Easter Sunday 2015
A Sermon preached by Fr James Heard on Easter Sunday 2015
Here in the UK we are moving towards the general election. We have two months of political campaigning to look forward to. Manifestos are being scrutinised – advertising agencies are thinking up slogans. This year electronic media is to feature in a major way – twitter and facebook will feature in a big way, and not just with the younger generation. Spin-doctors from across the political spectrum are wondering, How can we convince the public to vote for us? If Saatchi and Saatchi were doing an advertising campaign for Easter day, to try to recruit as many people as possible to become Christian, they wouldn’t have done so in the way Mark’s Gospel described the resurrection experience.
The original ending to Mark has three women coming to anoint Jesus - Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. The women had a plan, unlike the male disciples of Jesus who we’ve heard about throughout the Gospel narrative – their plan only led to victory. And with Jesus crucified and a cold corpse in a tomb, the terrible end of all their hopes leaves them in complete disarray. But the women had got together and decided what to do – they weren’t going to lose sight of Jesus; they were going to give him a royal anointing. They had bought spices to anoint Jesus’ dead body. So, the women go to the tomb, unsure who will help to roll the stone away (Mark 16.3). They arrive to find it not empty, but occupied by a young man in a white garment, who points out the place where Jesus had lain (Mark 16.5-6). This young man tells them that Jesus has been raised and gives them a message to take back to the disciples.
So, in Mark’s Gospel, the women don’t actually get see Jesus. The Gospel ends with these words:
‘they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.’
Mark’s Gospel ends, in the original Greek, with a preposition (gar - "for") as its final word. The English translation reworks this extraordinary grammatical error; but neither version can conceal the fact that the story is unfinished.
Mark’s account is not exactly the sort of thing one might expect if trying to convince others of its truth. It certainly doesn’t have the feel of propaganda (a charge sometimes made of the early church). The emotions range from bewilderment and confusion to terror, afraid to tell anyone anything. How wonderfully realistic.
It is rather strange liturgically though – today we sing ‘Allelulia, He is risen’ and drink champagne on this climatic Sunday of the year. Yet the Gospel text ends with frightened silence and disobedience!
Being rational Westerners many of us can’t help asking both what really happened, in a literal sense, and also asking what the resurrection of Christ means. Down the ages Christians have sought to provide an answer. One answer, which the Church has tried to give by way of explanation, has been to split up the experience of resurrection over a whole season of fifty days, leading up to Pentecost. Next Sunday, for example, we’ll here about doubting Thomas, and we’re again reminded that doubt and faith go together.
The significance of resurrection can only be understood as we encounter transformed Apostles, now filled with the presence of Christ’s glory, yet who has withdrawn from them in a tactile sense. In the days that followed the women’s encounter at Jesus’ tomb, something dramatic happened to these timid, scared disciples. They were transformed in a group who travelled the world telling of God’s love made transparent in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus – so changed were they, that many of them were willing to die for their faith. It’s all rather different to Easter morning when they were confused and hiding.
Returning to Mark’s Gospel we seem to come to a dead end, despite the resurrection. Literally no one in the story remains faithful. There appears no way that this good news – of death being defeated, the sting of death swallowed up in victory – how is this good news going to spread and others called to embark upon the risky journey of faith. But it is here that we can discern the brilliance of Mark’s Gospel. There is one group remaining who can experience and live the risen message of Christ – of hatred being overcome and transfigured by love – and that is the readers. Mark, as it were, throws the ball into our court. That is the calling of Easter, which Mark sets before the church (Charles Campbell).
Those who walk in the way of Christ have never given up on the attempt to make the world a better place, however strong the evil that has opposed them, however restricted their sphere of activity, however broken and scattered their work. This Easter Sunday we are encouraged to live the resurrection. Because the Resurrection isn’t simply something that happened 2,000 years ago which we remember once a year. It’s to be lived out daily. The concrete reality of it can been seen in the thousands of quiet kindnesses, in the lives of Christians and church communities. Michael Gove recently wrote this in The Spectator:
In many of our most disadvantaged communities it is the churches that provide warmth, food, friendship and support for individuals who have fallen on the worst of times. The homeless, those in the grip of alcoholism or drug addiction, individuals with undiagnosed mental health problems and those overwhelmed by multiple crises are all helped — in innumerable ways — by Christians.
Churches provide debt counselling, marriage guidance, childcare, English language lessons, after-school clubs, food banks, emergency accommodation and, sometimes most importantly of all, someone to listen.
Does this mean that we are better or superior to others? Of course not. Does this mean we don’t have any doubts, or aren’t as confused and perplexed, as were the women on Easter morning? Of course not. Does this mean that we are not selfish, lazy, greedy, hypocritical, impatient and weak? Of course not.
But we attempt to walk, stumble even, in the path of the risen Christ, living out the resurrection, the good news that death and hatred and violence has been conquered by a more powerful force – that of self-giving love.