Sermon 01 April 2018 B – Easter Day

Todays reading for Easter Day in 2018 Year B
Isaiah 25:6-9
Hymn to the Risen Christ
Acts 10:34-43
John 20:1-18

Transcript of the Sermon given by Reverend Roberta Hamilton. 

‘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.’ ‘In the beginning was the word and the word was with God, and the word was God.’ ‘In the beginning God when created the heavens and the earth…’ John at the beginning of his story of the resurrection takes us back, to his prologue, which is, of course, an echo of Genesis its- self. And God, or the generating force, is in the beginning, and appears on earth, becomes flesh, and dwells among us, so that we might see the Glory of God. Jesus of Nazareth is the flesh that God has taken on, and Jesus of Nazareth has been crucified, and his dead body placed in a tomb, which is in a garden. As the day of resurrection dawns it is the first day, all over again, and the Garden of Eden is returned to us. It is a new beginning. This is the cosmic dimension of the story, God the creator, through his Word, recreates and gives us a new beginning. The problem is that we find it both hard to see and hard to understand. We humans find the mystery of creation difficult, even if we are Stephen Hawking. To the tomb, in the garden, at the beginning of the new day, comes Mary of Magdala. She is what might be described by Matthew as one of the ‘little ones’. She is first and foremost, a woman in a patriarchal society, she has been ill, or possessed, and healed by Jesus. She has travelled with Jesus, and indeed sat at his feet as he has taught. We don’t know much more than that about her, regardless of the many appearances she makes in popular books and films, but it does seem quite certain that she loved Jesus of Nazareth, she came to his tomb, presumably to anoint his body and she was deeply grieved. When she sees the stone rolled away she runs to the men, Peter and the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and they run and look into the tomb, see the grave cloths and indeed the text tells us that the disciple whom Jesus loved, saw and believed. Mary returns to the garden, still weeping, and has a look in the tomb, and sees two angels, her reaction to them is not described, then she turns and sees Jesus standing there but she does not recognise him. Now, I have always imagined that she didn’t recognise him because she was crying so much that she couldn’t really see out of her eyes, but reading the narrative this time, I was struck by Jesus’ question, ‘who are you looking for?’ In John’s gospel, the first words that Jesus speaks are ‘Come and see!’ and all the way through the narrative are references to looking and seeing. The question he asks, whom she is looking for, invites her to ‘come and see’, but it takes her a minute. ‘Supposing him to be the gardener,’ the text says, she says to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Then John, this writer of superb, multivalent prose, inserts a second reference to creation. Jesus, clad probably in the humble workman’s clothes that he put on to cover his nakedness, is both recognizable as himself and at the same time, The Gardener, of all creation, the second Adam as Paul describes him in 1Corinthians 15. He is, simultaneously, the creator and the carer for creation. And then Jesus speaks to her by her name, and she recognises him. I don’t know about you, but I find this the most moving moment in any of the gospel accounts of the resurrection. Jesus has said that his sheep know his voice and that that they are precious to him, and here we have a glimpse of how that plays out. Jesus calls her name and she responds. She sees! The cosmic, new creation suddenly becomes about the individual, named and known, loved and seen by God. And in the way that she responds to him we see another quite important thing. Mary uses the title, ‘Rabbouni’ which means teacher. She doesn’t call him, ‘My Lord and My God’ as Thomas will. No, she responds by affirming their particular relationship. She is his student, his disciple and the gospel writer is making that clear. Mary has sat at the feet and learnt from Jesus, even though it is a male role in their world. And for every woman who chooses to follow in her footsteps it is an important assertion. She is also familiar enough with him to throw her arms around him in her joy, but Jesus tells her that she cannot hold onto him because he has to ascend. This is another very important reference because the resurrection, amazing as it is, is not the end of the story. Jesus hasn’t returned to a human form to live again on the earth, and to in the human way die again, he has conquered death forever. Jesus returns to the Father and the Holy Spirit takes Jesus place with human kind. The Holy Spirit can dwell with each and every one of us at the same time. The Kingdom of God, which has been near, which has begun while Jesus was there on earth, enters into its next phase with its life in the body of Christ, in God’s people, in the strength of the indwelling Spirit. Through the ascension we have the eternal atonement, or “At-one-ment” of God and us. After Jesus has made this surely incomprehensible statement he sends Mary to witness to the disciples. She is the apostle to the apostles, the sent one to the sent, and from her the message goes out to the ends of the earth. And the message, the good news, is that Jesus has broken the power of death and we can be in God, in love, forever. That is the life that we now live. We are the community of the resurrection. We are God’s people, who live in God’s kingdom, here on earth. We, each of us, have been called to come and see Jesus, who knows us and names us as part of his body here on earth. We have been called into the new garden, the new creation of God, where we are greeted by the gardener. We live post-resurrection lives. We are those who live in the safe space made for us by God, without fear of our own mortality. But more than that we live post ascension lives where we are Christ’s body on earth. We, like Mary, cannot hold onto the physical body of Jesus of Nazareth, but when we embrace each other we hold the body of Christ. We are Christ’s hands and feet, eyes and ears. We are Christ’s feeling hearts, his compassion and empathy, here on earth. We are the body of Christ. In the prologue John says that God has given us, ‘power to become the children of God’ which is a different metaphor. As God’s children we are not left without support, we have the transforming power of the Spirit in our lives. We are loved by God and called by name, strengthened and transformed so that we might be his people, his children. However, our world isn’t always simple or beautiful, it often doesn’t seem to be much like the Garden of Eden but we are called to live our lives bringing in the new creation. In the midst of horrors, and there are plenty to be seen in our current world events, and the evil which stalks beside us as humans, we are called to be God’s people. According to Karoline Lewis, this amazing story of the resurrection is, “our story to keep living out, remaining vigilant in our witness when bodies continue to be left in the mass graves of complacency and compliance.” We are not to be complacent, nor indifferent but to be active members of Christ’s body here on earth. We are called to join in the great dance of the Trinity, the perichoretic dance, which has both justice and righteousness and love and inclusion as its component parts. We are sent, like Mary, to tell others that we have seen the Lord, the great creator God, and to invite them to also ‘come and see’. We are called to be the resurrection for our world.