A ‘good news’ day

John 20.1-18

I never thought I’d ever find myself saying this.

I think I want to go and live in Albert Square.

Albert Square is, of course, in the London Borough of Walford. And for those of you are still in the dark let me tell you – it’s where Eastenders is set. (Note: Eastenders is a famous soap opera broadcast by the BBC.)

But why do I think I might want to go and live there?

Well – the residents of Albert Square are coping with the Covid19 problem just like the rest of us. We know they are because every so often it gets a mention. But living there is so much better than living anywhere else. For a start, no one has been shielding or self-isolating. And no-one seems to possess a mask. Not only do you not see any of the local residents wearing masks in the street, they don’t wear them when they go into the local convenience store to do their shopping. Neither do they wear them when they go into the Queen Victoria public house. Yes! The pub is still open and has been all through lockdown! As is the local café. No ‘takeaways only’ in Albert Square!

People in Albert Square are in and out of each other’s houses all the time. I grant that it’s usually to argue with each other, but at least they can go visiting.

We’ve had recently a couple planning a wedding and drawing up the guest list, and they don’t seem to have the same restriction on the number of guests allowed that the rest of us have to deal with.

And international travel? Not a problem if you live in Albert Square. You just buy your air tickets, and go to the airport. No masks required for travellers, and most of the airport staff are without masks as well. 

Eastenders always used to seem to be so miserable and depressing.

Well, to be fair, it’s still miserable and depressing. But at least the people who live there aren’t having to cope with all the Covid restrictions, and it seems that at the moment they just don’t have to live with the problems that the rest of us are dealing with. 

Eastenders always used to be one bad news story after another for the residents – there’s no way anyone would have wanted to actually live in Albert Square. But now it’s seems to be totally free of the restrictions that the rest of us have been living with. Who’d have thought that living in Albert Square might actually turn out to be good news.

Well – today is, of course, about how bad news becomes good news. The bad news of Good Friday becoming the good news of Easter Day. And good news that can make a difference to how we deal with the bad news we face day by day. Actually, this is the most important news – good or bad – in the whole of human history. And yet there is no official report of the event we celebrate today. It wasn’t front page news. No-one was there to see it. It happened in secret, in the darkness of a stone tomb.

And the Gospel writers do not attempt to describe it. How could they? They simply record that it had happened and describe what happened afterwards. Jesus was buried. Then an empty tomb was found. And Jesus, alive appears to his followers.

What the four Gospel writers, and the rest of the New Testament writers, do tell us is the stories of the people who after the event found out that it had happened, telling us what they experienced and what effect it had on their lives. For Easter Day is not just a good news story about the resurrection of Jesus. It’s about the changed lives of those who encountered the good news of empty tomb and the risen Jesus. It’s about their personal stories, their own good news stories, from this point on.

Take Mary Magdalene. She was the first to see the risen Jesus. We are told that she was someone Jesus had healed, and who had become his follower as a result. Imagine the emotions she must have felt that first Easter. Delight as Jesus was welcomed by the palm-waving crowds, turning to anxiety as the threats to his safety increased, despair as he was arrested and tried, torment as she watched him die, hopelessness as she helped to bury him, grief as she returned to anoint his body. And then the amazement as she met him alive again. Jesus gave Mary a new start, twice — once when he healed her, and again when he made her the first messenger of his resurrection.

Then there was Peter. One of Jesus’ closest friends, who had let him down badly in his hour of need. Faced with the danger of arrest, Peter had been unable to cope with his fear. So he had denied knowing Jesus — as Jesus had predicted that he would.  When Jesus died, his world must have fallen apart, because now he would never have the chance to say he was sorry. The resurrection gave him that chance, and with it a message of reconciliation for all people. No wrong that we can do, no denial or harsh words, no injury or insult, is beyond the reach of God’s love. A love that can conquer death can deal with any wrong that human beings can do, can neutralise and forgive it.

And Thomas, for ever known as doubting. He refused to believe that Jesus was alive again — and who can blame him? It’s such an unlikely story. But Thomas has come to stand for all who find faith difficult, who have doubts about the story of salvation. Thomas insisted on seeing and touching Jesus before he would believe. When Jesus granted his wish, he did not berate or punish him for his doubting, but accepted Thomas as he was and then helped him move on.

What is there for us in these stories, as we gather today to experience anew the resurrection of Jesus? Perhaps some of us, like Mary, are in need of a new start.  Perhaps we have become weighed down by problems, by bereavement, by illness, by financial worries, and we feel there is no escape. It has, after all, been a difficult year for all of us – but for some, especially so. For us, then, today offers new hope. The resurrection of Jesus shows us that God’s love is stronger than any power of despair.

Or perhaps, like Peter, we bear the guilt of hurtful things said, or perhaps things unsaid, things done wrong that we can never put right. The message of the resurrection is one of forgiveness. There is no condemnation in the eyes of the risen Jesus as he looks at Peter, and at us, only love.

And perhaps we have doubts about this very unlikely and strange story we hear again today. Like Thomas, we may have moments when we long for some hard evidence. Thomas’ story affirms that we are allowed that longing.  We are allowed to doubt, and our doubts do not cut us off from the power of Jesus’ resurrection. Whatever the state of our faith in God, God has faith in us.

Mary, Peter, Thomas, and the others – they all found that whatever bad news they had struggled with in life, the good news of a risen Lord Jesus was able to overcome it. As each of them is confronted by their crucified, yet risen Lord, they discover that the love of the God who can overcome anything – even death – can also overcome their anxieties and fears and doubts.

To all who are in despair, to all who are caught by guilt, to all who doubt, here and in all the world, the message of the resurrection is this:  God’s love is stronger. However bad the news may be that we have to face every day, the good news is far more powerful. 

Because there is always hope, there is always forgiveness, there is always a future. Because Easter Day is a good news day. Because there is always Jesus, alive for evermore.