This year, those online are going on an Easter journey during the Sunday morning zoom service.
For the rest of us, we gather round the empty tomb in hope and adoration…
This is the good news – the cross is bare, the tomb is empty, Christ is risen! Hallelujah!
This is the good news – the light shines in the darkness and the darkness can never put it out. Hallelujah!
This is the good news – we need not fear, we need not despair, for we are all God’s beloved children – forgiven and free. Hallelujah!
So, how did you get on with our Lenten journey through Exodus? Did it raise any interesting questions for you? Did you learn anything new about God, yourself, or your faith as we journeyed from Egypt, through the Red Sea, into the wilderness and past Sinai? One member said to me that they were disappointed to hear that we wouldn’t make it into the promised land just yet. I told them that we’d have to get through the next four books of the Bible and a lot more commandments (whatever you do, don’t eat owls – Moses is very clear on that one!) for that to happen and even when in the promised land, there was a bumpy road ahead! Just like for us today, their transition to the new normal would take quite a while. And, perhaps, it is fitting that we’ve yet to see the completion of God’s promises in our time with the Hebrew people as the tension between current worries and the promise to come can be glimpsed in our Bible reading…
Reading: Luke 24:1-12
So then…today, we gather once more to celebrate Jesus’ glorious resurrection; to sing praise and declare good news, to mark the day that Jesus’ rising changed creation for all time and yet in this passage from Luke, Jesus is nowhere to be seen! The titular hero, the main star, the saviour of the world is absent as a group of women take centre stage. It is they who find the empty tomb; it is they who encounter angels and their message of joy; and it is they who first tell the male disciples the good news only for the men to react with disbelief! In fact the Greek word ‘leros’ that is used to describe the disciples’ judgment of the women’s story here is perhaps best translated as ‘nonsense’, or ‘drivel’. ‘Leros’ is the words that lies behind our word ‘delirious’. It referred to the ravings of the fevered and the very sick who had lost all hold upon reality.
So what do we have here in our account of the first Easter morning? An absent Jesus, a group of women described as terrified and dismissed as delirious, the disbelieving disciples and Peter…whose reaction is amazement or confusion, depending on the translation. Either way, this is hardly a picture of Easter joy, is it?! Hardly a scene of resurrection victory. Less ‘Christ is risen, he is risen indeed’, and more ‘Christ is risen?’, ‘Don’t be ridiculous!’
But then, what are we to expect? It is easy for us, with our Easter expectations and twenty first century vision, to know the twists and turns of the story. We proclaim the risen Christ at least weekly, we echo his death and resurrection in baptism and in our sharing of bread and wine; we display and wear crosses as a symbol of this miracle but that first Easter morning…can we even dare to imagine what they might have been like? A rising from the dead? As our friend, Rowan Williams explains, ‘in the ancient world, such a thought would be grotesque or frightening. Resurrection was not a joyful sign of hope but an alarming oddity, something potentially very dangerous. The dead, if they were to survive at all, lived in their own world – a shadowy place, where they were condemned to a sort of half-life of yearning and sadness’.
Even the ancient Hebrews, who first made resurrection a positive idea, understood it to happen at the end of time, on the day of judgment when the good would receive their reward and the wicked their punishment. For it to happen in the here and now, for the future to burst into the present was at best, confusing, at worst, deeply disturbing. No wonder then, that Jesus’ friends were terrified, disbelieving or confused.
Understandably, for them, death meant death…and they were all too used to its finality and power. You see, in the ancient world, life was cheap and death was witnessed on a daily occurrence. Instead of going to Sardis Road for family entertainment on a Saturday, you might visit a real ‘House of Pain’ where bloody fights to the death were a spectator sport. There was no welfare system to help the poor, the widowed, the foreigner so if food and water couldn’t be found, death was inevitable. And if anyone spoke out against Empire or Temple they were quickly and effectively dealt with, often nailed to a tree in an act of casual torture. For example, after the slave rebellion of Spartacus and friends, anyone heading down the Appian Way, the M4 of their day, were to see a crucified man every 30 metres or so for hundreds of miles as a reminder that anyone who threatened the power of Rome would lose their life. The ancient empires grew and survived by assuming that enormous quantities of human lives were expendable and unimportant; those who fell victim to the system simply disappeared.
