thursday was Ascension Day. Ascension was the final act of Jesus’ ministry on earth, his return to heaven. Jesus ascending into heaven has been depicted in many pieces of art – often with his dangling feet at the centre while a crowd of baffled onlookers look up. Many poets have tried to capture the meaning and feeling of this rather odd event.

Jesus made it as clear as he could that he was going up to be with God in heaven and would send down the Holy Spirit; the Counsellor to be with us always.

One cannot help but to think about his disciples. Poor men! They had been through so much in the last few weeks! The Bible is not clear exactly how long it was between the resurrection and ascension. The Church year says a few weeks. However long it was, the disciples are imagining that life might go back to the way it was, only better. They ask Jesus, in verse 6 of Acts: ‘Lord is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’

They seem to have gone back to old assumptions that Jesus was going to kick out the Romans and set up a new Jewish kingdom and they would be part of the ruling party. Yes! However, in the next moment, they realise that is not what is happening. Jesus is not staying with them as he was ‘lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight.’

Maybe to the disciples the dream really was over. Jesus refused to tell them what was going on. Instead he left them with a job to do; to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. It is worth giving some thought to what the walk to Jerusalem would have been like for them. Acts does not give away any emotion or descriptions. They watched Jesus go up and now they are left feeling down.

The disciples were left, however, with two valuable lessons after all they have been through. The need to stick together and the need to pray.

When they returned to Jerusalem, to the upper room where they were staying, they prayed together. No one wandered off to do his own thing. They still needed to be unified. We need to remember and remain rooted in Jesus and to each other. We can desire to go our own way when uncertainty comes, when the ups and down of life get too much. As churches it can be tempting to flop back into our tribes and carry on as we scrabble for something that looks like the normal we once knew. I know there is a desire to ‘go back to the way things were’ – but friends we are not. Nothing in the world is. This is not all bad!

The second lesson was about prayer. Jesus prayed. Jesus prays.

In John 17, after washing the disciples feet and before his arrest, Jesus prayed. He spent the last few precious hours of his life praying. For the disciples and for us. He continues to pray for us. In the Acts and Gospel readings this morning we see examples of how the Apostles prayed in the early church and how Jesus prayed just before his death.

I am making some assumptions here that I assume are right: first is that you do in fact pray. Secondly that you do think about prayer and praying. I think that this is an important question to ask ourselves this morning.

What do you think you are doing when you pray?

Are we telling God what to do?

Giving him information about a situation, a person or ourselves – information that he already knows and then offering suggestions on what the Almighty might like to do about it?

Are we presenting a laundry list of ills and complaints?

Are we praising and thanking?

Are we pleading and begging?

What do you think you are doing?

I suspect it is a combination of all the above things! God knows everyone’s heart. Every thought, the deepest secrets and hurts, the highest highs and joys, He knows every crack and break. God knows before we even utter a word from our mouths what the condition of our hearts are. There is no fooling him!

Do you expect an answer? I do not think I could pray with no expectation that God is going to do something. I have to be willing to wait and trust. Wait to see what the answer is and not rush off in fear that I won’t get what I want or worse, no answer at all. I also have to trust that even if I don’t see a clear answer (ie: voice from heaven, message written in the clouds) that God has heard my prayer and will do as He sees fit. Even if – even if – I don’t get the answer that I want.

Jesus is also praying for some very specific things for the disciples with the underlying message of unity in God and Jesus. We are all bound together in love.

Helpfully, if we find ourselves stuck on what to pray for, Jesus also gives us some ideas. In John, verse 12 he talks about protection. Jesus asks God to protect the disciples with the same power that God has already given to Jesus. This is what ‘in your name’ means. He guarded them while he was with them. Jesus has been utterly faithful to the task assigned to him: to keep and protect those God has given to him.

This is an important thing to do for those given to our care; pray for God’s protection on them. Not only from physical dangers, illness and all the other bad things that can happen. But they will stay under the spiritual protection of God that comes from staying close to Jesus.

