Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Sermon at Parish Mass, Easter Sunday 2017

Acts 10.34-43
Colossians 3:1-4
John 20:1-18

The background of our Easter poster this year was Rembrandt’s interpretation of the Gospel passage we have just heard, the encounter between Mary Magdalene and the risen Jesus. Mary has gone to the tomb while it is still dark, and Rembrandt has left the tomb in shadow on the right hand side of the scene. Mary found it open and empty, and in confusion went to tell Peter and John. Returning with them, she remained, to weep.
That was her purpose, in going there. Mary has gone to the tomb to mourn the body of Jesus. In the shock and pain of bereavement it must have seemed that her world had come to an end. All she can think of is going to the dead body of the one who had healed her and given her life purpose and meaning.
But the body is not there. The tomb has been opened. Imagine her distress. Adding to the shock of Mary’s bereavement, she now has the confusion and bewilderment of not knowing where the body of her loved one is, or who might have interfered with it.
In the blank grief and shock she is experiencing, she remains focussed on the tomb, the place where the body of Jesus had been. She looks into the dark, seeing nothing.
Until she sees two angels. In her grief and confusion, it doesn’t seem to occur to her that it is odd to find two beings dressed in white sitting in a tomb. All she can speak of is her loss. “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
Then she turns and sees Jesus, but doesn’t recognise him. Her imagination is all hemmed in by death and loss. She mistakes him for the gardener, and Rembrandt had dressed Jesus up in a not particularly convincing straw hat and shovel to convey this.
Having spoken to him, she turns back to the tomb again, still fixated on death and loss, seeing nothing.
And then Jesus calls her by name. And suddenly she turns and knows him. This is the moment that Rembrandt has caught, as Mary turns her face, turning into the light. Not simply the sun rising, but the light of sudden knowledge, and hope, and faith. And love.
The heart of Christianity is not a book, though we have a book. Nor is it remembering Jesus as a historical figure, or trying to live according to his teachings. Those things matter. But they matter because Jesus is alive. They matter because every one of us can meet the risen Lord, as Mary did. The heart of Christianity is a living relationship with Jesus, the risen Lord. We read the Bible and follow the teachings of Jesus because we know him to be alive.
Proof of the resurrection is not to be found in a book or an empty tomb. Mary Magdalene had no need of proof that the tomb was empty, it was there in front of her. But that did not make her believe. All she could see was emptiness in the place of death. What brings her to belief is recognising Jesus, who waits for her to turn to him, who calls her by name.
It has been the same for Christians down the ages. This time last week around fifty Egyptian Christians were being killed simply out of hatred of their faith. A church that is continually being killed, and continually forgiving its enemies, and continually rising again, shows the risen Christ to the world. Human lives lived with more than earthly power show Christ to the world because they know the power of Christ to save and to glorify. They know that the final victory over sin and death has been won.
The heart of Christianity is a living relationship with Jesus, the risen Lord. And that relationship is open to everyone. You don’t have to ask Jesus into your life. He is there anyway, because he is the Word of creation through whom all things were made, including you. More intimately, he is our brother according to the flesh, the Son of Man, and in him God has joined our human nature to himself.
But creation and nature are not enough for Jesus. He wants to raise us beyond nature to the life of God. As with Mary, Jesus is there in the garden all along, but we don’t always recognise him. Jesus is in our lives waiting to share his risen life with us. He waits, offering his gift of salvation and eternal life, the Holy Spirit who raises us and unites us with God. But we must turn to him and choose to receive that gift.
Jesus is in your life anyway, but awaits the moment of recognition. Jesus is alive, his love burns to embrace us, and he wants us to know him and love him in turn. But if we keep looking into the place of darkness and loss we will not see him. Jesus called Mary by name. He calls every one of us. Turn away from the tomb, the place of death whatever that may be for you, the sins and failures and wounds of the past, all that you had thought hopelessly lost.

Turn to Jesus who awaits you, know him as the living one, the Saviour who has conquered death. He is in your life, but it is up to you to give your life to him. He will not impose against your will. Renew that gift today, or perhaps make it consciously for the first time. Know for a certainty that Jesus is alive and calls you by name. Turn to him in faith, open your heart to him that you may know him, not only as your creator, not only as your brother according to the flesh, but as your Saviour and your Lord. For he has broken the power of death and hell, and lives and reigns for ever, amen.

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