He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
It was, of course, Easter Day last Sunday. And here is the sermon preached by Mother Anne-Marie.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! Come on, you all know the joyful answer: “He is risen, indeed. Alleluia!” It is spring, well maybe it is spring – we remain ever hopeful. The daffodils are blooming, and the blossom is just beginning to come out, there are Easter Eggs to eat, and the Lord is risen. There are no notes of sadness, worry, grief, or fear in our greetings to one another this morning.
But how different it was early on that first Easter morning as Mark tells us in our gospel. The three women, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome, didn’t greet one another with such great joy. There were no alleluias, no happiness in their hushed whispers. They were grieving and devastated. They had seen their beloved Jesus, their teacher, stripped of not only his clothes, but every possible shred of human dignity, executed in the most horrible way, and laid in the garden tomb late on the Friday.
And then sunset had come, the Sabbath was upon them and they could do nothing.
But once the Sabbath was over, very early in the morning, they were able to take spices to anoint Jesus, giving him back some of the dignity he lacked in death. Their biggest worry was the heavy stone they had seen placed at the entrance to Jesus’ tomb. Who would move it away for them? They had no idea of the news that awaited them. They had seen Jesus die, hadn’t they? Dead people stay that way, don’t they?
But when the women arrived at the tomb, can you imagine their surprise to see the heavy stone already rolled away and a young man in white robes sitting at the entrance to the tomb as if waiting just for them? “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place where they laid him. . . .” So this was an angel, he came with a message from God. How scary must that have been?
And so, the women fled from the tomb in complete shock, saying nothing to anyone. And that is where this morning’s gospel ended.
Mark is the only one of the Gospel writers who has no resurrection appearance, just an empty tomb. Most biblical scholars believe that Mark’s gospel ends right there, where our gospel reading ended this morning, at verse 8, with the women fleeing the tomb terrified. It is generally accepted that both the shorter ending and the longer ending we find if we open our Bibles were added by the early church, which couldn’t quite cope with that abrupt and enigmatic ending that Mark, himself, gave to his gospel, with the women fleeing and telling no one what they had heard and seen.
Now, obviously, the women did finally tell someone – the other gospels tell us about that. And if they hadn’t told anyone, then we wouldn’t be here to celebrate and worship the Risen Christ this morning. No, they couldn’t keep quiet – their entire lives had been radically changed in an instant with the words “He has been raised; he is not here.”
The reality of the empty tomb and the resurrection of Christ is just too great a reality to keep to oneself and it is life changing. Well it is life changing if you let it be, if the stone has really been rolled away for you.
For some of you here this morning the heavy stone may still be in place, separating you from the Risen Lord? You may still be afraid, like the three women, still afraid to proclaim the Good News that Jesus is risen. For some of us here there may still be a stone in front of the tomb, a stone that prevents us living the reality of the risen Lord Jesus.
Well what could that stone be if it is preventing us living that reality. Well it could be the stone of unbelief that is still in place for you. You just can’t come to believe in the empty tomb and the resurrection appearances, you are a bit drawn to that idea that that the resurrection of Jesus was a story circulated among the early Christians to give people hope and comfort, but it really didn’t happen.
But there is proof – there is eyewitness evidence – we have heard two of them this morning. St. Peter, the same Peter who denied knowing Jesus, declares boldly that he is an eyewitness not only to all Jesus did in Judea and Jerusalem, but that “God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him AFTER he rose from the dead”. (Acts 10:40-41)
St Paul tells us “..he was buried, ……raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)
Listen to these witnesses. Would they have willing faced execution for a made-up story? These witnesses call out to you to believe and receive God’s gift of eternal life. Let Jesus roll the stone of unbelief away.
Well maybe you are O.K. about belief, but maybe there is a stone of ignorance – of lack of knowledge – still separating you from the risen Lord. Have you committed yourself to studying your faith, learning more about the church, reading and studying God’s Word in the Bible? Do you ask God in prayer what he wants you to do with what you have learned? Daily prayer and bible study are part of Christian life – so many Christians do not fully encounter the risen Lord because they are Sunday Christians only and do not open themselves to God in prayer on a daily basis. They don’t attend courses and bible studies, that churches often offer, and so the stone of ignorance stops them encountering the risen Jesus. Learn and listen and let Jesus roll the stone of ignorance away.
But perhaps you do do this and still you feel the stone is there, something is separating you from Jesus. Perhaps this is the stone of blindness – how blind are we to the needs of the people all around us? People who are sick, lonely, poor, homeless. Do we see them? Do we ask God how we can help? Jesus sees them and we need to let him open our eyes to see the world with his eyes. And as we encounter those in need so we will encounter the risen Jesus. Matthew’s gospel records the words of Jesus, “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40)
Singlehanded we cannot fix all the awful things that are wrong with our world – the threat of global warming, the ever-present threat of terrorism, the refugee crisis, the continuing violence in Syria, our own Government’s struggle getting Brexit and the NHS sorted! But we may be able to do something, and certainly closer to home we can. Even in comfortable Caterham, people are fearful of falling incomes and increasing debt, those reliant on benefits barely manage now and dread further cuts, and amongst us always are those who are sick or troubled or anxious about any number of things. Everyone needs the hope that comes from the resurrection of Jesus and with the stone of blindness taken away, we will see those in need and find ways to help them, and in them we will encounter Jesus. So, let Jesus roll the stone of blindness away.
And finally, and maybe this afflicts us most, there is the stone of familiarity. If we are regular church goers we know the Easter story so well – we hear it every year, we enjoy the glorious music and admire the wonderful flowers around our church. We celebrate the happy ending. But do we know it all so well that it no longer makes a difference in our lives? What we need to remember is that the happy ending is really just the beginning? What Mark’s gospel, with its enigmatic ending of the women fleeing in fear, allows us to do is to create our own ending to the story. Will we leave here this morning still in the fearful, puzzled place that the women were in, not telling anyone about our experience of the risen Lord, not wanting to share and care with those in need. Or has the stone really been rolled away for us. Do we leave this place with the words of the angel ringing in our ears “he is not here, he has been raised? See the place where they laid him. He is going ahead of you to Galilee, there you will see him.” Are you ready to encounter him in Caterham, or wherever you live, in your Galilee? Does he go before you from this place to the rest of your life? Has the stone truly been rolled away for you and can you declare with joy Alleluia Christ is Risen, he is risen indeed Alleluia?