Happy Easter! Christ is Risen!
We decided to use Mark’s Gospel this Sunday – mainly it was practical as there are 6 services and 2 priests in the Hambleden Valley. As I explored Mark’s account of that first Easter, it became clear that it is the right story for today.
April 4th, 2021
Acts 10:34-43 Mark 16:1-8
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.
I did my first assembly at the Frieth School today and it was great fun. I talked to the pupils about Maundy Thursday and I asked to reflect on their feet. This was met with a mix of reactions! Had we been meeting in a church tonight I would have included foot washing as part of the service. Again I expect this might produce a mix of reactions!
Maundy Thursday is a very bodily experience. Hearts, hands and feet feature prominently tonight in our readings.
What comes out of our hearts will directly affect our hands and feet and what we do with them, who we help with them and where we go with them. I would like to spend a few minutes looking at the hands and feet in the readings this evening. There are over 560 Biblical references to hands and some 260 mentions of feet. These numbers aren’t significant other than that is a lot of hands and feet!
In Exodus, God gives specific instructions to Moses and Aaron about how the Passover meal is to be prepared. Hands were needed to prepare the lambs and make the arrangements. Sandals were to be on feet, staff in hand and the food eaten quickly. The lamb’s blood needed to be painted over the doorposts.
They were to be ready! Things had to be done.
Maundy Thursday is a day of preparation. There are physical as well as spiritual preparations to be made before heading into Good Friday. In a usual Maundy Thursday service I would have invited the brave and bold to come forward to have their feet washed. Following on from this we would celebrate our last Communion before Easter Sunday. At the end of the service we would strip the altar and then sit in silence to keep watch.
All of these actions – however ceremonial we make them – should help us to turn our hearts, hands and feet to Jesus as he heads to Gethsemane and then the cross.
Our Corinthians reading has Paul handing to us what he received from the Lord. What we have received from the Lord needs to be handed on. Paul is handing on what he knows of the Last Supper; these are the familiar words of our Eucharistic Prayers. The actions of Jesus and his hands in taking the bread, lifting it to give thanks, blessing and then breaking it with his hands. This is the new Passover meal.
Jesus breaking the bread. This is a violent action. Jesus is breaking his own body. Jesus’ body is broken for us on the cross. Not because of anything that He did but only for what we have done. This is the drama that is played out on the altar each time we take communion together. Do this in remembrance of me, he says. Remember my body broken and blood spilled for you. You.
This is the Good News.
As I was preparing for this sermon, a line from John jumped off the page. Verse 3 – Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God,’
Amen! Jesus knows what is going on. He has been given all things. Whatever it is, is in his hands! The relief that this has brought me has been amazing! I am careful to say that the ‘bad stuff’ is still happening and it is still difficult. But it’s in His hands. I’m in his hands; You are in his hands.
Because it is in his hands; we can get our feet washed. That is what John is telling us. Jesus knew he was going to God, so he got up from the table (verse 4), tied a towel, poured the water, and began to wash the disciples’ feet.
Jesus’ foot washing is an act of service and an act of love. The ultimate victory is knowing that he was going to God is completely in Jesus’ hands. He can then do the menial job of foot washing. This foot washing shows us what humble service and true greatness are.
Maybe we have a Peter or two in the congregation tonight. You would have wanted all of yourself to be washed – feet, hands and head. Maybe there are a few anti-Peters who are saying ‘no! I will not be washed!’
Feet, like the heart, pick up stuff along the way. They go places maybe the shouldn’t. Lead to where we don’t want to go. We step in it sometimes too. If we believe, deep down, that our lives are really in His hands then feet washing isn’t that big of a deal. It is a sign of humble acceptance. Humble acceptance of all that has been done for you. Jesus has set us an example as he has washed our feet, we are to wash the feet of others. We can do this in our acts of love and service to each other however unglamorous or menial they might be.
Jesus’ hands healed the blind and raised the dead.
Jesus’ hands broke the bread and poured the wine.
Jesus’ hands have our names written on them.
Jesus’ hands were nailed to the cross for the dirt on ours.
Jesus’ feet walked thousands of miles to heal and teach the least, the lost and the last.
Jesus’ feet brought the Good News.
Jesus’ feet walked up the hill under the weight of the cross.
Jesus’ heart beats for you and for me.
Jesus’ heart breaks over the lost souls of the world.
Jesus’ heart loves beyond what we can ask or imagine.
Will you let the things that have been picked up in your heart and on your feet be washed away tonight?
Loving Lord, you served your disciples in washing their feet: serve us often, serve us daily, in washing our motives, our ambitions, our actions; that we may share with you in your mission to the world and serve others gladly for your sake. (based on a prayer by Michael Ramsey).