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20th April 2014 -Easter Sunday Morning - Revd. Preb Maureen Hobbs

Easter 2014
Acts 10. 34-43
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 in!

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 be afraid....

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!

20th April 2014 - Easter Sunday Evening- Revd. Preb Maureen Hobbs

Sermon for Easter Sunday evening - 2014

Song of Sol. 3.2-5; 8.6-7
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.