Sometimes today it can feel as if much of this is still true. As the numbers of those who died due to coronavirus grew into the thousands, then millions, it has been all too easy to become immune to the heartbreak; to forget that each life is precious; to fall into Stalin’s famous truism that a single death is a tragedy; a million deaths a statistic. And in our nation, as billions more are set to be spent on weapons of mass destruction whilst there is no room at the inn for the men, women and children seeking refuge from violence, it feels like we, too, are players in a game in human lives might well be equal…but some are more equal than others!
And yet, on a dark Sunday morning, in a graveyard on the edge of the Roman Empire, a group of women who have witnessed first-hand the cruel, casual death of their friend, stumble upon a truth that has been glimpsed before.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” The messenger asks them. “He is not here but is risen.” And there and then, the whisper of good news was first heard. “He…is risen”. Of course it was strange. Of course it was scary, for their understanding of death, creation, time…of life, the universe and everything was challenged and transformed.
“He is risen.” Those words told the women that their friend was alive; that death was not the end; that the Empire and the Temple and their systems of power and violence in which life was cheap and individuals unimportant will not have the last word. Those words told them that Jesus, and so all the departed, are held in God’s loving hands. Those words tell us that no one is forgotten; that no death is simply a statistic; that neither covid nor cancer, nor disasters nor dementia, nor war nor despair will have the final word, for all those who have died are known and loved and embraced by God.
This is the good news of Easter Sunday. That no one is Godforsaken in life or in death. For God so loved creation that he was born into it so God could walk with us, eat with us, laugh and cry with us as Christ Jesus; so that he suffers with us, struggles with us, grieves with us; so that he could teach us how to love, how to live, how to die; so that he would rise from death to show us that nothing – not even death – can ever separate us from the love of God.
Our job today then, our privilege and pleasure, is to share this good news in our prayers, words and deeds. To live the words ‘He is risen’. And we whisper ‘He is risen’ when we offer hope to the dying and the bereaved. We utter ‘He is risen’ when we challenge a system in which human life is cheap, when we stand up against the powers that allow the poor, the voiceless and the vulnerable to be ignored whilst the warmongers and their wealth are protected. We declare ‘He is risen’ when we refuse to let anyone be forgotten; when we forgive and ask for forgiveness, when we walk the extra mile, turn the other cheek, visit the lonely, welcome the stranger, care for the ill; when we give from our wallets, give of our time, give of our very selves; when we come before God knowing we are broken and guilty and to die with Christ yet believing that we are beloved, forgiven and to rise with Christ too.
Such news can be bewildering, confusing and hard to believe. Yet on this Easter morn, may it also be soul-stirring, life-changing and impossible to keep to ourselves.
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Amen.
written by Mary
read by George
Lord God, you loved this world so much that you gave your one and only son, so that we might be called your children too. Lord, help us to live in the gladness and grace of Easter Sunday every day. Let us have hearts of thankfulness for your sacrifice.
On this Easter Day we come together to offer praise for Jesus risen; alive,
powerful and victorious.
Roll away the stone for those stuck at Good Friday.
In the light and glory of the resurrection, we pray for our world, for areas of violence and hostility, for lands where famine and disease are rife.
We pray for your Church, here in Treforest, Pontypridd, the Cayman Islands and throughout the world.
We pray that your spirit may guide and strengthen us all in mission and service to you, our own community and to the world outside, in whatever way we can contribute.
Bless our Queen and members of the Government that they may lead our country with righteousness and justice.
On this Easter Day, hear now our own prayers in silence as we remember
before you those nearest and dearest to our own hearts.
We confess our needs for you. We ask that you renew our hearts, minds and lives. May we make a difference in our world.
Thanks be to you, God, for your indescribable gift. To you be glory and honour on this resurrection day.
May we cast our burden upon our Lord and he will sustain us.
In Jesus’ name,