The next thing that Jesus prays for is joy; this means rejoicing, celebrating, enjoyment, bliss. So often our joy in a worldly sense is never quite complete. It is only in Jesus that our joy will ever be complete. It is only the love of God that brings us joy, brings us salvation.

Thirdly, Jesus prayed that the disciples would know the truth and be sanctified by it. Sanctify here means to be set apart for God and God’s purposes alone. It does not mean that someone is better than anyone else, but they are different. Jesus is praying that the disciples will be set apart to do only what God wants them to do. Jesus was sanctified, set apart by God to fulfil his purposes.
For us, we can pray that our people will know the truth of God and go into the world to live and share it.

Of course there are many more ways and things to pray about for those we are called to pray for. I think that protection, joy and truth are very good places to start. Remember that He knows the condition of our hearts. We also need time and preparation for the answer even if it seems hard. God is faithful!

Jesus sets an example of how and what to pray as He prayed for his disciples right before his death. He prayed for protection, joy and truth.
Leave some space for you to think about the people who know and love who could use protection, joy and truth today.

Rogation Sunday: Blessing, #blessed

Pusey House Sermon
5th Sunday of Easter
May 14, 2023

Joel 2:21-26
James 1:22-27
John 16:23b-33

It is both delightful and daunting to be preaching here this morning. A dear Pusey friend, after looking at the term card, sent the text: ‘big shoes to fill. Kiss.’ The provision of supportive and honest friends is one of the many great blessings of Pusey House.

It would be far more comfortable to stand here and tell of the many blessings that Pusey House has brought to my life and ministry over the last nine years. From the very first Sunday Mass, amidst the smoke, the liturgy and magnificent music (all very different to where I had come from) I felt at home. This, too, is a great blessing of Pusey House.

Therefore, it is wildly appropriate, on this Rogation Sunday, not only to remember the blessings we have been blessed with in the past; but to ask for more blessings in the future. Rogation Sunday ties in ancient traditions of invoking divine favour to protect crops from mildew by processing around the parish boundaries, using processional litanies ending with a mass, for the blessing of the land. This is where the tradition of ‘beating of the bounds comes from.

This is still the practice in some rural parishes, including my own in the Hambleden Valley. My first proper Rogation Sunday was last year. It was not previously on my religious radar. A dutiful Church Warden provided a brief of what was expected. As usual, I took that a few steps further.

At the end of the service using the Rogationtide liturgy, I had the entire congregation process out behind the church, overlooking fields of cereal crops and sheep. This was met with nods of approval. I then asked the congregants to raise their hands towards the fields and sheep. And repeat the blessing after me. Which they mostly did. Next, I asked them to extend their hands towards the people around them. Eeeek. And repeat the blessing after me. Which they mostly did; quietly.

It gets worse. I then asked them to put their hands on their heads. And repeat the blessing after me. Evidently this was done in the quiet of their own hearts and minds. We held that moment and it was powerful. The final blessing was offered and we drifted back for Rogationtide baked goods and coffee.

On this Rogation Sunday we can take some time to consider our own understanding of what it is to be blessed and how we go about seeking blessing.
Is being blessed or asking for a blessing complicated for you? Priests bless people rather frequently: in wedding ceremonies, at death beds, in baptisms and at the end of services. People who may not receive the elements are invited to be blessed at the rail in a Eucharist. These blessings are simply given. The congregation is not asked if they would like to be blessed as though it is a democratic process.

Priests are also stopped on the street, in pubs, on trains, in shops, anywhere they are visible and asked for blessings. Often without hesitation or embarrassment from the asker. Blessings are seemingly accessible and available all around us.

It is not unusual to see #blessed on social media posts. 147 million on Instagram! A quick perusal and it would appear that to be #blessed is arbitrary, socially constructed and heavily dependent on outward appearance. These blessings seem to have more to do with positive circumstances and obtaining favourable or desired outcomes: cute babies, attractive partners, fit bodies, amazing hair, etc. ‘#blessed is a far cry from the blessings God offers us.

