Early on the first day of the week

Sermon Easter Day 2021: John 20.1-18

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb … ” So begins the Easter story in John’s Gospel: a story of new beginnings, of universal hope and the victory of light over darkness. Something most of us are desperate to hear after the year we had. And so, we may feel, this Easter also marks a new beginning for us, as we begin to be carefully hopeful that the next few months may see a return to a more normal and freer life.

But of course, the Easter story doesn’t really start at the empty tomb. It starts much earlier: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The story had started even before time began. It is the story of God and of us, of God with us. It is something that is easily forgotten if our focus is too much on what is yet to come: our story is not one of yet to come, but one that already is, rooted in all that has gone before. 

The Easter story too is not one about other people, a fairy tale, a story with a message, to which we can listen, but it is our story; we are caught up in it. The miracle of Jesus’ Resurrection, his victory of life over death, became only fully real on Easter morning, when Mary proclaimed that she had seen the risen Lord. The Easter story gains it full importance through people living in the power of Christ’s risen life.

We all are part of the Easter in the story. By who we are and how we live, like Mary, our lives show that we have seen the Lord. That life doesn’t start when restrictions are lifted, but that life has already begun. 

Some may object that we are not like Mary,  or the disciples, nor would everyone want to be. Yet, I believe that if we live our lives fully, we may be more like them, than we first thought, as Mary’s encounter on the first Easter morning is not a bad template for a life fully lived. 

The first step, bringing us back to the beginning of the story we heard this morning, is to show up: early in the morning, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb. So often, making a start is the hardest part. Whether that’s when you’re going for a run, starting a new term at school, or starting a new phase of life. But when we do, we often realise too that it wasn’t as difficult as we thought.

When we’ve made that first step, the next is that we need to question what we see, more often than not admitting our lack of understanding, and our need to learn. When Mary notices the empty tomb, she is confused and anxious: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and I do not know where they have laid him.” 

And with that lack of knowledge, we need to accept our vulnerability and our grief, the pain of what we don’t have. With Mary we may find ourselves weeping and finding it hard to see through our tears. It is something many of us have felt more acutely over the past year too, it is so hard when we don’t know and don’t understand what is happening, nor what it will mean for our future.

Despite her grief and tears, Mary still hears the voice of a stranger calling her: “Woman, why are you weeping?” I hope that many of us will recognise ourselves here too. Either reaching out to someone in pain, or remembering that moment when someone reached out to us. Someone familiar, or indeed a stranger, but someone calling our name when we needed it most. 

When we hear and dare to respond to that call, at that moment everything changes. What we thought we had lost, has now been fulfilled. The Easter story is not about returning to life as it was, life as we made it for ourselves. No, it is about realising that what we were promised is already here. Not necessarily the way we expected it to be, not without pain or loss, but never alone and never completely lost.

Mary returns to the disciples and announces: “I have seen the Lord!”. So we too, we cannot and must not keep those moments of profound insight to ourselves. Because this is not just my story, or your story, but our story: we are all caught up in this together. Maybe that is one of the things that we have learned more acutely in the past year: that we depend on one another and our actions are not just our own.

So my hope and my prayer this Easter is that, with Mary, we also can say that we have seen the Lord. Not that we will see Him on the 21st June, or on whichever date we have set our hopes, but that He is here. Risen for us and present with us: from beginning to end. Alpha and Omega, the first and the last. Amen. 

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