Sermon for Easter Day (Year C; John 20.1-18)

Note: This sermon was written for Easter Sunday, 17 April 2022

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb …

We, like every generation that has gone before us, feel that we are living in dark times …

  • the ongoing uncertainty around the Covid virus;
  • the war in Ukraine and the threat to international peace;
  • the rising cost of living;
  • the realities that make us feel that our churches are under threat …

We are certainly living in dark times … but every generation that has preceded us would say the same …

If you want an example of that just look at our church in Corby Glen … Major extensions to the building and the famous wall paintings were undertaken during the Black Death … as up to 60% of the population was being wiped out by a disease that was neither understood nor controllable, our local house of prayer was being extended and adorned to the glory of God.

As we travel through our current ‘dark times’, we do so with a sense of confidence and hope that was not shared by earlier generations.

We ‘know’ that scientists and politicians will eventually ‘sort things out’ … but I would suggest that the message of today offers us a different type of confidence and hope … if only we can bring ourselves to live in faith.

Today we join with Christians throughout the world in celebrating a unique moment in human history … the moment when one man (who was also the Son of God) overcame that which we all have in common … death itself.

In John’s account of the day of resurrection, we are told that Mary Magdalene journeyed while it was still dark to the tomb where her Lord had been laid after his brutal execution.

We do not know for sure but I think it is fair to assume, given other words we find in the gospel narrative, that she journeyed in the dark partly out of fear that she might be recognised as a follower of Jesus.

She may also have travelled in the dark because she could not wait any longer to stand and mourn before the tomb of that very special man.

As well as it being the actual darkness of the early morning hours, Mary must also have been experiencing that overwhelming darkness that so many of us recognize as we travel through days that immediately follow the death of a loved one.

The darkness of which John speaks must have been all-encompassing.

But then Mary found herself with the reality of Jesus’ words coming to fruition … he was no longer in the tomb.

Rather than standing before a tomb in which she could be certain that the body of Jesus was lying, Mary saw something astounding … the great stone that had sealed the tomb was rolled away, and the tomb was empty …

In her confusion and sorrow Mary sought help …
or was it just verification of her strange tale?

Simon Peter and John rushed to the tomb and saw the truth of Mary’s words … it was indeed empty.

Then comes one of the most emotionally moving moments in the whole gospel narrative … After her brief encounter with two angels in white, Mary found herself standing before Jesus himself!

We should not be surprised that she did not immediately recognize him … she had seen him die … she had seen him laid in the tomb … relying on human wisdom, she was certain that people do not come back to life!

Then comes the emotional bit … the moment of recognition that is summed up in just two words:
Jesus says: Mary!
Mary says: Rabbouni! (which means ‘Teacher’)

The use of Mary’s name by the risen Jesus is important … it shows us that, no matter how confused and distant we may be from God, he knows us by name … he knows the totality of our individuality … he recognizes the depth of our need for his loving welcome.

And Mary’s use of the Hebrew word for ‘teacher’ is also important … it demonstrates a setting aside of our reliance on self, and the knowledge we believe we have accrued … it puts us where we belong at the feet of the God who has conquered death for ever!

As we travel through these times that we so often describe as ‘dark’ we need to remember that there is a light that is far beyond our comprehension.

That light is the risen and death-conquering Christ … the Anointed One of God who showed us a way that, in human terms, was synonymous with failure, but that was, in reality, the bringing of divine and eternal life, love and hope for us all.

As we set aside our Lenten fasts on this joyous day of celebration, let us not set aside our commitment to pray, to serve in Christ’s name, and to continue our engagement with scripture.

Let us, instead, remain steadfast in the Christian identity we were given as we entered the company of the baptized … the company that is led by Jesus himself.

Let us show, through every word we utter and every action we perform, that we are the embodiment of the living light of God … Jesus Christ our risen Lord and Saviour.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!