Are we able to recognise God’s blessings when they come and how are we asking God to bless us?

Some blessings have been given away or fought over right from Genesis by the descendants of Abraham. Esau gave up his birthright over a bowl of stew. The deathbed deception carried out by Jacob and Rebekah to steal the blessing of Isaac on Esau. Later in Jacob’s life, he wrestled all night with the angel for a blessing and came away with a limp. Some blessings appear to come with a perpetual reminder of them.

Other blessings have come as a reversal of fortune. The prophet Joel begins with lament and a call to repentance. The dating of Joel’s prophecy is woolly but likely before the exile. There is no mention of the northern kingdom and the Israelites are still worshipping in the temple. The locusts, probably both actual and metaphorical, have been ravaging Judah. People are suffering and will only suffer more: the farmers will lose everything, the drinkers will have nothing to drink, the priests nothing for temple-service.

Joel appeals for repentance as Israel has sinned. They need to return to God who promises salvation. Prophecy turns to promise: the enemy will not overcome and the famine caused by the locust will be turned to plenty. All aspects of creation will be restored and blessed from the soil to the animals to the fig tree and vine. Early rain and full threshing floors, overflowing vats. This is true levelling up. All will have plenty and be satisfied. Forget the cost of living crisis.
The days eaten by the locust will be repaid. What a blessing that would be!

There is a greater blessing though. Joel announces twice that ‘my people shall never be ashamed.’ Acknowledgement of shame is a major issue for many people and has become a source of much interest and research in the last few years. Freedom from shame would be a priceless blessing to many people.

In the Old Testament, some blessings are given away or fought over; and some blessings come as a reversal of fortune. In the New Testament, we see in the Beatitudes the head and heart of Jesus’ teaching of what true blessing is.

The Beatitudes show us the very best of what it is to be human; how to live the most fruitful life we can. The way to live well is the way of humility before God, compassion, mercy and peacemaking. We see these profound qualities in other people: the great saints of the past and present.

The word ‘blessed’ also means happy, which makes these statements quite confusing. Happy are the poor in spirit, happy are those who mourn? This does not make sense! But these people are not happy now, they are happy because of the promise that immediately follows: blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven, blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted. The Beatitudes move on from a state of mind to a state of being.

As part of the farewell discourse in John 16, Jesus is telling his disciples that blessings need to be asked for. This can be dangerous when the ‘in my name’ bit is overlooked. Too many people read ‘ask anything of God and he will give it to you.’ The harmful narrative of the ‘prosperity gospel’ preached in many parts of the northern and southern hemispheres works on this premise. Asking means working; just work harder, pray harder, be better, give more, believe more.

No he will not give us anything we ask. We need to read these verses through the lens of the Beatitudes. Frustratingly, God’s priorities and ours do not always line up. God cannot give us anything that is beyond his will or outside his providence. It is not always clear who is more frustrated by this; God or us?

Not to complicate matters any further, in the Epistle of James, his pronouncement to ‘be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves’ can add to the confusion. This James, not to be confused with James from the House of Zebedee, brother of John, was concerned for the early believers to demonstrate the reality of faith in obedient lives.

This James is presumed to have been a close relative of Jesus, potentially a half-brother or cousin. They would have grown up together in close quarters. For three decades James heard the words, he saw the life and the word in action yet did not do anything about it. James did not follow Jesus during his earthly life, and was only converted after a resurrected encounter with Jesus (1 Corinthians 15). This helps to frame the urgency, the passion with which James writes. For James, if you truly know the word, you will want to do something about it. For James, only listening and not doing anything about it, is the issue. One would have to know what the ‘word’ was before acting upon it. James would have encouraged studying, meditating, and pondering the word.

