I have seen the Lord!

I have seen the Lord! A sermon for Easter Day
John 20.1-18

Mary empty tombWithout wanting to make any judgment, I think that some of you who are reading this may be old enough to remember one of the BBC’s most famous April Fool’s Day hoaxes, reporting the remarkable Swiss Spaghetti Harvest. It was after a mild winter – very unlike this year’s! ­– that the spaghetti crops had come out remarkable well, especially in Switzerland.

I wonder what your first reaction to a news item like this is. Do you immediately know it’s a fake story, or are you for a moment or more surprised, but captured by the news? I have to say that I’m usually quite gullible and my first reaction is to jump up and share the story with someone else: Have you heard about this!? And often that’s the moment when someone else needs to tell me I’ve been fooled.

Assuming I’m not the only one, the more often this happens, the more sceptical we get, until at some point we don’t believe anything anymore. That’s of course a bit of an exaggeration, but when we think about it, I do believe that we are becoming more and more distrusting now there seems to be so much ‘fake news’ around.

How different is the story of the first Easter morning. Instead of it being a hoax, trying to mislead people, in this story we see and recognise the story of our own lives. The story of Jesus is not one of manipulation and obtaining power. On the contrary, it is the story of ultimate freedom and the subversion of those people and institutions claiming to be in charge.

When Mary arrives at Jesus’ tomb, she sees that the stone has been rolled away, and having drawn her own conclusion, she says to the disciples ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him’. Mary has done what we so often do too: draw too quick a conclusion from the things we see.

The two disciples immediately run towards the tomb, and one of them looks in and sees the linen wrappings lying where the body had been. Peter himself goes into the tomb to indeed find it empty. It’s not quite clear what they conclude for themselves, as we read they believe, but also that they did not understand that he must rise from the dead.

In any case, the disciples go home, but Mary stays. The encounter between Jesus and Mary, I think, is one of the most moving passages in scripture. Through her tears, Mary doesn’t recognise Jesus, but thinks him to be the gardener. It is only when Jesus says her name ‘Mary’ that she recognises him.

Mary goes back to the disciples, this time not with a conclusion, but with an observation: ‘I have seen the Lord’. This time she she doesn’t draw a conclusion as she did on seeing the empty tomb, but shares what she has seen and heard.

‘I have seen the Lord.’ Those words can be seen as the first proclamation of the Resurrection. That is what for me makes the story of Easter convincing: it is not a conclusion, but an observation. Mary’s encounter with Jesus is given to us without any interpretation. It is simple, clear and real. No difficult theology or jargon, but an encounter that changed the world.

Here lies for me the truth of the Christian faith as a whole: in the encounter with the other, and through this the encounter with God. I don’t believe in Christ because I have studied theology, but I believe in Jesus, because I have encountered him in others.

This is also what I think we need to do as a Church, as the body of Christ. Not to draw conclusions and try to convince people we understand and they should too. But also we should tell of our encounters, share our stories when we have met the risen Christ in others. We need to do what Mary did, and tell others where we have seen the Lord.

In our encounters that mirror Mary’s encounter with Jesus, we know that we are loved, and in that very moment, we seem to understand what that means. It is hard to articulate, but it is precisely then that we know that this love is unconditional and everlasting.

However, these moments are only moments, and just as Mary, we cannot hold on to them. But we can treasure them in our hearts, look back on them, and remember how they made us feel, and indeed share them with others, as Mary shared her experience with the disciples. Yes, we too have seen the Lord, and that is why today we can say: Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!


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