There is simply no getting away from it, today is nothing like our normal experience of Easter Day.
One of the highlights of my time here in the Winslow Benefice was Easter Day 2018. I arrived at St Laurence at about 9.05am and people were queuing to get into the building. I had to skedaddle around the back and in through the vestry! I then went to St James’ for the 11 o’clock service to be met at the gate by a very large gathering of people. Well, this year is so very different: I am here in the Vicarage garden and you are elsewhere in your homes, participating via a computer screen. For me, today is a bittersweet experience. I will always rejoice in the resurrection, but I would love to be in church singing with you, praying with you, communing with you. And, I am sure that you would like to be with me. Not because you find me irresistible (although you might!), but because you find the story of Jesus’ resurrection compelling, a source of great hope and great joy.
So, how can today be experienced well? How can you fully participate in the joy of the resurrection and derive great hope from it? I can really think of only one way and that is by taking to heart and absorbing some of the detail of the gospel as we have heard it. I wonder if today you can imaginatively come alongside Mary Magdalene and just go to the tomb, without any expectation that something truly miraculous is about to occur? And I wonder if you can do so bringing all your pain, anxiety, worry and fear?
Can you, just for a second or two, even on this resurrection day, allow your tears – either literal or metaphorical – to rise up within you and to acknowledge your sense of loss and self-isolation, for on this particular resurrection day, surely we are all feeling a little bit lost and isolated? Please, just for a second or two, allow yourselves to feel all at sea. Allow yourselves to feel confused, sad and angry at the loss you may well be feeling; the loss of not being able to come to church and the loss of not being able to see your loved ones. Allow yourselves to feel alone; self-isolated. Please just do it.
And then pause and allow yourselves to hear God calling you miraculously by name - allow yourself to hear God saying to you ‘I have done this all for you and I will never leave you’. Allow yourselves to believe that all is not lost - far from it - and that there will be a time when we get to see our loved ones, our friends and families, and that as a church we will regather (just as the early church did at Pentecost) and eat bread and drink wine together.
The apostles were scattered left, right and centre on that first Easter morn, just as we are today. The apostles were genuinely afraid - they were dispersed and isolated, but through the power of the resurrection, they were affirmed, called by name, brought back into Holy Communion with each other, and so will we be. The resurrection assures us of the love of God and his abiding presence as God with us and God for us. The resurrection is the game changer - hang on to that today. The resurrection assures us of God’s presence with us in the here and now and for all time. The resurrection doesn’t necessarily make our lives easier, nor does it wipe away disease and pain and the sense of isolation or loss. To believe that the resurrection does this would be to render it a psychological ploy, a divine act of hallucination. And it would be to trivialise the majesty of the cross and glory of the Risen Jesus. The resurrection, instead, reminds us that we live within a bigger story and a grander narrative than whatever it is the world is throwing in our way right now. The resurrection is our source of strength and our grounds for hope.
The hymn writer Edmond Burdy got it absolutely right when he wrote:
‘No more we doubt thee, glorious Prince of Life; life is naught without thee; aid us in our strife.
Make us more than conquerors through thy deathless love;
bring us safe through Jordan to thy home above.’
Because of the resurrection, we need not fear, even though we live in what for many, perhaps even most of us, is the worst of times, because through the resurrection, the deathless of love of God has been revealed. Through the resurrection, we have been graced with strength for today and hope for tomorrow.
So today, in solidarity with Mary Magdalene, please do take time to stop at the tomb and acknowledge your sense of bewilderment, anxiety, loss and pain, and then allow yourselves to hear Jesus gently calling you by name, assuring you of his love, gracing you with his presence, sustaining you with his strength and, finally, giving you every reason to hope,