Tag: Easter

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. 

The doors are locked

Homily for the Second Sunday of Easter
John 20.19-31

IMG_1366This passage from John’s Gospel, Jesus’ appearance to the disciples is traditionally read on the Sunday after Easter Day. It has striking similarities with the preceding passage, which we heard last week: Jesus’ appearance to Mary on the first Easter morning. Maybe one of the most striking differences, however, is the setting: where it takes place. Whereas Mary went to the tomb, searching, the disciples are in a house, hiding.

We hear that they have locked their doors, for fear of the Jews. Some commentators argue that the reason ‘for fear of the Jews’ was added in a later version of the narrative, as it does not appear when Jesus appears a second time a week later to reveal himself to Thomas also.

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It makes all the difference

A reflection for Easter Day
John 20.1-18

It is Easter morning, and the first words on our lips are ‘Alleluia, Christ is risen!’. We then look at the news, in the hope to find the world a different place; a place in which we had never heard about Covid-19, and we felt safe and secure. Yet, we wake up to the same reality as yesterday: what we had wished to be a dream from which we wake, is the world in which we live.

IMG_0631Yet, today, everything is different, although it may not seem so. To understand, let’s look at the story of Mary, one of the most moving stories in the Bible. Early in the morning, while it was still dark, Mary goes to the tomb where they had laid Jesus a couple of days earlier. She is on her own, and I wonder what she is looking and hoping for? Is she hoping that by visiting the grave, she will wake up from this nightmare, and realise Jesus is still there?

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The Question that has an answer

Sermon 29th March 2020  Fifth Sunday of Lent: John 11.1-45

It is hard to believe, but in two weeks’ time it is Easter Sunday. That means that today, liturgically, Passiontide begins. As someone put it, we move from the desert to the Cross. The reading we hear this morning, the raising of Lazarus, has also been called the Easter story in miniature. The more closely one looks, the more parallels can there be drawn between the overarching Gospel narrative and these verses in John’s Gospel.

This morning, I would like to have a look at some of those parallels, particularly those that resonate with the situation in which we find ourselves today. Those of you who know me a little bit, may find it surprising that I am quoting the British Prime Minister, but he was right when he bluntly said ‘It will get worse, before it gets better’.

raising of lazarus

That it will get worse, before it gets better is precisely what we see in the Easter story too. During Lent, during this Passiontide, the closer we come to Easter, the closer we also come to Good Friday: there is no escape.

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Before and After

A reflection for the Easter season

empty tombThe news over Holy Week and Easter was dominated by two devastating events: the fire at the Notre Dame and the horrendous Easter Day shootings in Sri Lanka. Now, at the beginning of May, both these events seem to have disappeared almost completely from the news headlines. On one level, this is understandable, as there is not much more news to report. However, it also makes us realise how quickly major events disappear to the background, unless we ourselves have been personally afflicted. Particularly when tragic events involve a loss of life, the lives of those who are left are changed forever, but for many others life carries on as before.

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Easter Day: Christ is risen!

Christ is risen!
Easter Day 21st April 2019

The previous reflections for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday have focussed very much on who we are in relationship, who we are as members of a group, of a collective. It is very much the pattern of Holy Week, when the crowds welcome Jesus into Jerusalem; when the disciples have their last meal with Jesus and when people gather around the Cross.

jesus mary
He Qi (Chinese, 1950–), Do Not Hold On to Me, 2013. Oil on canvas.

However, the encounter on Easter morning, at least in John’s version, is very much an individual encounter between Mary and Jesus. Early in the morning, while it was still dark – we hear – Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb. Maybe she has taken the remainder of her costly oil to anoint the body of Jesus after his death. However, when she comes to the tomb, she finds it empty. Mary runs to the disciples; Peter and presumably John run to the tomb and they see it empty as well. They see and believe.

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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. Continue reading “I have seen the Lord!”