An Easter Sermon …sharing from Rev Dr Jonathan Singh

Alleluia! Christ is risen! Even two thousand years on, the news is still remarkable. It‘s still cause for exclamation. Throughout our services for the next fifty days of the Easter season, we repeat this refrain many times. It’s no coincidence that there are 31 exclamation marks in this morning’s order of service! The final and most important holy days of Holy Week have been moving and powerful.
More than 40 people shared in a Passover supper at St John’s from our three churches in our two villages. 30 people gathered in the bareness and starkness of Good Friday to reflect on Jesus sacrifice of himself on the cross.
In many churches, Easter Eve is an event of great celebration in the darkness. I remember as a curate keeping the Easter vigil, and the Easter fire late one Easter Eve.
It is an ancient tradition. I vividly remember this one particular Easter Eve. The fire was lit outside the great west doors of Spalding parish church. The wind blew and the flames leapt high. Eventually, with singed eyebrows and burnt fingers, we got the Paschal candle lit, and began the procession into church. But soon, against my one tone singing, were the two-tones of the local fire engine, called out by a concerned passer-by.
The Vicar, my boss, ran to the fire crew and assured them that ‘everything was under control’. The fire officers were gracious but much less enthused by our news of resurrection. The miracle we proclaimed was for them a false alarm. The Roman authorities, too, had thought everything was under control. Jesus was finally destroyed and out of the way. End of the story.
At dawn this morning, following the emptiness of Holy Saturday, we went out to light our new fire at Burton Leonard, to proclaim the truth that it was NOT the end – and, following ancient tradition, we renewed our baptismal promises – reminding ourselves that no matter what we face, we are Easter people, in a Good Friday world – and alleluia is our song.
Our Gospel reading this morning tells of the first Easter person – Mary Magdalen. It is a profoundly moving and beautiful story. Just when she thinks everything is lost, suddenly and miraculously, everything is well again. Here in a garden, on the first day of the week, we find a man and a woman, and creation is made new – reminding us, perhaps, of that first garden – in Eden.
In this garden encounter there is a monumental transformation and change, not in Jesus’ re-appearance, but chiefly in Mary. It’s told in close-up, intimate detail. So often with both tragedy and joy, we can cope much more easily on a one-to-one basis. When there’s a terrible disaster in which many are killed, we comprehend best, not by the numbers, but by the story and experiences of individual figures, by understanding the profound and personal impact on them and their lives. We’ve seen it on the news in recent days as the stories have surface from Brussels.
And so John relates this remarkable, miraculous story through the eyes of Mary. Mary, whose life was once-before turned around by Jesus, who has faithfully followed him throughout his life, who kept vigil at the foot of the cross with the other women when nearly all of the male disciples were nowhere to be seen; Mary, who here in John’s Gospel has come alone to his tomb before the dawn; Mary, who now for a few brief hours, is the only person in the world who can say, hand on heart and no doubt heart in mouth, “I have seen the Lord!”
Jesus hasn’t changed – he still meets us where we are; for Mary, it is in the midst of grief. He doesn’t leap out from behind a bush and shout “Ta-dah! It’s me. I’m back!” He meets her, as before, gently – in her anguish and distress, asking simply “Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?” and in his simple, profound and earth-shattering speaking of her name, her question is answered, her whole world transformed and her faith confirmed.
Mary is transformed by this garden experience. Transformed lives are what makes Easter real. It is the profound effect of their encounters with the risen Christ that turns the disciples from terrified individuals to exuberant evangelists. As we heard in our reading from Acts today, previously shy fishermen become bold, passionate preachers. They become Easter people. They don’t become immune from all suffering – far from it, but they become people of hope, whose song is Alleluia. But even for Easter People our lives rarely fit neatly into the liturgical seasons of the church’s year. For some, it is still Good Friday or Holy Saturday. Some are still living with the horror of the crucifixion; others are immersed in tomb time – bereaved and bereft, wandering how on earth they can move forward. We all, I’m sure, know people who are in the midst of personal trials and tribulations, people who are sick, anxious, bereaved, betrayed, in debt, in addiction. That may be where you are today. This is Easter Day but we know that our news will still bring us stories of terrible ongoing suffering around the world. In my ministry, I’ve encountered terrible tragedies. Lives cut short before they’ve even begun. Long lives but with unfinished business, unforgiven hurts. Tragedies almost unspeakable. I’ve also encountered those whose stories are nothing short of miraculous – coming through surgery against all the odds. The arrival of a baby so longed for that hearts were filled to bursting with love and expectation. Easter people are those for whom their faith is their cornerstone in times of trouble. Easter people are those who come through some of the hardest, most painful experiences in life knowing that it is our faith, our relationship with God, which has somehow sustained us. We can’t always explain it, but we simply know, at a level too deep for words, that somehow, even if we only recognise it looking back, God has been present with us – not always in a tangible sense, and often through the presence and witness of others. God can be present even through a seeming absence. Easter people are those who have a longer-term perspective, who know, in ways they cannot explain, that this is not all there is; that death is not the last word on life. Easter people are those who know that all our experiences – the best and the worst, the most painful and the most joyous, are held in the palm of the one whom death could not contain. Easter people are those who recognise that there can be no empty tomb without the cross. We are Easter people!
We know the resurrection because of the transformation it brought about in Mary, that first Easter person, and in all those who came to recognise the truth of which she and the disciples spoke, down through the ages. We may see it in the faces of those who have been shining examples of faith to us, and we will shortly see it in the faces of one another as we gather around the altar to share in this Communion. Today, simply by our presence here, we are opening ourselves to the truth of the resurrection. We are opening ourselves to new possibilities of peace and justice in our world. We are opening ourselves to the possibility of change and transformation in our own lives too.
Resurrection has no meaning, no purpose, no place, unless like Mary Magdalene we go and tell it to a world living in Good Friday! Resurrection has no meaning unless we are willing to live as Easter people.
The resurrection isn’t an event it is an experience. We are called to go and tell not only with our lips but also with our lives – the experience of triumphs over life’s most difficult stuff. This is resurrection. Your presence here confirms it!
 
We are an Easter people & alleluia is our song.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!
 

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