Farewell to St Giles Cheddington
First Reading Acts 10.34-43
Then Peter began to speak: “I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached – how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
“We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen – by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Gospel John 20: 1 - 18
I am the first and the last, says the Lord, and the living one;
I was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore.
When the Gospel is announced the reader says
Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.
All Glory to you, O Lord.
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)
Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realise that it was Jesus.
“Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned towards him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.
Each of the 4 gospel resurrection narratives is slightly different, but they all have 3 things in common.
· Inspection of the tomb of Jesus on Sunday morning
· Mary Magdalene is present
· The tomb is found to be empty
In today’s alternative reading from Luke, there are a lot more women. Luke has at least 5 – possibly more. “Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them” Three named women, plus “other women with them.” 2 of those, Mary Magdalene and Joanna, were named back in Luke 8 amongst the women who provided for the expenses of Jesus’ ministry from their own means.
The men don’t come out of it very well. They don’t believe the account of the empty tomb, dismissing the women’s account as an ‘idle tale’ in Luke. Peter ran to the tomb, but although he returned amazed, there is no real sign he believed. That was why the walkers on the road to Emmaus returned to confirm they had seen the risen Lord, confirming he had appeared to Simon.
John’s portrayal is a bit kinder to the men. When Mary Magdalene came running to find Peter with her news, Peter took off with another disciple who overtook him and arrived first. But it was Peter who impulsively pushed past him and went into the tomb, where he saw the folded grave clothes put to one side.
This evidence clinched it for Peter. Who, taking the body of Jesus would have carefully unwrapped it and set the soiled linen to one side? Peter saw and believed. But the other men still did not understand or remember Jesus’ prediction of his own resurrection.
Peter saw and believed. That’s surely the theme of every Easter Day – that we should see and believe. Whatever part Mary Magdalene is always credited as playing – it’s clear she did not link the disappearance of the body of Jesus to anything like his having risen again. For Mary, the body was missing. Who had taken it, and where had they put it? So, after Peter had run back again having believed, Mary stood weeping.
Today is Easter Day. Every Sunday is a little Easter – a weekly celebration of the resurrection – the eighth day of creation as the late 2nd century Epistle of Barnabas puts it – a day when every week we remember Jesus rose from the dead and brought about our salvation.
This might be my last sermon in this place, so for once why not follow the threefold Anglican pattern I have usually ignored? There are 3 thoughts I should like to leave with you:
Firstly, Easter is perplexing. Believing in the resurrection is not easy, but we know the fact of the empty tomb is the one crucial non-negotiable element of our faith. Peter saw and believed. We have not seen, yet are called upon to believe.
Even the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene is perplexing. Why did she not immediately recognise him? Why did the walkers on the road to Emmaus spend so long with Jesus before it dawned on them who he was?
Secondly, Easter provides a tipping point between death and new life. Not only for Jesus himself in those three days, but for us as well. We walk the way of the cross. And as God raised the lifeless body of his Son, so we pass from spiritual death to new life, if only we can have faith in him and what he accomplished for us.
Thirdly, if Easter is the tipping point, what comes after? What comes after is a new creation. It begins with the resurrection. It continues with the proclamation of the gospel – the good news of the resurrection. As the apostle Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 5:17:
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!
Our first reading this morning came from Acts. It’s mandatory. Whatever else we pick from the lectionary, Acts must be read. Why? Because it includes a speech by Peter himself, laying out what he saw with his own eyes and heard with his own ears. We are witnesses says Peter of everything Jesus did. He was not seen by all the people, but by us, who ate and drank with him. He commanded us to preach and testify...that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
This is of course the Easter message in its simplest form. It’s the message I leave with you. But I don’t want you to remember what I said next Easter, but every Sunday – each ‘little Easter’ – when, as today, we too eat and drink with him.
Mighty God of mercy, we thank you for the resurrection dawn, bringing the glory of our risen Lord who makes every morning new.
Renew this weary world, heal the hurts of all your children, and bring about your peace for all in Christ Jesus, the living Lord. Amen