Easter Day 2020
Acts 10:34-43, Matthew 28:1-10
In the name of God, loving Father, risen Son and ever present Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the early dawn of Sunday morning, as the sun is rising, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to the tomb. Why did they come? To show their love of Jesus, to be near where they thought his body lay and to express their grief according to their cultural norms.
But Jesus wasn’t there – and had already risen from the dead…. As the Marys approached the tomb the responses to this earth changing event started to happen
The first was the response from the earth, the ground we stand on. There was a violent earthquake. This was literally ground-breaking or if we like the earth God had made leaping for joy because Jesus had risen.
The second response was from the heavens, an angel of the Lord was dispatched from heaven and the angel rolls the stone away. It had been difficult for Jesus’ friends to put it in place, but it was easy for the angel to move it out of the way, and then the angel sat down on it! The risen Jesus is resuming the glory he had before the foundation of the world as the heavens responded to Jesus rising from the dead.
The third response is that of the guards. These are strong guards – soldiers who had lots of experience of battle that hardened them against fear. They had probably been warned to expect a motley crew of disheartened and fearful followers of Jesus and maybe a few women. Mary and Mary would have been no match for the soldiers, with their armaments and muscle power. The representatives of worldly powers, but as the earth quakes and the angel comes – these soldiers are terrified and pass out in their fearfulness. So what we would view as strong is shown to be weak. In this we see that worldly powers and what the world views as strong are no match for the power of God in the risen Jesus.
The fourth response is from Mary and Mary. They would have also been scared – who wouldn’t have been! The angel started as angels usually do with “Do not be afraid!”. But they were still on their feet and ready to listen and ready to respond. The angel explained what had happened – Jesus is not here – he has been raised. The angel encouraged the Marys to look in the tomb, and again the angel explained why Jesus was not there
“He has been raised from the dead – He has gone ahead to Galilee where you will see him!”
It was head-spinning stuff for the Marys – fear and joy! Was it possible! Was it true!! Mary and Mary responded by knowing they had to speak to the disciples and they ran full of fear and joy! A heady mix!
This was the initial response from the Marys to Jesus rising from the dead but it doesn’t end there for them. As Mary and Mary are running to tell the disciples – they meet Jesus. Jesus spoke greetings to them. They responded by taking hold of his feet and worshipping. I think the only way to do that is to lay down. There are a number of theories about why the Marys responded like this.
The first – with which I am least impressed – is the reality that in those days – people believed ghosts did not have feet. So his feet were proof he had risen from the dead and was alive!!!
The second was that this was a natural heartfelt response. This was a one off life changing event – and Mary and Mary felt compelled to show their awe and wonder. Culturally this was one of the ways they would have done that! – Showed humility, praise and adoration – echoes of the servant king washing his disciples feet days before. That their response to these life changing events respects how great God is.
The third theory is this is link to an old testament prophecy one we all know from Isaiah (52:7), as Mary and Mary hold on to Jesus feet: – How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces salvation and peace, who says to Zion and beyond, Our God reigns.
This third response from the Marys was to follow what Jesus tells them to do. Again – not to be afraid (echoing the angel from heaven and showing his heavenly glory) and to go and tell his brothers to go to Galilee where they too will meet the risen Jesus. They rushed off to do just that!
So Jesus is risen and we have seen responses from everything and everyone around the tomb that day – from the earth, from the heavens sending an angel, from the guards and three different ones from the Marys.
What is our response to this world changing, life changing truth – that Jesus is risen?
This is important – the question is not do we respond but how do we respond especially in our times separated from each other, socially distanced and in frightening times!
I think the first response must be to hear for ourselves the words of the Angel and Jesus – Do not be afraid. I have to confess to finding the current circumstances frightening for ourselves, our loved ones, our neighbours, our communities and our world. I feel it because it is frightening, but we need not succumb to living fearfully in our hearts. The words of the Lord in Isaiah 43 help us with this.
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
The waters, rivers and flames of our current strange and challenging coronavirus times do not alter God’s love for us shown in how Jesus rose from the dead for us. If it helps start each morning by saying out loud these words of the Lord – Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. I have called you (insert your name), you are mine.
We need to live within the scope set out for us at the moment by our Government, but we can choose how we approach life in our hearts. God calling us by our names shows God’s deep love for us – God’s care and affection. It is a recognition of how close God is to us in the day to day trials and tribulations of life through the power of his spirit. It is a sign of God’s profound intimacy and love for us, reassurance we need that God is there loving us and calling us by our names.
God’s saving love is present in any danger, for Isaiah from the threat of water and the threat of burning in the flames. Fear not for God has saved you, from all conceivable perils and dangers. Fear not even though things look bad, hopeless and unending. Fear not even though you do not understand it all or at all, or in response to the natural feelings we have of dis-orientation . Fear not – it is not that God will save us, it is that God has saved us already. Through the resurrection of Jesus – God loves each of us intimately, as we are, wholly and completely and calls us by name.
Like all those responses we observed on the first Easter day, we too must respond to the risen Lord Jesus in our hearts and lives. The risen Lord Jesus – who opened out the power of the Spirit to us. In lockdown or not – we can still respond openly and warmly to God’s love for us. Do not be afraid.
Let us pray: –
King of love, we come to lay at your feet the costly offering of all that we have and all that we are. We are empty handed. Meet us here. Give us courage for the week ahead and joy in the everyday hope around us. May we lean on your faithfulness, and rest on a love stronger than death that will never let us go. Amen
We are not people of fear: we are people of courage. We are not people who protect our own safety; we are people who protect our neighbour’s safety. We are not people of greed: we are people of generosity. We are your people God, giving and loving, wherever we are, whatever it costs, for as long as it takes where you call us. Amen.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995
Prayer from Diane Craven copyright © rootsontheweb.com
Prayer by Barbara Glasson – President of the Methodist Conference – The Church of England – Prayers for use during the coronavirus outbreak.