Sermon Easter Day 2023
St Margaret’s West Hoathly
I wonder what you enjoy most about Easter Day? Apart from being here in Church this morning, of course! Is it the Easter Egg hunt, or the roast lamb you may be preparing? The people that will come to visit, or marking the end of Lent and returning to whatever it was you had given up?
What I love most doing on Easter morning is to go and see a sunrise somewhere. Not so much today, unfortunately, but anticipating this, I went up to the South Downs earlier this week – not quite the same, but still.
Although scientifically, what we see as a sunrise is in fact the earth spinning around its own axis with about 1000 miles/hour, there is a real stillness and anticipation in that moment just before dawn. In the stillness, in the waiting, it feels like something is happening. And then, just as the sun appears deep red above the horizon, I know that something has changed, and at this moment I come closest to sensing the freedom that lies in being fully known and loved.
The Easter story is one of transformation. As I mentioned on Maundy Thursday, it is a journey from oppression to freedom: the oppression of sin and death to the freedom of life in Christ, a life in God’s love. And if we are to take the story seriously, we realise that each year, we are on that journey too. We too are part of the story that seemed to end on Good Friday, but we now realise continues in us today.
This morning in our Gospel reading, we hear the account of Mary standing weeping outside the empty tomb on the first Easter morning. It is one of the most intimate encounters in the Bible, and I wonder if it is how we might experience our most intimate moments with God too?
As Mary is standing beside the empty tomb, I wonder what it is that she mourns? Of course, the loss of a dear friend, someone in whom everyone could see the good, if only they took the time to look.
Maybe also she mourns a loss of faith in the people around her? Whether it was the crowds, the authorities, the disciples or she herself, ultimately everyone had some part to play in Jesus’ life ending on the cross. But maybe her tears are ultimately because in this moment, in every way, she has lost her Lord. She has lost her faith in a God who can let something like this happen, and Jesus’ own promise that things would be different with him.
Maybe that is what Mary means when she responds to the angels who ask her why she weeps: ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him’. Jesus, her friend, her Lord, the one she trusted is gone; and with that the foundation of who she believed she was: she, his friend, his companion for life and beyond. ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him’.
It is a feeling that I suspect some of us might recognise. That at times in our lives, we may have asked the same question. If this was the God in whom I believed, surely it cannot be thus? In the light of immense suffering, untimely death or when life overwhelms us. ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him’.
After her question to the angels, which remains unanswered, Mary turns around. Once more, is addressed by the same question ‘Why are you weeping?’ And now, her answer is more direct: ‘if you have taken him away, tell me, and I will take him’. Although she doesn’t know it yet, this time her question is a cry to God, to Jesus himself. ‘If you are the one who has done this, tell me, and I will go and find him again.’
It is at this point that everything changes. And it only takes one word: ‘Mary’. Suddenly, through her grief, her questions and her desperation, Mary hears her own name in that familiar voice, and immediately she knows: here is Jesus. Here is the one who knows her by name, who knows her even better than she knows herself. And it is in that recognition that she replies: ‘Rabbouni’, teacher. She has seen the Lord.
Through this exchange, made of only two words, we realise that the Easter story is different from any other story, a story with a beginning but no end: this is the story of the God who will never stop loving us, the God who himself bore the cost of our freedom, and the God who will come and find us.
For some moments, Mary and the early disciples thought that they had lost Jesus, that their understanding of who they believed him to be, and of who they believed themselves to be, had come to an end on the cross. But now, this morning, everything is transformed, because Jesus is risen and is there, ready to meet them, and to continue to love them.
Their pain is transformed into joy, their questions into a deeper understanding, and God’s silence into a new and greater awareness of his love and presence. Their journey through Good Friday and Jesus’ journey through death, have left their marks, as we still see in the wounds in Jesus’ hands and body.
And so we see that Resurrection is not a return to life before, but an arrival at life transformed. As we journey through life, we also will find ourselves marked and scarred, but today we celebrate that we can have confidence that we too will arrive transformed, finding our freedom in Christ. That we also will hear God speaking our name and that with Mary, we too will come to be able to say ‘I have seen the Lord’.
That is what we will do in a moment, when we will renew the vows made at our Baptism: we remember and celebrate that we too are called by name, and made God’s own. That even – and maybe especially – in those moments when we cannot see through our tears, when our faith seems absent, the risen Christ will come and find us. It is then that we realise that there has never been a time and there will never be a time when his love for us will end.
That is what is means when this morning we proclaim once more: Alleluia, Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, Alleluia!