Easter Day 2016 Acts 10: 32-43 Resurrection 1 Corinthians 19-26, John 20: 1-18
Christ is risen! Alleluia!
Today we celebrate the joy of our faith, the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the truth; that the love with which Jesus loved is stronger than death, indeed it is the power of the resurrection. As Paul writes to the Corinthians, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. This means that what we see in Christ’s resurrection will one day be ours when he comes again.
In the reading from Acts we heard a summary of the story of Jesus. As we look more closely at the particulars of the resurrection it is important to keep this larger context in mind. Indeed the healing, freedom, the meals, the forgiveness are all signs of resurrection and salvation, every bit as much as an empty tomb and a pseudo-gardener.
Mary Magdalene, in her deep devotion to Jesus, came early to the tomb, while it was still dark. She found the stone removed. Believing that Jesus body had been taken, in anguish she alerted the disciples. They came and look. The Beloved disciple began to believe but did not understand..
Mary remained weeping by the tomb. The grief over Jesus’ death is enough, but to snatch is body is simply outrageous.
Mary couldn’t see who it was she was talking to. She didn’t know it was Jesus until he called her by name. Then her eyes were opened. Jesus warned her not to hold on to him, but to go and tell the other disciples. She went and announced to them, “I have seen the Lord.”
As in the time of Jesus, so in our own time, people have trouble believing in the concept of the resurrection. Some think it was indeed a body snatch and/or an idle tale made up by distraught disciples. Others think it’s all spiritual and quite ghostly. Yet others think it’s a nice idea of death and new life a bit like the way that spring follows winter so we can have an optimistic outlook on life.
Paul tells us that Jesus’ resurrection is the first fruits of those who have died. This is not resuscitation whereby death will come at some later time. The Gospels emphasise this by relating things that Jesus does that he didn’t do before the cross such as appearing through locked doors and he also, of course ascending. But neither are we talking about some sort of disembodied phantom: the gospels are also at pains to emphasise this as they have Jesus eating and offering himself and his wounds to be touched.
Jesus risen life has some continuities with life before, such as his wounds of crucifixion, and some differences which mean people who knew Jesus well didn’t immediately recognise him.
Jesus risen life is something new. It represents a fresh category of bodily existence never seen before or since by human beings but I believe this is what it means to say Christ is risen. It is indeed the first fruits. How this translates from the first fruits to those who will be made alive in Christ when he comes again is a mystery. Once people insisted that they were buried in cemeteries so that they would face east when they rose. Most people don’t worry so much about that these days.
Science can’t really understand the concept of a general resurrection and what happens to all the molecules and so on. But then that mightn’t be the right question to be asking either. Scientists have a habit, like most of us of not seeing what they don’t expect.
We might think it is strange that Mary didn’t immediately recognise Jesus and mistook him for a gardener. But, as I say, people usually don’t see what they are not expecting. Once some years ago, I was asked to take a wedding blessing for a couple who had been married in a registry office in Europe. The ceremony had all the trappings of a wedding: the gowns, the setting and the priest. They hadn’t told their friends that they were already married and they didn’t want me to say anything as they wanted to surprise them afterwards at the breakfast. I said I couldn’t misrepresent what the occasion was and I would have to say that they were already married. But I told them not to worry because nobody would actually hear that because everybody was expecting they were coming to a wedding. And so it turned out: not a single person heard it and the surprise worked.
Mary wasn’t expecting Jesus resurrection and it was only when he called her name that reality broke through. Let’s not limit the scope of the resurrection to what we think is possible. If we do, we’ll miss most of what Christ is doing in his risen life right under our noses. The purpose of this festival is to open our eyes and ears to what we don’t expect. So when you hear the Lord call your name you will know he is risen and you will be able to go out from here and announce to your friends the best news the world has ever heard, “I have seen the Lord.” The love with which he loved me is stronger than death. He is risen indeed Alleluia!
In this faith let us now renew the promises of our baptism.