Sunday 16 April - Easter Sunday - Sung Eucharist - Stephen Holmes
Easter Day 2017 – John 20:1-18
Audio file here.
+ You could be forgiven for thinking there is something quite important going on today.
What’s it all about? Well, Easter eggs for example. This year we don’t have an Easter egg hunt here but a few years ago I remember the preacher ate the chocolate eggs that had been hidden in the pulpit for the children. The Prime Minister was in the news recently attacking the National Trust for not adding the word ‘Easter’ to their ‘egg hunt’ this weekend. Christian symbols can cause confusion. While looking online for a picture of the resurrection for the cover of your booklets, one image was of the resurrection of the Easter Bunny, surrounded by angels. But what about the eggs? Christians have blessed eggs at Easter for centuries and Eastern Christian churches often have an ostrich egg hanging over the altar. An egg means hope. An egg looks like a stone and the chick breaks out of the hard egg, new life out of stone; just like Jesus rising from the dead out of the stone tomb.
We see the story in the gospel passage we just heard. Jesus has been killed on the cross. His body is put in a stone tomb. On the Sunday morning Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb and finds it open. She tells Peter and John who run to look and it’s empty, the shroud folded up. Perhaps someone stole his body. The two men go away. Mary stays crying at the tomb. God chooses the woman as witness. She sees angels and a gardener; ‘where is Jesus’ body?’ she asks. Then the gardener says her name and she realises it is Jesus. Not dead but alive. Risen from the tomb. Like a baby ostrich from the stone-hard egg. New life, like the spring flowers; but no spring without winter. Unless we cry with Mary, are realistic about pain, death and the cross, we cannot recognise the risen Christ. Unless we die with Jesus in our brokenness, we cannot share his new life. This is good news to those who suffer – joy and light are here, now.
Coming back from the dead is a big thing in our culture. Putting aside zombies, in the most recent series of the TV series Game of Thrones, the character Jon Snow is brought back from the dead. But it is not a joyful return. The resurrection of Jesus is different. We don’t see the dead body of Jesus coming back to life. We are just presented with an empty tomb; the cracked-open egg. But look again. Mary doesn’t recognise Jesus, she thinks he’s the gardener. Only when he looks at her with love in his eyes and names her does she recognise him. Two of his friends walking to Emmaus don’t recognise him until he breaks bread, whereupon he vanishes. Elsewhere he walks through a closed door. If you read the gospels, they all follow a clear storyline until Jesus rises from the dead. Then it’s as if he’s in a different dimension. It’s as if science fiction, or perhaps quantum mechanics, is a better way of understanding Jesus than staid old history or Newtonian physics.
If you remember back to our first reading you find Peter telling new converts what Christianity is all about: “Jesus died by hanging on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses”. Throughout the New Testament you find this basic message, what Christianity is all about: ‘Christ crucified and risen’. But notice, Jesus did not appear to all but to chosen witnesses, like Mary. Jesus rising from the dead happened in history but no one saw it; the risen Jesus was elusive. History and science cannot pin him down. He’s greater than that. He demands faith which is not scientific certainty but well-grounded hope in things not seen.
In a world where bomb-blasts and rogue vehicles kill the innocent, where millions are driven from their homes, where there soon may be war again in Korea. Where a dictator gasses his own people and men and women sleep rough on our streets or starve in East Africa, while others live in plenty - the resurrection of Jesus gives hope that pain and death do not have the last word. Last Sunday bombs went off in Egyptian churches where Christians were celebrating around altars surmounted by ostrich eggs. Their response to the killing was to go into the street and sing the creed, the same one we’re about to say: “Jesus suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again.” What it’s all about is that death does not have the last word. Love wins. There is something worth celebrating going on today and it’s worth singing about – even singing ‘Shine Jesus shine’ and the Hallelujah chorus. Last night the Romanian Orthodox celebrated Easter in this church and I’ll end with something they sung again and again, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life”. This is something worth celebrating – Alleluia Christ is risen; he is risen indeed alleluia!