27 March 2016

Easter Day 2016

Sermon preached by Canon Stuart Pike
Easter Day, 27 March 2016
St. Luke's Church, Burlington (Diocese of Niagara)
John 20: 1-18
Photo Credit: Waiting for the Word on Flickr.com

Hallelujah! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed, Hallelujah!

This is the traditional acclamation and response for Easter which has been proclaimed for a couple of millennia since the first Easter.

For me it is extremely important to note that it is proclaimed in the present tense. Christ is risen, rather than Christ rose, like 2000 years in the past. Christ is a present reality. Christ is risen, not only for Mary Magdalene, but also for you. So what does that look like?

Well, we can go back to that first Easter story and see what it looked like then.

The themes of darkness and light are very important in John’s Gospel. From the very beginning of his Gospel he refers to Jesus as the light of the world. And so the Easter Gospel begins in darkness because Mary goes to the tomb even before the sun has risen. And in John’s account, she goes alone. In this account she carries no spices with her. Jesus’ body has already been prepared and laid in the tomb by Joseph of Arimethea and Nicodemus the night before, and a great stone has sealed the tomb.

She goes because in her grief, she cannot sleep, and she goes to mourn. What she finds when she gets there is the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. Now we Christians talk about the empty tomb being a symbol of new life, but Mary is not there yet.  For her the empty tomb simply compounds her not only have they killed her Lord, now they have stolen his body.

Mary runs to tell the other disciples that they have stolen Jesus’ body and Peter and John seem to have a footrace to get to the tomb.

John arrives first, but Peter enters the tomb. Sees the graveclothes lying there and the head cloth rolled up in a place by itself. John records these details because if the body of Jesus had simply been stolen, the thieves wouldn’t have bothered to unwrap it. Nor would they rolled up the face covering and put it in a place by itself. The scene doesn’t seem to have much of an effect on Peter, but it says that John, who reached the tomb first, but entered second saw and believed. Yet, it is unclear what he believed, because it says that they did not understand the scriptures that he must rise from the dead.

Astonishingly, the story seems to end here with these two. The Gospel just says that they returned to their homes.

It is Mary who stays in the garden at the tomb, still, mourning; seemingly inconsolable. Grief is disorienting. Those of us who have gone through it know that it can change our not only our perspective, but also our perceptions. We see what we don’t or can’t normally see.

She is so overcome by her grief that when she looks into the tomb and sees two angels there, she doesn’t recognize that they are angels. Perhaps she thinks that they are burial officials! In fact, she doesn’t even recognize Jesus, but thinks he is the gardener!

Jesus asks her why she is weeping and she continues to be focused on the theme that has filled her mind and distorted her perception, “Sir, of you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him and I will take him away.”

What follows is the transformation that Mary needs to bring her back to full reality. The transformation is deeply personal as it needs to be for everyone. Jesus simply says her name, “Mary” and the transformation happens. It says that Mary “turned.” I think this means more than just her physical orientation, she had just turned to see Jesus in the previous sentence. Her whole being has turned here and she is transformed. In the twinkling of an eye she is brought into full reality and her inconsolable grief is transformed into indescribably joy. Just like that.

Can you imagine what she felt like in that moment?

Grief is disorienting, but Jesus’ transformation is reorienting – and that is why Mary “turns” in this moment.

This transformation is deeply personal and intimate. As personal as your own name. And remember the present tense, Jesus is risen. Jesus is not only risen for Mary, he has risen for you too and he is calling your name:

Jane, John, Elizabeth, Bill, Heather, Ray (I’m not going to get all your names in here, but you get the idea.) I did have to get Ray in there, though!

Susan, Peter, Alice, Mike – Jesus is calling your name too!

Transformation of your perception and focus is always ready to be your reality in any moment. Jesus is always ready to welcome you to live in God’s Kingdom in the here and now. That’s what Jesus called Mary into in that moment in the garden. That was the turning, the transformation which she experienced. She entered into the kingdom which Jesus had been saying all during his ministry that is among us.

The next thing that Jesus says to Mary is “Go.” She is to go and tell of her experience to the other disciples. Thus, Mary is the Apostle to the Apostles.

And remember that Jesus is risen. Our lives are full of times when we too need to “turn” to be transformed and to live into the fuller reality of God’s kingdom. It is not only grief which distracts us – though there’s plenty of that in the world right now. But also the cares and preoccupations of our lives keeps us from living into this fuller reality. And the focus of the world in general is so far from this deeper reality.

So this Easter and always: listen for your name: Jesus is calling you. Be transformed so that you can live into the fuller reality of God’s kingdom which is among us. Be there – make God’s kingdom your abiding place. And finally, Go. Tell others about this reality and invite them along. Their lives are crying out for transformation, as is yours. Be present to this in the here and now, because:

Hallelujah! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

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