Easter Sunday 2012
Readings: Acts 10:34-43, John 20:1-18
The Rev’d Jayson Rhodes – Vicar
If you are looking for a tidy story, with a happy ending, that makes total sense from the comfort of your couch - then you may want to change channels about now. But, I don’t think you will find the remote on a seat anywhere near you. That’s because the story of Easter, the story of resurrection, is not an ending, it is one we are called to live in, and resurrection is far from settled, clear and understandable.
The advertising industry has words it uses to draw people in, so that you come off better off and shop wiser in a country that is 100% pure. Today’s phrase, ‘he has been raised, ‘does not feature in the top slogans. Resurrection is almost hard to believe, the last thing to be expected. My point is - the fact that the story of resurrection is awkward and untidy and can go into the too hard basket with a few too many questions is the exact reason to stop, to ask questions of our faith and to place ourselves in the story. Resurrection is then not a happy ending but rather a time of beginning, to be energised in our faith and to be reminded of hope. We are called time and time again to look into the empty tomb, to the light to see the world we live in as God made it to be, for our faith and lives to encounter who God is.
That means looking and thinking and possibly taking another look. As we enter this sacred space and this sacred day an important question is, what is it we are looking for? – something that is tidy and explained is always easier!
Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb while it was still dark; it was a time of death, a time to grieve. But the stone is rolled away, there is an empty tomb and this leads to fear and frustration, rather than faith. There is only one conclusion – someone has taken Jesus body. That is the only possibility. In a world of cause and effect that is the only logical explanation. It appears the two disciples come to the same conclusion as Mary. On hearing the news; they go to the tomb, find it empty and return home.
Mary Magdalene though takes another look, she is more inquisitive and then a voice asks her why she is weeping. Supposing it to be the gardener Mary asks if he has taken the body. Her logical world is then turned on its head when Jesus calls her name. The one who was dead greets Mary but is not recognisable until he speaks. One commentator writes, ‘The established rules as to what can happen and how are overthrown. The old plausibility structure is left in shambles. It is a new day.’ Things have changed; faith is questioned as everything is turned upside down in a sense.
We do not see the empty tomb, but the reality of the empty tomb, told in all four gospels is the starting point and it is a necessary condition. The empty tomb is the presupposition from which subsequent experiences took place of meeting with Jesus. These encounters made sense with the empty tomb as the starting point. The Jesus that the disciples experience is the same as the leader and friend of the days of ministry. The experience of the post resurrection Jesus to his disciples is what they already knew - the same relationship including speech, touch and the sharing of food. Community is maintained in the same way. One interesting twist is that news of the empty tomb comes from an outsider – from Mary Magdalene, not from a member of the apostolic band itself, if resurrection was one planned elaborate hoax the story would not have been written to have Mary Magdalene, seen as an outsider by the world and some parts of the western church, announcing the resurrection.
So we are invited to live in the resurrection world. This is a world where there is not a tidy ending, everything is not finalised and settled and occasionally we may be interrupted or questioned. We are encouraged to take a second look as Mary Magdalene did, and in a sense to ask and seek where God is, as Mary asked where Jesus was.
The Easter story comes after a week of change. Holy Week is full of unexpected change; tables in the temple being turned can be a metaphor for anticipated outcomes being turned upside down. Jesus welcomed as a king is placed on trial and crucified. Then there is an empty tomb. It is a story that we are invited to be part of and that means possible change and new experiences in our faith and life journey that may energise and give life or cradle us in a hard time. If we walk away from Holy Week and it all feels the same and no different we all need to be taking another look to the world the empty tomb invites us to be part of.
I think we need to look for our own signs as community and as individuals of resurrection hope. It is expressed in our payer and worship as individuals and community but there can be other ways of being reminded of the power and love of God.
The past week has seen these chickens come to life. For three weeks the incubator appeared to be a place of no life. A steady 37.5 degrees with eggs turned religiously three times a day. There was hope but no signs of life with nothing much to see and after about 20 days I was giving the incubator a small glance – that was about it. I wonder if sometimes our faith is a bit like the incubator in the initial days, few signs of life, little to interest us or others.
But on Tuesday the eggs began to rock and I thought ‘Wow there’s life!’ You could hear chirping coming from within the eggs and then by Wednesday night small cracks emerged and on Thursday ten chickens emerged. I wonder if at times our faith needs to come to life and emerge from the shell and leave an empty shell just as these chicks did. The chicks are a sign of new life and can be a reminder to us of the new life that is always found in the resurrected Christ, a story we are part of. This week has been a week of change for them and can also be a week of change for us. Chickens seem a lot easier to talk about than death and resurrection but sometimes we can make it too hard. Resurrection – God’s presence in the world can be seen in the simple and in the ordinary. We need to keep looking for those signs of resurrection.
The Archbishop of Canterbury says, “Jesus grants us a solid identity, yet refuses us the power to seal or finalise it, and obliges us to realise that this identity only exists in an endless responsiveness to new encounters with him.” Dr Williams goes on to say; “to imagine we have finished the making of ourselves, that we have done with desire and restlessness, is to slip back to that unredeemed world; to turn from the void of the tomb to the drama of a cheapened Calvary for the frustrated ego.”
We are then encouraged to keep coming back to the resurrection story, to the empty tomb and to let God be God in God’s world, resurrection is not then a historical event but one we share in. To use the words of our final hymn: it is a call to leap and dance the resurrection story, to tell of a love that will not let us go.
Poem – Joy Cowley _ He is Risen.