Matthew 28. 1-10
I wonder what is the most exciting surprise you have ever had?
A party? A present? An unexpected arrival?
Surely nothing like as amazing
a surprise as that first Easter morning? When Mary and the other
women arrived full of fear and grief.
And as if all that they had
witnessed on two days before had not been enough, they were then
confronted by the reality of an earthquake and the appearance
of a mysterious stranger sitting on the rolled-back stone at
the door of the tomb.
Now here's a surprising thing
- I don't think that stone was rolled back to allow Jesus out....
I think it was rolled back to allow Mary and the other disciples
I think it was moved so that
they could see without any doubt that this tomb - a new tomb,
remember - so Jesus' burial was the first one in it. This tomb
was completely empty - not a body or bones to be seen - and that
is why the stone was rolled away. Resurrection does not depend
on a removal of physical barriers - but maybe faith does?
But that wasn't the end of
their surprises that first Easter morning.... For on the way,
who should they meet but the risen Jesus himself! I'll bet you
could have knocked them down with a feather! Well, that - or
something like it - is exactly what happened. We get this lovely
detail that the women fell to the floor and began to worship
Jesus - as well they might - and they took hold of his feet in
doing so..... Now it may help to know that at that time, there
was a commonly held belief that ghosts - which were thought to
be very real and probably usually malign - ghosts had no feet.
So in adding this little - to our eyes - rather curious detail,
Matthew is telling us that this was no ghost. This was the resurrected
Jesus - real and alive. No wonder he has to tell them not to
And what is the message they
take with them - that's the next surprise. Not "tell my
brothers to expect a visit from me in a few minutes", but
tell them to go to Galilee. In other words - tell them to get
back to normal life - that is where they will find me. That is
where they will be able to see me. Don't cling to the feet of
Christ but go out into the world and find him there.
So on this Easter morning -
that is our challenge too. And that is what always surprises
us - though maybe it shouldn't. It's fine to worship him here
- but then get on with the task of spreading the good news -
out there in the world. Don't be surprised, for God has work
for all of us to do - his work, his resurrection....
Christ is risen - he is risen indeed!
April 2014 - Easter Sunday Evening- Revd. Preb Maureen Hobbs
Sermon for Easter Sunday
evening - 2014
Song of Sol.
John 20. 11-18
Two beautiful passages this
evening - both which speak in different ways of love.
Now in recent times there has been much speculation about the
sort of love that Mary Magdalene feels for Jesus. There was the
rom-com version of Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice - I don't
know how to love him. And the speculation fed by the Da Vinci
code and other writing, suggesting that Mary and Jesus may in
fact have married.... and the Last Temptation of Christ - which
was even more controversial....
Well the Song of Solomon -
or song of songs as it is sometimes known is a marvellous piece
of erotic poetry - one which very nearly was excluded from the
Bible on the grounds of being too 'racy' - but which may be read
in an allegorical way to symbolise the love of God for us, for
humankind, as well as the love between a woman and a man.
Our Gospel reading this evening
reminds us that Mary was not only unsure how to express her love
- she did not even recognize the beloved when she first met him!
It is also worth considering this story in conjunction with one
that follows very soon afterwards in John's Gospel - and that
we may well be hearing in the next few weeks - that of Thomas
and his seeing and believing. What is important to note is the
role of our senses in recognizing when God is present. And it
seems we need to use more than just one of them. Mary saw the
figure of Jesus. But could not see him for who he was, until
she also heard his voice call her name.
Thomas 'heard' what the other disciples told him, but did not
believe until he had seen with his own eyes and been invited
to touch the wounds of Christ. Both Mary and Thomas need additional
sensory help for them to be able to recognize and believe.
So what of us today - here
this Easter Evening in Pattingham in 2014? Christian worship
at its best is always a multi-sensory experience - but maybe
we slip up; we miss the opportunities to really use our senses.
But here tonight you can feast
your eyes as you look at the wonderful colour and richness of
our furnishings - the more remarkable if you have lived through
the events of Holy Week and seen the stark reality of the church
stripped on Thursday night and Good Friday. And now close your
eyes and breathe deeply.... we have no incense, but with all
the wonderful scents of the flowers around us, perhaps incense
is not needed to remind us that our prayers ascend to the heavens,
like the smoke from a hundred censers.
But why does Mary not recognize
the risen Jesus? And what is the significance of responding to
his voice? Well it tells us that she belonged to him whole-heartedly
- as completely as any lover might - whether or not that love
was ever consummated...
She is not persuaded by Jesus of the facts of his resurrection
by any intellectual argument. He simply calls here name and because
she belonged to him, she heard that calling deep within her and
she responded. It can be called the perfect illustration of faith
- or indeed of love.
The reason why any of us believe,
probably has little to do with any academic or philosophical
basis for our faith, but because in some mystical way we too
sense that calling deep within us - the gentle calling of a name
- calling to the deep essence of our innermost being - who we
really are - that time and again draws us back into recognition
and worship of the shepherd who knows his sheep and who calls.
So why the uneven treatment
of Mary and Thomas? Why is one told not to cling - while the
other is invited to probe the very wounds of Christ? But Mary
does not need to touch in order to believe.... her ears have
helped her make that leap of faith. Thomas in contrast, needs
to touch for him to believe ... that is the sense that will confirm
things for him.
And, could it be that - having
heard or overheard the promise of Jesus to be with his disciples
permanently, Mary understood it to mean that his resurrection
body was how he would stay with them - scars and all. But we
- with the benefit of hindsight - know differently. Jesus remains
with us through his Spirit - not his resurrection body - even
though it has been and remains a topic of constant interest to
artists through the ages. If Mary were to cling to him, she would
only end up being bereaved all over again .... and maybe there
is only so much sorrow the human heart can bear?
We human beings need all our
senses to help navigate a path towards God in his risen reality.
The path is never easy - there will be many stumbling blocks
along the way, many reasons for us to doubt the evidence of our
own hearts and minds - before we can recognize the risen Christ
standing before us and respond in love.
We truly do not know how to love him - but thanks to Easter and
what it means for us, all we need to know is that He loves us
- not to the moon and back, but to the grave and back.
Christ is risen - he is risen indeed.