Bishop Rob’s Easter Sermon

The message of Easter Day is clear. The risen Christ comes to us in whatever way he chooses. He matches his appearing to our own experience and need, and chooses whichever means will best speak to our inner self. So let us take our own experience of resurrection, however slight and insignificant it may seem, and let us treasure it and live in the promise and the hope for the future which it gives us.

 

Bishop’s Sermon for Easter 2016 – John 20.1-18

Easter is something to be discovered, suddenly or perhaps pondered on slowly, an adventure which will result in love and joy and peace and the desire to share these gifts with others with gentleness and patience. For me it is beautifully represented by Easter egg hunting. Yes, Easter is a time of childlike delight. It’s a game of hide and seek with the assurance if we desire it – of the risen Jesus being found or being found by him. It might have been straight away, it might take some time, but find him you will. For in the mysterious ways of God he is also looking for us!

The experience of my first game of hide and seek was at a birthday party. I remember it to this day because I hid extremely well and no one ever found me. Eventually I came out and I almost missed the birthday tea! Ever after in any game of hide and seek I always made sure I was found first!  I then made sure I found everyone else. In the same way I don’t want to miss Easter, I don’t want others to miss it either especially after the extraordinary journey of life, brought together in Holy Week

And so we have arrived at the empty tomb. But he isn’t there! Now, instead of following the presence of Jesus, the actions of Jesus, the teachings of Jesus, suddenly the focus is on the absence of Jesus – he is not in the tomb.

He wasn’t there when Mary Magdalene, Peter and the beloved disciple come looking for him because they were looking for his body and that was gone. His life for a moment was hidden in death. After an intense Holy Week when you experience the rawness of pain and death, the glory is hard to experience.

In our gospel lesson today, Mary Magdalene makes her way to the tomb to attend to Jesus. When she finds the stone rolled away from the tomb, she runs to bring back with her Peter and the beloved disciple. The two men run back to the tomb, in a seeming race, eager to see what Mary is talking about. When they arrive at the tomb, they walk in, look at everything, see that Jesus is not there. They do not understand what they are seeing, or what they are not seeing, and they simply return to their homes. They tell no one, they say nothing to Mary, they make no reaction whatsoever. They are among the first to see the tomb empty, to witness the event foretold, but they miss the point. They miss Easter. It is in to these two disciples that I see those who struggle. I find myself standing at the tomb with them on Easter morning, the tomb is empty – what does that mean?

Mary, on the other hand, has a totally different experience at the tomb than do her companions. While they run to arrive at the tomb, but quickly leave once they find the place empty, Mary stays, Mary lingers at the empty tomb a bit longer. She stands there weeping, grieving. Overcome by the events of the past days, months, years – everything that has changed in her life since meeting Jesus playing over in her head. She just needs a moment to soak everything in. She stays at the tomb just a little longer, lets the emptiness sink into her mourning soul. It is then, then out of her despair that she sees the risen Christ. She does not recognise him right away, but she stays, she waits, she asks questions, and wonders about what she is experiencing.

Woman, says Jesus, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for? She replied, Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him. Jesus answered, ‘Mary!’

In that instant, in that single word, everything changed for Mary, Rabboni, Teacher.  In that moment, she recognises her teacher, her healer, her friend – not dead, not defeated, but alive, present here with her, speaking her name. Unlike the two disciples, Mary does not return quietly home, but leaves the tomb rejoicing, telling everyone, announcing the good news. “I have seen the Lord,” she says, and she told them that Jesus had appeared to her and spoken to her. Mary does not miss Easter – she experiences it fully. She sees the empty tomb and the risen Christ. For her, the days of suffering and mourning have their ultimate pay off in the presence of the living Christ – the trial, the crucifixion, the agonising time in between. They all point now to this meeting with her teacher, and her joy is complete.

What has Mary done to make her Easter so different from the Easter morning of the two disciples. They walk away from the tomb confused, perhaps let down, not understanding. But Mary leaves rejoicing, filled up, more alive than she has ever been. Unlike her companions, Mary was able to wait through the original discomfort and uncertainty of her first arrival to the tomb. The empty tomb is only one part of the Easter story – the risen Christ is the other part. An empty tomb alone says nothing – the tomb alone is not Easter.

However, Jesus will reveal himself to those who leave confused in his timing for them and in his timing for us. The variety of that experience is infinite. It may come through the fellowship of the Church, or through an aspect of everyday life; through a relationship with someone close, or through an encounter with a stranger; through the depths of suffering and sorrow, or through the heights of joy and ecstasy; through a magnificent act of worship, or through sitting quietly alone in a church. The how, the where and the when are not important: it is the experience itself that matters. We need to keep ourselves open to be found.

The message of Easter Day is clear. The risen Christ comes to us in whatever way he chooses. He matches his appearing to our own experience and need, and chooses whichever means will best speak to our inner self. So let us take our own experience of resurrection, however slight and insignificant it may seem, and let us treasure it and live in the promise and the hope for the future which it gives us.

Receive the sign of his resurrection in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, or in the story of his rising this morning and then break open an Easter egg the sign of new birth in the eggs of Easter! Break open the tomb and taste the delight.

Let us pray: Gracious God, we wait for the risen Christ to fill this place, fill our hearts, fill our lives this Easter. Come into our presence this day, loving God. We are waiting for you. In the name of the Resurrected Christ we pray, Amen.

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