John, like James, is emphatic about knowing the word. The word made flesh and dwelt among us. John makes clear that asking has to be done in the name of Jesus. Do we know what that means? It follows that if you are going to ask for something in someone’s name, you better know them. God’s love should compel us to want to know him better, love him more. Blessing at the heart is about love. It is not about accumulation of stuff or favourable circumstances to be #blessed. It is to be loved.

The Father, who is the ultimate source of blessing, loves and wants to bless us. Sometimes that blessing comes down and sometimes we have to ask for it.
Other times we have to work at it but in the right way through relationship, study, pondering and doing.

During these next few days of Rogationtide, my prayer is that we will consider again what it is to be truly blessed and be a blessing to others. May we find the courage, the passion to seek God’s blessing for the world, creation, for our neighbours and for ourselves. May we be aware and ready when God’s blessing simply falls on us because He loves.

Bless you.

Easter 2: Hope on the Road

Qe Hi – Road to Emmaus

Easter 2
Acts 2:14a,36-41
1 Peter 1:17-23
Luke 24:13-35

As I continue to grow in my faith and ministry, I find myself coming to love the season of Easter more each year. Each new season brings greater appreciation of the early church and the struggles it faced, the decisions that had to be made, and the stories of Peter, Paul and the disciples (now apostles) as they grew and spread the Good News of the Risen Jesus.

This new church faced great conflict, it had to wrestle with the issues of doctrine that we take for granted and it also had to contend with deadly persecution. Christianity could well have died in infancy if not for the bold and brave convictions of the early apostles. Fortunately there is not too much conflict in the Hambleden Valley! Although we do have our challenges and decisions to be made about the future Rector, the building works, how best to spend our time and money.

Over the next few weeks, we will be reading various parts of Acts and all of 1st Peter (hint- hint…if you have got some time and a Bible!).

These readings speak to new beginnings, fresh starts for Peter and Paul and the gatherings of the first church; all underpinned with a sense of hope and purpose. My hope is that we can see links between then and now.

Where is our Hope?

The Road to Emmaus is a familiar story; Luke includes it in his account of that first Easter Day. Cleopas and the other unnamed disciple are walking away from Jerusalem. Walking away from the disciples, away from their faith, their beliefs, potentially their families and jobs. They are without hope and they are sad.
To be a fly on the shoulder of Cleopas for that conversation! There was such overwhelming grief that when Jesus came near to them their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

As I read this passage, the same five words from verse 21 kept leaping off the page at me: ‘But we had hoped that…´ Notice the past tense of hope – they had hoped. Their hope, whatever it was in, was gone. When Jesus died, so did their hope. Many people right now are without hope, ‘but we had hoped that…’ What about you? Have you hoped for something, someone that will not now come through? Where is your hope today?

As Easter people, we are to be beacons of hope even in the most trying of times. As impossible as that might seem. If you find that you have lost or are losing hope; we can take comfort and take heart. Jesus understands. He wants nothing more than to restore our hope.

Before he died, Jesus had expressly told the disciples that He would send the counsellor, the Holy Spirit to be with them forever. All they had to do was wait. It could be assumed that the disciples were meant to wait together. These two have seemingly forgotten about this promise; so instead of waiting are walking away.

Jesus could have washed his hands of them, let them go. But he doesn’t. He meets them where they are at; going the wrong way, down the wrong road. As the disciples talk to Jesus, listen to him, they begin to see beyond themselves, they re-centre from their own issues and problems.

In that meeting with Jesus, Cleopas and the other disciple turn around and head back the right way, back on the right road, back to life. Hope is restored, hearts are burning in the breaking of the bread. Many people need to have their hope restored. Some of us might need to be turned around in our thinking, some might need to ask for strength in the waiting, and many likely need to find their hope again.

How can we find our Hope again?

One of the things I love about Eastertide is the renewal of baptismal vows. There is something in the renewal of promises and the sprinkling of water that makes all things new again and restores hope. For those of us baptised as babies, we didn’t have the opportunity to make those promises for ourselves, although maybe in confirmation we did. Either way it is a restorative thing to do.

