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9th April 2023

How did we get here?

Passage: John 20;1-18


The strange thing to me, about the Easter stories in the Bible is that no-one, absolutely no-one is skipping for joy. No-one is running round the garden shouting, Alleluia! He did it! For a story of resurrection, the whole thing is very muted. No-one really seemed to know what was going on. ….
All four Gospel accounts agree that women came to the tomb where they had seen the body of Jesus placed on Friday evening. They came very early on the Sunday morning, before it was properly light. Maybe they were afraid of soldiers or secret police? Or perhaps they just wanted to avoid the crowds- needing privacy to pay their last respects? But, when they arrived, again, all four Gospels agree, the tomb was open and empty.

Having already experienced what they thought was the very worst life could do: the brutal execution of someone they loved; they are now confronted with even worse. Jesus’ body must have been stolen and now they cannot even give him a decent burial.
But one commentary on John’s story points out that Mary Magdalene’s message to the disciples, “they have taken away the Lord” is not actually what she has seen. It is the conclusion she has jumped to. What Mary saw was an empty tomb-that’s all- but no-one was expecting to see Jesus alive again. Even when he walked right up and spoke to Mary, she did not recognise him. Again, she was concluding that, “It cannot be him, therefore it is not him.” The Easter stories are muted in tone because no-one, absolutely no-one was expecting resurrection.
And I was thinking of how we are taught so much these days about protecting ourselves against bad things: unsafe places, untrustworthy people, avoidable accidents or illness. And this is good. It is tragic to hear of terrible things happening to innocent people, which might have been avoided with a higher level of awareness.

I just cannot help wondering, sometimes, if we also protect ourselves against good things; sliding into a mindset that no longer expects anything wonderful to happen? Like those people in the Easter story, we wrap ourselves tightly in disappointment, fear and despair. They could not even hear what angels were telling them. All they could hear was the voice in their own heads saying, “this should not have happened, but it did and now there is no hope, no hope at all.”

In the film Silence like Glass, Eva, a beautiful, brilliant young woman is in hospital with advanced cancer. Every time the Doctor comes to her bedside, it is with bad news. The treatment has not worked. The operation was not as successful as we hoped. We are running out of options. Eva faces death with resigned despair. Then the Doctor comes to her bedside and tells her very hesitantly that things are looking a little more hopeful. They might get the better of this after all. What do you think Eva does? Does she leap up, shouting Alleluia? Does she throw her arms around the Doctor? Does she grab the phone to tell her parents? No. Eva is holding a cup of tea which she empties over the Doctor’s head. Having expected the worst, she cannot yet face the miracle of the best. &&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&
The prospect of resurrection can be quite frightening. When you are faced with a return to real life after a major crisis you know that you can never go back to where you were and to what you were. Even Jesus came back from death with the scars of the nails and the spear clearly visible on his body.
Contemplating life again can be a bit of worry- we too become badly scarred; we wonder if other people will treat us differently? Will there be challenges to face that, in our weakened state, we will find impossible to cope with? Will what is ahead turn out worse than what went before? Will we just end up back at rock bottom again? These are perfectly natural fears.

Back in the film, Eva knows that she will never be able to resume her brilliant career as a ballerina. But, promises her father, you get out of here and you will have something you have never had before.
This reminded me of the passage in the Pilgrim’s Progress, where Christian finally gets out of the Valley of the Shadow of Death, a most terrible place of utter fear and darkness, where all he can do is pray, for there is no other help. But as he walks out, he passes a giant who was once terrible in destructive strength but now can only sit and chew his fingernails because he has no power over pilgrims who come out of that valley.

So there is no need to be afraid because, with resurrection life comes resurrection power. This was Jesus’ promise to his disciples and that promise was kept. It just took a little while longer for them to receive that power and to know it.
I guess Resurrection then, begins knowing that the worst has happened. Despite all you tried to protect yourself, crisis has struck and your life as you have known it is over. But resurrection means that the worst is not the end. No-one was skipping for joy in the Easter stories because they thought it was the end. And even when they realised it was not the end, they could not understand, much less prepare themselves for what was ahead. Maybe this was why Jesus said to Mary, “Do not hold onto me- do not ask. Do not try to analyse. Just accept the miracle and start living again.” Never mind skipping for joy; just hold the faith that new life happens because life itself lies in the hands of God.

Jesus’ resurrection, then, offers hope: that there is hope for cures of disease; hope for healing broken relationships; hope for social regeneration; hope for world peace with justice; hope for the preservation of the planet; hope for revival in the churches; hope for the renewing of broken lives. Yes, all these situations present us with daunting challenges but those who walk to the cross with Jesus, see the empty tomb and start even tentatively to grasp the truth of resurrection have everything they need to bring renewal to the world and to one another in the power of Christ.
On this Easter Sunday, the church needs Easter people; our society out there needs Easter people; war torn nations need Easter people; the victims of earthquakes and hurricanes need Easter people; badly damaged children and vulnerable adults need Easter people; we need to be Easter people for ourselves and for each other. For Christ has died. Christ is Risen. In Christ shall all be made alive. Thanks be to God. Amen.