Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 4 April 2021.
• First Reading: Isaiah 25: 6-9 (The Lord’s feast – the best fare, will destroy the shroud that enfolds all people)
• Psalm 118: 1-2 14-24
• Epistle: 1 Corinthians 15: 1-11 (Paul’s testimony to the resurrection of Jesus)
• Gospel: Mark 16: 1-8 (The women’s story – the stone rolled away)
They crept through the darkness to the sealed tomb to pay their final respects to their teacher and leader, now lying cold and still, beyond words or love or music or wonder.
They did not even know how they were going to get to His body: perhaps the soldiers guarding the tomb would be obliging enough to break the seals on it and open up so that the women could give the body their final attentions. And then they would go back to their old lives in whatever manner seemed best to them.
As with the calming of storms on the lake or the healing of lepers or raising the dead, what was coming next was not remotely in their dreams or fantasies. They were coming with tears and grief and expected nothing more.
So what they found was going to dumfound them. No guards, the stone already rolled away, and when they brought themselves to look inside, there was no body –someone in white was talking to them.
Normally if you go to a graveside and see an opened grave supported by a talkative being, you might wonder what it was that you were eating, drinking or smoking.
And so the women took a little time to recover, and listen to what was being said: “Don’t be alarmed … He is risen, He is not here. But go and tell the others.”
These days even if there is an earth-shattering event, there is some preparation and the media offer their best commentary and speculations. But for the women there was an instruction. “Go and tell the others.”
Mark says that they did not do it however Luke says that they did. John is clear in saying that it was Mary of Magdala who stayed behind and then carried the news to the disciples, and Peter and John went to look for themselves.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Jesus’ resurrection was how it affected the people who saw Him afterwards. In each case it was a personal encounter, and each would have their story to tell.
But then the gospels are founded on the personal accounts of those who did meet Jesus, risen from the tomb. Without the resurrection, there is no gospel story. Without the atonement of Jesus on the cross there is no reconciliation with God. Without both of these there is no forgiveness of sins, no gathering of believers, and no hope of life beyond death.
As St Paul says, if Jesus is not risen then there is no resurrection for anybody either and those who hope for it are the most deluded.
But if Jesus is risen then there is hope beyond imagining. It is a hope within this life and definitely life beyond the grave. The very air that we breathe becomes different and all our relationships find a new kind of foundation.
But then Paul says more for he states how Jesus was seen by over 500 people, many of whom were still alive at the time of writing.
But then Paul says something even more startling for he refers to his own conversion, as Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus.
This was an appearance long after the resurrection and ascension. This was the Jesus in heavenly splendour, making Himself known to Paul directly and personally.
And people down the centuries and across the continents of the world have also seen and testify to the reality of Jesus. He has made Himself known in answer to their prayers and in the depths of their most personal and intimate of needs, often at the point of personal extremity.
He has made Himself known even when not expected.
CS Lewis describes his personal conversion as the climax of a personal argument with God. He says that he was the most reluctant convert in all of Christendom, but he had to admit that God was indeed God and so he had to accept all that flowed from this.
But Jesus does not make Himself known to us because we deserve it. We can never deserve His blessing for that would be to earn it like a wage and not to receive it as a gift. That is what blessing is.
Jesus comes to us because we are seeking His face and we are open to Him. It might mean setting aside our personal expectations and giving Him the space in our lives to make Himself known and knowable.
It might mean that when we have said what we wanted to say, we need to keep our silence so that He can answer back – for He will surely do just that.
And yes, His words may be direct and personal, they may be in the way circumstances unfold, or in the way words come to life before us. These may be the words of the bible, a hymn, a prayer in a prayer book; they may be an image in painting or sculpture, or the notes of music.
Jesus may use any and all of these to gain our attention. But be warned: it may be the words and attitude of another Christian, doing precisely what the angel told the women at the tomb: “Go and tell the others.”