It feels very strange to be celebrating Easter here on my own in the garden, with the birds chirping in my ear, rather than in church with each of you. In fact its been a strange couple of weeks. All the clergy desperately trying to get to grips with how to use video technology, and live streaming to facebook, information being thrown at us from every direction about the best things we should be doing at the moment. Information that seems to change on a daily basis. Everyone trying to do their part, but nobody quite sure exactly what everyone else is doing. Some things end up getting done twice, whilst others have been overlooked by everybody. I was watching an argument taking place over social media the other day as to what day we had actually entered lockdown and when it might end. One person was saying Monday, one was saying Tuesday. These are events that have only happened in the last few weeks when we have access to online media where the actual information can be checked.
And I guess in reality that is exactly what was happening during Holy Week and Easter back in Jesus time nearly 2000 years ago, but without the added convenience of 24hr news streams on the television or twitter or facebook feeds, not even a mobile phone to be able to relate events. Everything unfolding was being relayed by word of mouth. Hurried conversation in quiet corners, as people were in fear for their own lives. One thing is certain, Jesus is dead. Jesus the person who everybody has been flocking to for the last 3 years to be healed, to hear his wisdom, to have their dead raised to life again, has been killed. Killed in an incredibly violent way. The priests and soldiers are looking for Lazarus, recently raised from the dead, as they want to kill him too, before he can spread anymore rumours about Jesus power. The disciples are in fear for their lives. Peter, the bravest, most courageous disciple, the one on whom Jesus has said he will build his church, has denied even knowing Jesus. The little band of faithful disciples is in disarray.
People are grieving. Grieving the loss of their teacher. Grieving the loss of their friend. But also they are aware of their own complete inadequacy. Imagine if you were Peter? The last words your friend has heard from you before he died, is that you don’t even know him. Only John and a few women were willing to stay to the end and watch Jesus die. How do the other disciples who deserted him at his final hour feel now?
Jesus body has been taken down from the cross and hurriedly placed in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. But did they have time to wrap the body in spices? They had to bury him before the start of the Sabbath. Some people are saying that they did. But what if they didn’t have time?
So as soon as they are able a little band of faithful women set off to the tomb. Our reading today tells us it was Mary Magdalene who made that journey. The other gospels say a group of women. Maybe she was going to anoint Jesus body. Maybe she was going to sit and grieve her friend at his tomb. Maybe she didn’t really know why she was going. But in her grief, it is the only thing that she can think of to do. To go and sit with Jesus one last time. John tells us it is still dark, it is probably dawn and the sun is just starting to rise.
But when she got to the tomb, she found the stone had already been removed. In her grief stricken, panicked state, she knows what has happened. Jesus body has been stolen. She runs as fast as she can as the darkness starts to disperse, and arrives panting and out of breath at the house where the disciples Simon Peter and John are. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
Things might have been bad before, but now they are even worse. Not only is Jesus dead, but his body has been taken. Can’t they even grieve in peace.
The disciples rush to the tomb. John is the faster runner and he gets there before Peter. He peers through the door of the tomb and lets his eyes adjust to the gloom. The linen that Jesus had been wrapped in is still in the tomb. But Mary is right, Jesus body has gone. Peter catches up, in typical Peter fashion he doesn’t hesitate, he goes straight into the tomb, but Jesus is definitely gone. At this point John is happy to enter too. The gospel writer tells us that he believed, but he still did not understand from scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead. What did John believe? Did he believe that Jesus really had been stolen, or did he believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, the neatly wrapped grave clothes not the likely work of a grave robber, he just didn’t understand why that happened. We can’t be sure. But I like to think that he inherently believed in Jesus resurrection. A gut feeling, an instinct, even though at that point he couldn’t back it up with fact. But whatever their feelings the disciples turn and leave for home.
Mary Magdalene however, has made her way back to the tomb, still convinced that Jesus body has been taken away. She just wants to grieve for her friend and now even that has been stripped from her. So she goes to the last place where she knew that he was. To take some time to be alone. Standing crying outside the tomb, she bends over and looks inside. To check once again, what she already knows to be true. But this time the scene has changed. Two angels, dressed in white, have appeared inside the tomb. They ask her why she is crying. In her panic and grief, she doesn’t stop to wonder why there are 2 strange men sat in Jesus tomb. She doesn’t seem to realise that they are angels. So once again she explains that Jesus body has been stolen. She becomes aware that someone is standing behind her, so from where she is crouched looking into the tomb, she turns around again. Maybe she can only see his feet. He must be the gardener, asking her what she is doing at the tomb. But, he might be able to provide the information that she needs. “If you have taken him, where have you put him, I can get him back?”
As he says her name, Mary, suddenly she realises it is Jesus. I’m sure too, that she also didn’t understand, but she definitely believes. Jesus is there. He is alive. And she follows his request and runs off to tell the disciples, locked away in hiding, that Jesus hasn’t been stolen, Jesus is alive. The words that Jesus tells her to share are “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”. These are the words that God wants us to hear today. Jesus Father, is also our Father. His death and resurrection mean that we are able to call him Father. The perfect father who loves us each deeply. But he is also still our God. A holy perfect being.
Mary went to the disciples to tell them the news. We may not be able to visit our friends in person to share the good news of the resurrection this Easter Sunday. But we are still able to talk about it. Over the phone, over the internet, even like the apostle Paul in a letter. What wonderful news to be able to encourage each other with this morning. Jesus is not dead, he is alive, and ascended to his father in heaven. To our father in heaven. He has won victory over death, so that we might have eternal life with him. So whether we are able to be out serving the community trying to ‘do’ something at this time of panic and uncertainty, whether we are hidden away in a locked room, not through choice or fear, but because we have to, we can all share in the joy that Jesus brings to our lives this Easter morning.