Peter, in Acts 2, is calling for people to repent and be baptised. Our sins have been forgiven and the gift of the Holy Spirit has been given. This is the great Christian hope. Wonderful news and a wonderful starting point for reclaiming any lost hope. The first step, according to Peter, is to repent and be baptised.

Remember the promises made:

Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God? I reject them.
Do you renounce the deceit and corruption of evil? I renounce them.
Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour? I repent of them.

Do you turn to Christ as Saviour? I turn to Christ.
Do you submit to Christ as Lord? I submit to Christ.
Do you come to Christ, the way, the truth and the life? I come to Christ.

Peter is imploring these Christians to love each other deeply from the heart. They have been born anew and nothing can take away the hope of the final redemption and resurrection. Peter knew this first-hand. Peter the one who denied Jesus three times and was restored three times. If anyone thought they were beyond hope, Peter is a prime example. Yet Jesus meets Peter on that first Easter, on the shores of Galilee as Peter too is attempting to go back to his previous life as a fisher of fish. In a conversation with Jesus, Peter is restored.

Remembering our baptismal vows, the forgiveness of sin, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the great love and long reach of God for each of us seems to me a place where we can recover our hope. It was in the breaking of the bread that Cleopas and the other disciple had their eyes opened and recognized Jesus. As we shortly break bread together this morning, my prayer is that hope will be restored and the promises of God will be renewed for each one of us.

Easter 1: The Resurrection Accounts – Thomas

Easter 1

Acts 2:14, 22-32
John 20:19-end

This is an exciting season in the church calendar after having just celebrated Easter. The tomb is empty, Jesus is risen, death has been defeated, love wins, we are a resurrection people, nothing on earth will ever be the same again. Right?

Of course right! This is what we and Jake who is being baptised this morning need to come to understand and embrace.

On the Sundays of the Easter season we explore the events that took place after the resurrection of Jesus. We re-read the accounts of the people who were there and the building of the early church. We look with fresh eyes at what these events say to us today. I also want to look at what this means for Jake, his parents and godparents.

The Gospel for the first Sunday after Easter traditionally features the story of Thomas. We are off to a good start as Jake’s middle name is Thomas. Thomas is usually portrayed as the dogged disciple, often accused of being slow on the uptake, the doubter. Poor Thomas. Not that most inspiring choice for week one. There is very little mention of Thomas in the gospels; he first appears as a name on the list of the chosen disciples. There is no information about what he did for a job, where he came from or his family, only that he was a twin.

Many a sermon has been preached as a warning to not be like Thomas. Thomas the 50% believer; the one who needed everything proved and crystal clear before he could believe.

We live in an age where doubt has become the predominant form of belief. Fake news, fake images, filters to make photos look better, everything needing to be verified due to a lack of trust. There is more government legislation now than at any other time in history due to a breakdown in trust. Daily we put ourselves in a high number of situations that we should doubt more than do. We doubt both what we see and what we do not see. So often we doubt the wrong things. Misplaced doubt can be a dangerous thing. We and Jake need to work out the right things to doubt, to question.

Maybe Thomas was the disciple who was asking the questions that everybody had but didn’t want to ask out loud. Before his comments that made him the poster-boy of doubt for all eternity, Thomas is quoted on two other occasions.

The first is found in John 11 in the story of Jesus’ friends Lazarus, Mary and Martha. The disciples were trying to dissuade Jesus from going to be with them as it was dangerous for Jesus to be travelling around. The disciples are worried but Jesus is not concerned with the threats to his life. In the middle of this Thomas declares, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him’. The other disciples were ready to run the other way but not Thomas, he was prepared to go wherever Jesus did.

The second account is in John 14. Jesus is explaining to the disciples that he is going to leave them. The chapter starts with the reassuring words ‘do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house…’ Jesus is explaining where is going and what he is going to do there; he also tells the disciples that they know the way. It is Thomas who says, ‘we don’t know where you are going so how can we know the way?!’

