We managed to squeeze in around 30 (to comply with Covid Regulations) to St Mary’s Easton for one of our services today. There was also a Family Easter service at St John’s Itchen Abbas and another Parish Communion (by extension) at St Swithun’s Martyr Worthy. In addition we had 28 on zoom watching the St Mary’s Easton service. It was the first outing of our brand spanking new AV system – very exciting for all concerned! Probably we had around 100 at our services altogether this Easter Sunday.
David Duffin played the organ, Chris Ellis was the zoom jockey, Phoebe Culshaw and Clare Davies read the lessons and Dan Day Robinson led us in prayers.
Revd Alex Pease gave the following sermon:
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb’
What is going through Mary’s mind that morning?
As she walks to the tomb, as the curfew of the sabbath is ending, in the freshness of the morning before most people have got up, but the world is stirring…for another week, early on Sunday morning, the first day of the week by Jewish reckoning. It is still dark….
What is she thinking on the way?
She is probably been replaying again and again the awful scenes of Good Friday, the brutality of the Roman soldiers, the cruelty of the crowds calling ‘crucify crucify’, the indifference and mockery of the Jewish leaders to the person who had turned her life around, who had given her life a sense of purpose and meaning…
We all know how we feel about an injustice – the anger we feel, the misery as we replay it again and again. And this had been the most monstrous injustice of all….
But then there is the pain of bereavement also, that aching loss, when you cannot understand why the world hasn’t stopped. Doesn’t everyone know, He is dead!
Perhaps after the drama of the last few days, she just wants a few quiet moments to anoint the body with the spices, she has brought for this purpose. And perhaps to talk to him, to his lifeless corpse, in the way that so many bereaved people do even today, to say some last goodbyes, to say the things she wished she had said…..
We know from Mark that she is also worried about who will roll away the stone covering the entrance to the rich man’s tomb given by Joseph of Arimathea, where Jesus was laid….
The round stone placed on a groove on an incline at the entrance of the tomb to keep grave robbers at bay. It is possible for one man to roll the stone down the incline to close the tomb but needs several to roll it open up hill. Where are she and Mary the mother of James if she is with her (as St. Mark tells us) where are they going to get this help from?
She arrives at the tomb, in the half light of the morning……but something isn’t right…
Astonishingly the stone, which covered the entrance to the tomb has been rolled away….
The gospel accounts differ as to whether she immediately looked in through the door. But John tells us, that she runs to fetch Peter and John…… disraught, crying out ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid him’. The same ‘they’ who had condemned, tortured, mocked and crucified him….had they now come to collect His dead body, perhaps to take it away to Jerusalem’s garbage dump, known as Gehenna, the place of eternal flame…to insult him even further, even after death, by denying him a decent resting place…..hurling him into a common grave for criminals and slaves?
Peter and John run in and look….they find the tomb empty but for grave clothes neatly laid where Jesus body was for Jesus has no need to be cut out of grave clothes…..like Lazarus, this is an event of an altogether different magnitude than Lazarus being raised from the dead by Jesus ….Lazarus’ death merely postponed.
Jesus’ grave clothes have simply fallen where they were, like a chrysalis abandoned when a butterfly emerges….
But where is he?
Confusion adds to bereavement adds to injustice: swirling uncontrollable emotions causing irrational decisions….The disciples run back home…why?
But Mary remains weeping by the entrance to the tomb…
Let’s sit in that grief with Mary for a moment….think over in silence for a moment how she must have been feeling from our own experiences of grief and loss and injustice…..
Time stops still
The only sound is of her own sobbing…. by his grave
And then it happens….
This one moment….is the turning point of history for all humanity, for ever….
What provokes her, as she weeps, verse 11, to bend over to look into the tomb?
Why look again when the men have already told her that the tomb is empty? Is it that she cannot bring herself to believe that the tomb is really empty? Maybe she thinks that Peter is wrong, (he has been before) when he blundered into the tomb and then rushed out, perhaps in terror, ‘to return home’. Maybe she thinks in the darkness of the tomb there might be something which gives a clue as to what has happened.
Or is she just prompted by the Holy Spirit to remember something that Jesus said about his resurrection (which seemed incomprehensible at the time) to enquire just that little bit deeper? To make that short step….to look and see?
Because of that step, because of that response to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, she is about to have the privilege of being the first human being to witness the most important event in history.
She bends forward to look into the entrance of the tomb…..there she sees them, two beings whose appearance, we are told by Matthew was like lightening and whose clothes, we are told by Luke were dazzling….
‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ they ask…
Frozen to the spot by this supernatural event, she stumbles out the same words she had sobbed to Peter and John, ’they have taken away my lord and I do not know where they have laid him’
Then, there is someone else there standing behind her……
She did not recognise him, and thought he was the gardener, but he asks the same question, like an echo of the men in dazzling clothes but perhaps they are echoing him….
‘Woman, why are you weeping?’
A strange question really in a graveyard…a place of death and remembrance
‘Sir,’ she replies ‘If you have carried him away tell me where you have laid him and I will take him away’
The man replies ‘Mary’
As one theologian writes, there is something undeniably first hand about this exchange, intimate and personal….so unlike other literature of the ancient world, Jesus calling her, as he calls us, by our name..because he knows us….
Then she knows its him, “Teacher” she says and grabs him….
He tells her not to hold on to him but to tell the disciples that she has seen him alive and she rushes off to say to them, ’I have seen the Lord’
Having been the first person to see the risen Christ, she becomes the first Christian evangelist….
We have had a tough time over the last 12 months. Lockdown has been a nightmare for so many of us:
We may have been bereaved
We may have been lonely
We may have lost jobs
We may have damaged businesses
We may have marriages on the rocks
We may be exhausted and discouraged
Many of our dreams may have been cruelly shattered…..
It would not be surprising if we were weeping….
It’s not because Jesus doesn’t understand the misery which we have experienced and are experiencing that Jesus asks us, as he asked Mary, “Why are you weeping?”
He knows about our pain. He knows about our loss.
So why is it that he asks that question?
Firstly, He is asking her to wipe away Her tears and to open her eyes to the reality which is beyond all the suffering which she has experienced, which may not take away the trauma of what she has been through, the loss that she has endured but which gives them a vastly bigger context…..
The other evening some Christian friends and I, as we studied a book called The Imitation of Christ by a 12 century monk called St Thomas a Kempis, were speaking of the priority of our relationship with Jesus over all things, and the sufficiency of that relationship…despite everything which happens to us and those we love in this world
One of us spoke of a moment in his life when in prayer and worship he glimpsed something which could only be described as a glimpse of eternity
He writes: ‘I felt an incredibly powerful connection to God…. and in an instant felt utterly convinced of his reality, putting paid to my sometime, intellectually-led, doubts in a flash. In being drawn upward in worship, although my eyes were closed, I was totally bowled over by what I can only describe as the most beautiful, transcendent, perfect light imaginable, but light that somehow wasn’t just visual but also had dimension and presence to it. It was somehow both overwhelming in its brilliance and completely welcoming in its warmth – all I wanted to do was reach more and more towards it and to be drawn more and more into its glorious reality’
Against that vision of God’s glory, all the pain and suffering that we experience here awful as it is unbearable as it is….in what CS Lewis called ‘the Shadowlands’, becomes less significant, more manageable, because we can see what Mary saw outside that tomb that there is an eternal reality beyond what we experience here on earth, that Jesus has overcome even the worst of what we can suffer that he has overcome death, and that we can follow in his footsteps and overcome death as well.
Jesus’ presence in our lives changes everything.
Mary no longer has Jesus physically present with her in the same way as she always has had Jesus says to Mary ‘Don’t hold on to me because I have not yet ascended to the Father…’
Yes Jesus is there physically with her. He has risen physically, actually, historically (can I make it any clearer than that) from the dead, but the relationship that she has with him is going to be different from now on, because he has changed from the perishable to the imperishable. He has now abandoned the chrysalis of perishable existence and taken on the mantle of imperishable resurrection…..But he is to ascend to the presence of the Father, risen humanity perpetually unified in the trinity with the creator of the universe and the Holy Spirit
And in due course on Pentecost Sunday Jesus’ presence will be not be limited by being in just one geographical place at one historical period, but at all times and in all places with her (as he is for us) through the Holy Spirit, if we choose to allow him to be with us.
When we ask Jesus into our lives so he knows us so he can address us, as he addressed Mary by our own name, the bitter pill of earthly life becomes something we can readily endure, because we can see it all as temporary that there is no reason for despair, that dawn will come after night, that Spring will come after Winter and that joy, despite everything we are experiencing now, can be glimpsed in that empty tomb, if only we like Mary make one small step of discovery towards it….and open our eyes to see him standing there before us
20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Jn 20:1–18). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.