Vicar’s Sermon – Easter Day 2020

Matthew 28. 1-10

To be chosen was an honour indeed. The angel had brushed up rather nicely: his best ‘lightning flash’ demeanour and ‘dazzling white’ outfit donned for the occasion. His arrival had been calculated to impress, calibrated to elicit an appropriate degree of fear from the soldiers guarding Jesus’ tomb: they quaked in their Italian leather boots, becoming like dead men…’success’ thought the angel.

The women were also frightened, Mary Magdalene and ‘the other Mary’ but he’d managed to reassure them. ‘Do not be afraid’: the angelic consensus down the years had been these were good opening words for those charged with addressing mortals. The angel had rehearsed his lines and delivered his message with suitable gravitas. It was all a bit ‘show and tell’ but by moving the stone from the tomb he could underline his message. Jesus is not here. He has been raised and is going ahead of you to Galilee. Let his disciples know that they can see him there. Job done: exit…stage left…right…up? …definitely not down. Exit.

But then, having told the women that Jesus was heading to Galilee there seemed to be a change in plan. Not Galilee, no: he’s still in Jerusalem. In fact, on the way to the disciple’s Upper Room, the women had actually met him. Those ‘upstairs’ are allowed to change their minds but the angel would have preferred the memo to have been sent a little earlier: none of us likes being wrong.

But he wasn’t wrong. One thing we Christians are still trying to fathom is the fact that Jesus, after the resurrection is perfectly capable of being both here…and there. The gospel accounts have him on the road to Emmaus even as he is having a private meeting with Peter. Whilst we experience His presence within time and space he is not bound by these things. He is present with you…and with me, wherever we might be today.

Where is Jesus? The one place we know he is not is in the tomb. Death cannot hold him. The women in our reading go to ‘see the tomb’ – they are not even expecting to anoint his body for burial in Matthew’s account. By the end of the reading they ‘leave the tomb’ quickly. They are still frightened but I suspect that their fear is of a different nature to that of the soldiers: theirs is a sense of awe that can fall on us all when we sense the presence of God – it’s OK to be disturbed by that when it happens – and yet this ‘fear’ carries with it a sense of great joy.

They hear the angel’s message and then, in faith (for they have still at this point not seen Jesus) they turn from the tomb to announce His resurrection to the disciples.

Sometimes for my prayers on an evening I use the Reimagining the examen app (you can download it for free). Last week a reflection was called ‘Choose Life’: words from the Old Testament, words spoken to the people of Israel by God. ‘I set before you both Life and Death: choose life.’

The women ‘choose life.’ The faith that they show is a choice more than it is a feeling or experience. The empty tomb; the transformation of the disciples’ lives; the miracle that is the church (down the ages and even now); our own experience in worship and prayer, in baptism and communion; the witness of the saints and martyrs, the simple goodness of countless Christians bringing up their families, serving their communities; challenging injustice; offering food to the hungry, shelter to the refugee, drink to the thirsty, education, healthcare, a listening ear and so much more. The evidence of His resurrection is there – we are invited always to seek him and find Him, to ‘Choose Life’.

In these strange times that means honouring all that is good around us even if our circumstances are constrained – seeking out the goodness in each day and blessing God for it; counterintuitively staying isolated when we so want to see our friends and families; phoning and emailing and writing and FaceBooking and Whatsapping and Zooming our love and support to one another; praying that things won’t get back to normal when all this passes but that we will hold to all that has been good as we have responded to this crisis. We choose life again this Easter because we believe in the Loving faithfulness of God to each one of us: a faithfulness perfectly shown through His raising Jesus from the dead but which surround us all, always and forever.

How does the Easter hymn go?

Lo! Jesus meets us, risen from the tomb;
Lovingly he greets us, scatters fear and gloom;
let the Church with gladness, hymns of triumph sing;
for her Lord now liveth, death hath lost its sting.
Thine be the glory, risen conquering Son,
Endless is the vict’ry, thou o’er death hast won.

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