Jesus responds to Thomas with some of the most beautiful words ever to fall from his mouth; ‘I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’

Thomas has been told; he has seen the Father in the Son. This doesn’t sound like a man who doubts. Maybe Thomas was the disciple who didn’t say much but when he did everyone else listened? Know anyone like that?

So where was he on the evening of that first day of that week when Jesus appeared? The disciples were together but Thomas was not with them. That following week must have been torture for Thomas. I am sure we have all had to miss events due to circumstances. Then those who did attend the event talk incessantly about it, down to every last detail, the play by play of every moment. And no matter the minutia of detail – you still weren’t there!

It would be reasonable to believe that Thomas became more entrenched in his declaration to see the nail marks and the side wound. Jesus returns again. This time just for Thomas and he invites Thomas to put his fingers in his hands and on his side. The text doesn’t say if he did or not. All it gives us is Thomas’ reply of ‘My Lord and my God.’ In this moment, Jesus firmly but gently reminds Thomas that he believes because he has seen. Thomas is responsible for the blessing that the whole rest of the world gets for not seeing and yet believing.

Thomas was part of a community where he openly voices his doubt. Like I said, Thomas has been portrayed negatively as the doubter, one of weak faith, the cynic, the holdout. These are often seen as spiritual flaws. Thomas was not weak; he was a man who wanted a living encounter with Jesus. Thomas was not going to settle for someone else’s experience of the resurrection. He wanted his own. Thomas was willing to admit his uncertainty in the midst of those who were certain. This is bravery. I hope that Jake will become a brave man – someone who wants living encounters and will work to get them.

In Acts 2, St Peter and the disciples (we can assume that Thomas was there) were standing up and telling the crowds about the wonders of the resurrection. This is what Thomas would spend the rest of his life doing.

Tradition holds that when the apostles were dispersed after Pentecost, Thomas was sent to evangelise through central Asia before he ultimately reached the Malabar coast of southwest India. There remains a large native population there calling themselves ‘Christians of St Thomas.’

Unlike most of the other disciples/apostles who were killed for their faith in quite gory ways, it is thought that Thomas was killed in a tragic peacock hunting accident when the hunter missed the bird and hit Thomas instead.

This is not a man of weakness but rather one we can learn from, even if uncomfortably. The things that make Thomas seem weak or doubtful are what makes him strong, his willingness to press on and ask the questions that others won’t. Thomas shares his doubts willingly and Jesus responds and meets him where he is at.

We can pray today for Jake Thomas, that he too will follow the example of Jesus and Thomas, seek his own experiences, ask questions, learn to doubt the right things, show compassion and love to all he meets.

The good news for us the week after Easter is that Jesus still meets us where we are at too. He is not afraid of our doubts, our wavering or our slowness. We, like Thomas, can hope for more. So let’s.

Easter Sunday: The Surprise!

Easter Sunday

Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 28:1-10

Risen Christ,
for whom no door is locked, no entrance barred:
open the doors of our hearts,
that we may seek the good of others
and walk the joyful road of sacrifice and peace,
to the praise of God the Father. Amen

Holy Week is a good opportunity to read and re-read the four gospel accounts of the first Easter Day. There are, of course, many similarities and many large differences between them. The Gospels were written by four different writers, each with a unique perspective on this one event. These differences do not diminish any one account; rather they add a richness, a fullness to the whole story. 

I like the mention of the women bringing perfume and spices in Mark and Luke. My younger sister, on hearing one of these accounts at Sunday School, asked our Mum if she would please put perfume and spices on my sister’s body when she died. This was quite profound for a five-year-old: when she died, not if she died.

All speak of the empty tomb, the announcement of the Resurrection to the women, and the meeting of the disciples with the Risen Jesus. What is abundantly clear in all of them is that the Resurrection was completely unexpected. Despite his teaching, Jesus’ followers had no expectation that he would rise from the dead. The resurrection came as a wonderful surprise!

