Easter Sunday Reflection

Easter Vigil: S John’s Bathwick (8pm)
Genesis 1:1,26-31; Exodus 14:1-15:2; Isaiah 54:5-14; Romans 6:3-11; Matthew 28:1-10

Easter morning: S Mary’s Bathwick (10.30am)
Acts 10:34,37-43; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-18

Sermon
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!

Year after year, generation after generation, Christians proclaim the resurrection of Jesus at Easter. And despite our current lockdown, we do so once again in this holy day. Today, this holy day, we confidently proclaim the Easter message of the resurrection – that a man whose brutal execution was witnessed by crowds of people, who was buried in a sealed tomb, has returned to visit his closest companions.

Many people in the world are of course sceptical about these claims – and many of us, if we are honest, are also rather dumbfounded about this great mystery – like the first disciples, we do not fully understand.

The honesty of the earliest Christians has never ceased to amaze me. They are the ones who reported their experiences of the risen Lord. They could very well have portrayed themselves in a better light, but they did not. This morning’s gospel suggests that the “beloved disciple” believed. But then he was probably the religious hero of the Johannine community that is telling the story[1] – but even here, we are told ‘he saw and he believed…but as yet they did not understand that he must rise from the dead.’ Most resurrection accounts acknowledge misunderstanding, failure to recognise – and we have an example this morning as Mary Magdalene fails to recognise Jesus, mistaking him for the gardener. Even those who had spent three years with Jesus failed to comprehend.

Accounts of the empty tomb do not prove that Jesus rose from the dead. They simply state that the tomb was empty. In John’s account, Mary Magdalene runs to tell the disciples, ‘They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we do not know where they put him.’ It took an explanation of the scriptures for Jesus’ followers to understand what had happened – and a developing understanding that Jesus death, burial and resurrection were achieved on behalf of us all.

Last night, at the Easter vigil, we read from St Paul’s letter to the Romans. And in this passage, St Paul claims that the resurrection of Jesus provides a model for all who follow him. ‘When we were baptised we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life.’[2]

And we have a similar sense in this morning’s epistle reading, this time from St Paul’s letter to the Colossians, ‘If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is…Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.’[3] The context of these words are about baptism – a few verses earlier, Paul writes, ‘when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.’[4]

At Easter, we renew our baptismal faith. In normal circumstances we would be sprinkled with newly-blessed holy water as a physical reminder of our baptism – but today, in our lockdown, we will have to make do with making verbal and mental re-commitments of faith. In baptism, we become members of Jesus, we are caught up in the events of death and new life. And if we believe that Jesus has indeed been raised from the dead, then the way we live should demonstrate this. We will ‘seek what is above,’[5] rather than the greed and indifference toward others that seem, so much of the time, to be so much a part of “what is on earth.”

Will we ever really understand what resurrection means? Probably not; but then, how could we? As the basis of our faith as Christians, it requires just that – faith, not understanding.
The faith into which we are baptised calls for a living commitment that takes hold of our entire being. Faith in the risen Jesus transforms our minds and hearts so that we live lives modelled after his. Such faith reminds us that we have died, and our lives are now ‘hidden with Christ in God.’[6]

We enter into the celebration of this great feast with faith, and it is this faith that cries out, “Alleluia!” Our lockdown reminds us that all around us is death and despair – and every death lost to the coronavirus is individually tragic and a loss to us all.

But despite the situation in which we find ourselves, we are called to hope. Our faith, our hope, our love, will be shown in our unselfish generosity to others – particularly those suffering isolation at this time, in our genuine efforts at peace, in our willingness to forgive – all these testify to the world that Jesus has been raised from the dead and that he continues to live in us. Proof of the resurrection is not found in an empty tomb. Rather, it is seen in the committed lives of those who believe. Amen.

[1] John 20:8

[2] Romans 6:3-4

[3] Colossians 3:1-3

[4] Colossians 2:12

[5] Colossians 3:2

[6] Colossians 3:3