Scripture: John 20:1–18
With assurance that the risen Christ is in our midst, we pray…
God of Easter surprise and wonder,
on this joyous day we feel as if anything is possible.
In the mystery and power of faith
you encourage us to join with you
in transforming our world with love and compassion.
On this day the power of hope springs eternal
and your love emboldens us to face the challenges
and opportunities that we face day by day.
In the name of the living Christ,
with faith and hope, we pray. Amen
The resurrection story, that we heard this morning from the Gospel of John, is my
favourite telling of the Easter story. All four of the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, include a story of Jesus’ resurrection but John’s version is the longest and most detailed account. It is also the most dramatic telling of the story.
John tells us that while it was still dark Mary Magdalene came to Jesus’ tomb and saw the stone had been rolled away and so she ran immediately to tell others about this startling discovery. Women, in Jesus’ day, were not thought to be reliable witnesses so the law required that two men verify a woman’s testimony. Mary brought two male disciples back with her and they saw the stone had indeed been rolled away. They investigated further and discovered that the tomb was empty. We don’t know what the male disciples did immediately after they left – according to John they simply came, they saw, and they went home. Mary, however, stayed at the tomb and kept vigil. She was confused and grief-stricken – she’d lost Jesus twice over, first in death and then the loss of his body. In her grief torn state she’d simply desired to be as close to Jesus as she could in the midst of her intense mourning and so she wept bitter tears. Then, after an encounter with angels, Mary saw a man she didn’t recognize whom she mistook to be the cemetery gardener. This supposed gardener asked her why she was weeping and who she was looking for. At this point Mary thinks that the gardener may have something to do with Jesus’ disappearance and she asks him directly if he’d taken Jesus’ body and put it somewhere else. And then something wondrous happens. The one, Mary mistook for a stranger, calls her by name and in that instant she recognizes him as Jesus – her beloved friend and teacher. This is the part of the story that always gives me goosebumps – that makes me believe Mary’s experience of the risen Christ. The empty tomb and the appearance of angels does not sway me but the experience of a beloved one speaking your name in love – the way no one else can – captures my heart every time. In that moment of intimate recognition Mary’s life is transformed. Mary isn’t immobilized anymore by grief, fear or confusion. Mary experiences new life, new hope, new joy. She responds to Christ’s direction to go and tell others with a bold sense of purpose and the courage of her convictions.
Mary is the first witness to the risen Christ but Mary is not unique. She is first one, but not the only one, who experienced Jesus’ continuing presence that breathed new life and faith into dispirited people. She was not the only one then, and she is not the only one now, who can experience the risen Christ. With faith and hope, Mary responded to Christ’s call to go forth into the world and live the good news of God’s love for the world. Mary is not unique, she represents any one of us sitting here this morning. She was an ordinary person with doubts and fears, sorrow and pain, joy and hope. An ordinary person capable of seeing with the eyes of faith and a heart filled with love.
An article I came across this week comments that,
“The resurrection places Jesus on this side of the grave – here and now – in the midst of this life. He is not standing on the shore of eternity beckoning us to join him there. He is standing beside us, strengthening us in this life. The good news of the resurrection of Jesus is not that we shall die and go home to him but that he has risen and comes home with us. …On the morning of the Resurrection, God put life in the present tense, not in the future. God gave us not a promise but a presence. Not a hope for the future but power for the present. …The proof that God raised Jesus from the dead is not the empty tomb, but the full hearts of his transformed disciples. The crowning evidence that he lives is not a vacant grave, but a spirit-filled fellowship. Not a rolled-away stone, but a carried-away church.”
(Seasons of the Spirit, Clarence Jordan, Easter 2, 2006)
Easter Sunday, every year, we don’t say “Christ was risen” but rather we say, “Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed!”. We are Easter people – people of faith, hope and love. Easter faith is not simply about believing in the resurrection of Jesus. Easter faith is also a bold proclamation that love is stronger than death; that courageous faith is stronger than fear; that the oppressive forces of our world, which seek to dominate and control many for the benefit of a few, will not prevail.
We may not always recognize him but Christ is present in the ordinary experiences of our lives as people of faith. Recognize him, or not, Christ is present in sacrament and prayer, in the songs and stories of our faith tradition, and in the simple ways in which we respond with faith and love to each other and to the world.
With trust in the living Christ, we can roll away the stones of our fears and complacency, our prejudices and shortcomings, our excuses and reluctance to risk our comfortable lives. Christ calls each one of us by name and coaxes us to be daring and follow him wherever he leads. When we do, we are empowered in ways that are greater than we could ever ask or imagine.
With this Easter assurance I’ll close with an excerpt from a poem by John Harvey, of the Iona Community, that reflects Jesus’ call and accompaniment:
We, who dare to say we are following you,
know how faltering are our footsteps,
how delicate our discipleships,
how feeble our faith.
Yet still you call us by name
and invite us into your company
and onto your road.
So give us courage
and the commitment we need:
help us to look out for one another on the road;
show us how we may share the duty
and the joy of discipleship,
knowing that, in the end,
it is you who have blazed the trail,
you who accompany us all the way,
you who will meet us on the road,
and say our name.
Thanks be to God for the living Christ who walks with us always on this journey of faith.