My hope is that we have not lost the surprise of the resurrection. Yes we have the benefit of hindsight and we know how the story ends but let us not lose the expectation, the surprise. Matthew’s Gospel account does not disappoint with the element of surprise! 

We might picture an Easter morning as a fairly mild affair;  the sun rising in a blue sky, birds chirping and the world feels peaceful and quiet with hot cross buns fresh out of the oven. The church looks at its best, the flowers are spectacular, the choir sounds good, and an enlightening  sermon while the timing of Sunday lunch ruminates in some minds.  

A closer reading of the gospels dispels this notion of a calm and peaceful morning. As the sun went down after Jesus was in the tomb, the waiting began. Not a peaceful, all-will-be-well waiting, but a restless, no sleep kind of waiting. Jesus’ followers had to prepare for the Sabbath, when any work or travel was forbidden. They had to stay home, rest and wait; wait to see what had happened, if Jesus was still in the tomb or not.  

Not to dampen the festive mood too much, but neither can we gloss over the events of that first Easter morning. Matthew is the only writer to note a great earthquake and the angel descending from heaven, who rolled back the stone and sat on it. The guards fell over and became like dead men. The Marys seem to have remained standing and were able to take in what the angel was saying to them. 

For Matthew, the only reason the Marys were there was to see the tomb. They were there when it was sealed so they knew the location. They had also seen the condition of Jesus’ body as they were at the cross. I am not sure if they wanted to see the body again, that would have been a horrible sight. Yet they were still willing to go, just to be there. The rolling away of the stone was so that they might get into the tomb. 

The angel had two messages for the Marys that first morning. 

Do not be afraid. The angel has come to help, not frighten. He encourages the Marys by assuring them that he knows about their mission: ‘you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified’.  

Many people live in fear. Fear of failure, fear of abuse or violence, fear of what other people think of them, fear of being found out, fear of letting ourselves or others down, fear of the unknown. Fear of death. In St John’s first letter he writes, There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.’ Easter is all about love, there is no room for fear. 

The angel knew exactly what the Marys were looking for. He knew their fears, their confusion and doubt; and he addressed them. By showing up at the tomb, despite their feelings and their fears, the Marys receive answers and leave changed. There is a lesson in this for those of us who live with fears. 

We can bring our fears, anxieties and doubts to God so he can reveal his light. He knows. You aren’t hiding anything from him. The message of Easter is the overcoming of death and despair – fear brings death and despair. The resurrected Jesus came to banish all fears.  

After reassuring the Marys, the angel turns to commissioning them to do something. ‘Go quickly’. The good news of the resurrection is not something to be held on to. The Marys are to be messengers to the other disciples. Jesus was going to meet them in Galilee, they would see him there. Obedient to the instructions with fear (the good kind) and great joy they go. 

Suddenly Jesus meets them. This might have been the biggest surprise of the morning. I wonder if he jumped out from behind a big rock? Suddenly! No expectation from the Marys, Jesus is there in front of them. Do we expect Jesus to surprise us? How would we react? The Mary’s take hold of his feet, without shame or reservation, they want to hang onto him and never let go. Jesus wasn’t a ghost or an illusion; the resurrection body was real. 

We are invited in the Eucharist to meet with the resurrected Jesus, to exchange our fears, our slavery to that fear with light and life. We are invited to come, see the place where he lay; eat and drink in remembrance of what Jesus has done for us, and then go and tell so we too might walk in the newness of life.

All four gospel accounts start in both literal and metaphorical darkness, in confusion, fear and no expectations of the resurrection. Each account ends with the proclamation that the Risen Jesus is indeed light and life.    

May we approach this Easter with a new sense of surprise and reality at the Gospel. Surprise at the good news of Jesus and knowing the reality of Jesus in our lives today. He is Risen and ready to surprise.