Sermon for 24th April

What a story!

 

Most stories that we read and hear have a beginning and then an ending, but this gospel story is different; it has an ending followed by a beginning.

 

It is a human story, a personal story, full of human actions and reactions, containing all our human emotions, from darkest grief to greatest joy. For fifteen verses of the story it is incredibly sad, the Master had died on the cross. There could be no doubt, it was a public event, witnessed by his mother, Mary Magdalene, Mary the wife of Clopas and the disciple whom he loved, thought to be John.

Despite everything that he had said to the disciples, how could he not be dead? Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had prepared Jesus body for burial and laid his body in the garden tomb. What could be more final than that?

 

In bewilderment, grief and fear the disciples were holed up, keeping a low profile.

 

As soon as she could have done, alone and in the morning darkness, Mary Magdalene made her way to the tomb to lament; it was the custom to wait for three days for the person’s spirit to leave them. She was shocked, and perhaps frightened to find that the stone had been rolled away, and the tomb was empty.

 

The story gathered pace as she ran to find Peter and the unnamed other disciple to tell them what had happened “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” We can only surmise that Mary thought that the Jewish authorities had seen fit to move Jesus’ body because he had been a troublemaker.

 

Immediately, Peter and the other disciple set out for the tomb, running as fast as they could. The other disciple looked into the tomb, only to find the linen wrappings and nothing else. Peter arrived and went straight into the tomb to find the same thing. When the other disciple finally entered the tomb we learn that “he saw and believed.

Perhaps the message that Jesus had tried to drum into the disciples was starting to make sense at last, but the situation was still unresolved. Then the disciples went home! I suppose they felt that there was nothing else they could do at the tomb, or maybe they thought that it could be dangerous hanging around, especially for Peter who had three times publicly denied knowing that he even knew Jesus.

 

What would we have done? The death of a loved one is painful; we become caught up in grief, consumed by it. Any additional emotional event on top of that is too much to bear, and even more so if it is a strange and threatening event. We know the whole story and it is still beyond understanding, we accept it in faith, but that can still be difficult.

 

For the disciples, the simple truth was that Jesus was no longer with them and an empty tomb was not going to change that. They had not grasped what Jesus had taught them while he was with them, so why would they suddenly understand without his help? He had left them high and dry.

 

The disciples had gone, but they left Mary, who had followed them back, at the tomb. Not only had they left her alone, they had left her distraught and weeping. She looked into the tomb as the other had, but she saw two angels sitting where Jesus had lain, but Mary expresses no surprise at this at all.

Angels were not all that common even then, but Mary is intensely focussed on just one thing – she needs to find the body of Jesus, her Lord. The angels might have information and she doesn’t much care where it comes from.

 

How natural is this, there are times in our own lives, times of crisis, when all the usual protocols and bureaucracy that we might follow are rendered irrelevant. There is no time for idle chat, we will go to straight anyone who can help, ask brutally direct questions and expect direct answers – in the way that children do.

 

Before she can tackle the angels, they ask her a question, “Woman, why are you weeping.” She responds with the words that she used when she told the other two disciples what she had found, except this time it is a personal mission that she is on. Mary says “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

 

Mary’s pain and distress is in her every word and action, she is blind to anything except finding Jesus’ body.

 

She is so utterly distraught that she doesn’t even recognise Jesus when he stands before her, asking her the same question that the angels had posed. She thought the man to be a gardener and threw the same question at him; “tell me where you have laid him.” Without waiting for a reply Mary turned away from him, perhaps hoping to find an answer in the tomb.

 

The story, up to this point has been frantic, Mary and the disciples running to and fro; Mary pleading with whoever she saw.

 

Sometimes our lives are like that, rushing from pillar to post, too busy to do anything useful. Not allowing peace and calm to interrupt our busyness, forgetting that the answer to a problem might be a prayer away. Panic blots out our rational thinking.

 

Up to now, the story had all been about an ending, but now we come to the beginning.

 

The pace of the story slowed to a standstill when Jesus simply said to her “MARY” and the story suddenly and unexpectedly has a beginning. Mary instantly recognised the voice calling her by name; she turned to him and replied “Rabbouni.” From the darkest place of grief and despair comes the light of astonishment and joy; not only had she found Jesus, but he was risen from the dead.

 

Mary did what anyone would instinctively have done, what anyone here would have done when they find someone who has been lost; she reached out to touch Jesus. Touch is such a basic instinct, such a critical sense for all of us, such a natural thing to do. Jesus told Mary not to hold onto him because he was no longer of this world, but not yet of his Father’s.

 

Jesus told Mary to take the joyous news of his resurrection to the disciples in the words “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

Mary was the first to meet the risen Jesus and now, as Jesus had commanded her, she went to share the message with the other disciples.

 

She said “I have seen the Lord”

 

We know the story, we know the ending and we know the beginning; the beginning of the faith handed down to us. We are called to praise, to love and to serve Christ Jesus, but let us never forget that we are called to do what Mary did – to tell the story to others.

 

Lord Jesus, speak through our tears, call us by our names and give us a new song to sing – that you are alive for evermore!

 

 

Alleluia!

Christ is Risen


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