Here’s the sermon I preached at High Mass on Easter Sunday.
Acts 10.34-43; Psalm 118; Colossians 3.1-4; John 20.1-18
+ In the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Early in the morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.
She did not come, as we do today, in hopeful expectation. She came in grief, preparing to say a final goodbye to her friend and teacher, to give his body the burial he deserved. She came with almost unbearable despair, disappointment making her steps heavy as she trod carefully through the darkness, pondering the events of the last days.
And it was not with joyful belief that she initially returned running to the other disciples: They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him. The absence compounded her grief, echoing all that had been left unsaid.
The darkness sheltered her confusion, sadness, doubt. And the small sliver of reddened sun appearing on the horizon must have seemed to her a gash across the sky, bleeding the day into being.
In the beginning was the Word, John’s gospel began. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh and lived among us.
On Friday, that Word was silenced. The words the Word spoke blown away like dust scattered on the wind. The language he used, the material, tangible signs of divine love — healing clay, cleansing water, unifying bread and wine — returned to being merely ordinary objects, stripped of any greater significance, other than the memories of him which they held.
Such was the first Easter morning.
And I wonder how many of us often feel the same on the Sundays we come to this place? Do we come bearing our own griefs, doubts? Do we plod on through the darkness, wanting finally to lay our hopes to rest?
In their repetition, in our confusion, do the signs become void of their sacramental significance?
Do we come and find an emptiness even greater than that which we expected? ‘He is not here!’ we declare, and run away.
Sometimes I wonder if Holy Saturday, that vast stretch of silence, absence, waiting and the seeming finality of death is the more accurate depiction of the human condition than the unrelenting joy which Easter proclaims.
But isn’t loss actually the experience of love? If you did not love, there would be no loss. Absence itself becomes a presence. But during that dark hour in that place in time, the emptiness became real presence.
Weeping may spend the night, the psalmist says. But joy comes in the morning.
Early in the morning while it was still dark, Mary came to the tomb. She stands, as we did earlier today, on the brink of dawn, as light and dark are separating once more.
In the beginning, our scriptures begin, In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it, John reminds us.
The sun still rises, even when it feels the world has ended. And on that first Easter, its rays warm Mary’s face. In its first dim light, she thinks she sees the gardener. We think she was mistaken.
But there is a deeper truth held in her confusion. Because does she not encounter the very God who first spoke the world into being, who declared creation to be good? Is she not, in this first day of the week, witness to a new creation, a new separation of light from darkness? Does not the divine gardener call forth a shoot of new life, rising out of deadened earth? Is this not a new Word being spoken?
And as this Word speaks, he simply calls her name. Mary. And in that moment, the day breaks and she recognises the risen Lord.
Today we not only proclaim the risen Christ, but we remember, celebrate, that love we knew on the day of our baptism when our names were spoken to us. When the same Word named us his children, the children of God’s new creation. It calls us into being, sometimes gently, the gradual dawning of realisation, sometimes suddenly, as though an earthquake has rolled away the stone.
In a moment, we will renew our baptismal vows. We will remind ourselves what it means to be children of this new creation.
As Mary, the first evangelist, is tasked with proclaiming the Good News to the other disciples, so we at our baptism are tasked with proclaiming in word and deed the presence of the Kingdom of our risen Lord, through teaching, in acts of fellowship, through service to others, and in our stewardship of the earth.
The waters of baptism wash away our tears that we, like Mary, may begin to see clearly that what was put to death that day on the cross was not our hopes but death itself. Death is conquered. Evil has no power. The light shines in the darkness, and new day has dawned. The Lord is risen Alleluia.