Easter 8am

Revd Sarah
Sunday, April 16, 2017 - 8:00am

Easter Day 2017:  John 20: 1-18 

Display at front Claire Silverthorne's two Stations of the Resurrection: The disciples at the empty tomb/garden, and Mary Weeping 

At the centre everything is still, before the stir and movement of our grief. It’s in the darkness and silence where the resurrection happens. Coming from the emptiness of death, the coldness of the tomb, the event on which our faith stands or falls, the resurrection of Christ, happens un-beheld by anyone.  

As dawn breaks on that first Easter morning, surely the first words our risen Lord would speak as he appears to his disciples would be words bursting with the hope of life conquering death, triumphant words as the gates of paradise are opened in glory? 

But what were the first words Jesus spoke on that Easter morning? I wonder if you’ve ever thought about it?  They’ve never attracted the same emphasis as Jesus’ last word on the cross, but surely they deserve our full attention: afterall, we are Easter people.

Of course it’s a bit of a trick question as the answer’s different in each of the 4 gospels... In today’s account in John’s gospel, Jesus’ first words are to Mary Magdalene. ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Ordinary words, which perhaps don’t seem to proclaim resurrection hope. But these tender questions speak into the heart of the sadness and the lost-ness of Mary.

Early that first Easter morning Mary lingers alone broken-hearted and without hope at the empty tomb. She is the first person to see her risen Lord, though she doesn’t recognize him.  Let’s stand with Mary for a moment:

She sees but doesn’t see. She hears but doesn’t hear. Like many before her, like so many after, she doesn’t’ get it. Not yet. He is standing before her – the very one whom she is looking for – but she doesn’t know it’s him. ‘Who are you looking for?’ he says. Such a question!  She didn’t know there was any more feeling to be dredged from the pit of her heart, but this question burns like fire. There is so much she is looking for, but in these last few weeks it had all focused itself into one person – into him – the one whose lifeless corpse she was seeking, the one she didn’t know she was looking for until she found him, although even then it seemed as though he had always been looking for her. That was how it was for everyone who found him – who was found by him – his words and his presence seemed to chime with the deepest longings of the heart, not taking away all the other questions, but re-framing them within the knowledge of a great love, and the astonishing relief of receiving affirmation. To be loved and accepted; that was what no one else had ever given her in life – not without condition – and she didn’t even know how much she wanted it (how badly she needed it) until it was found. Found in him.

In many of his resurrection appearances, Jesus isn’t immediately recognized, and it’s also significant that many of Jesus’ first words are questions ...searching questions. We encounter a risen Christ who can’t easily be contained, and doesn’t coerce, but attracts our response, like Mary, in ‘the magnetic attraction of great and puzzling beauty, as Stephen Cottrell describes: the sort of beauty that takes us beyond ourselves and poses questions of us, as a great work of art does.  

The suffering beauty of the cross was vividly portrayed in Gill’s reflections here on Good Friday as we gazed at Roger Wagner’s stained glass depiction of a flowering, blossoming tree where Jesus hung,. The beauty of resurrection hope is represented for us in church today with the flowering of the empty cross this Easter morning.

And cast your eyes around church this morning, and you will be taken on a journey through the stations of the resurrection, our own St Mary’s artists’ responses to the resurrection scenes. We’re led, as the disciples on that first Easter day, on a journey of puzzling beauty, of questions, revelation, invitation and adoration.

When Jesus simply says her name, ‘Mary’, Jesus points Mary beyond his presence with her in the garden, to a new availability of life with him, a new relationship of everlasting life, and he gives her a life-giving story, a story she’s commissioned to share.

Our artists point our gaze beyond. They share Christ’s story, their story, and our story, inviting us into new encounters with our risen Lord.

Let’s return to Mary in the garden on that first early Easter morning:

He holds her in his gaze. He looks at her with great tenderness. He says her name: Mary. And as she hears her name, it’s like a shot of adrenalin pumped straight into her vein and now she is focused, alive and alert as she has never been alive and alert before. All her anxious restlessness ebbs away. She is wide awake. She is turned around: literally swiveled and re-focused. It happens in an instant. A moment of release and a most glorious moment of capture. She turns from the tomb where she has been anchored, glued to the grief and horror of all her loss, and she turns to him: quickly, resolutely, like a flower turning its face towards the warmth of the sun. It is Jesus.

To ‘turn’, as Sarah Coakley says, is to keep longing for and loving him, even in despair, - to keep discerning the wind of Christ’s Spirit and leaning into it, until love and knowledge align and we can know and be known, as we are known in him.  Only then shall we learn to ‘see Christ’, as Mary saw Him, through tears to be sure, but with absolute conviction and certainty. As all our senses and desires are attuned to his presence, then we ‘see’ Christ in a thousand faces of the poor; in those whom we love beyond measure, and those whom we find difficult to love; in bread and wine and water and oil and all the glories of the earth; and finally there waiting for us as our life ends.

Like Mary, we are forgiven sinners who have a share in Christ’s risen life. Like Mary, we are commissioned to reveal Christ’s story to the world, to turn, see and share the abundant life that Jesus holds out to all who embrace his gaze, hear their name, know his love.  To draw into relationship with Jesus until our senses and mind and soul and heart are so attuned to his presence that we too can say, with Mary, ‘Rabbouni’, Teacher. He is alive.

(holding up Claire’s weeping Mary station ......):

She wipes the tears from her eyes. She recognizes him. Her name, spoken by him, is a healing. It is a reawakening. She is known and loved. It is a miracle to her. .... Her face breaks into a smile, the smile of recognition. Great peace is floods her heart.

For her, in that moment, it is love that propels her. For here is her beloved, the one whom she is seeking, standing before her in the brightness of a new day, and with the wide expanse of eternity before him.  He speaks her name – Mary – and her eyes are opened, her ears unblocked.  She is named, and with the gift of a name, the gift of belonging. At last she turns away form the emptiness of the tomb and all its hopelessness, and towards the one who is her hope. In the wilderness of her grief, flowers blossom and bloom. ‘Rabbouni’ she says. ‘Teacher’. He is alive!

Christ is risen, he is risen indeed. Alleluia.