Psalm 118 1-2, 14-24, 1 Corinthians 15.1-11, Acts 10: 34-43, John 20: 1-18
According to the late great Terry Pratchett, “ the world is made up of four elements: earth, fire, air & water. This is a well known fact. ... it is also wrong. There is a fifth element, and generally it is called surprise.”
Really, today is one big surprise. A man comes back to life after crucifixion. A man comes back to life after lying dead for 3 days. A young man in a white robe is sat in the tomb when the women arrive. He tells them that Jesus is alive, and they are to go to Galilee to meet him, and that they need to tell the disciples this too. All too strange, all too overpowering – and Mark ends his Gospel with the word “afraid”, just to put a final touch to the strangeness.
A year 2 class from a local school was in the Barn a few weeks ago, exploring the church. They wanted to know about the font, so I explained about how baptism is a picture of the death and resurrection of Jesus. I slowed the story down, so that they were all eyes wide open and mouths agape. The baby went into the water, just as Jesus’s dead body was put into the stone tomb. And did Jesus stay in the tomb? Blank looks, twisted faces, bright shining eyes came back to me. Some had no idea about resurrection. They had never heard the story. Others were playing it through in their minds, itching to ask, “how?” and “why?” Others shot their hands up and called out, “no, he didn’t stay in the tomb, he rose back to life again!” Fear and amazement could be seen on the faces of those for whom this was new.
But maybe what we are looking for is this surprise, this fear. Maybe we need to acknowledge our fears of resurrection before we can enter fully into its joys. Owning up to fear is half-way to conquering it, so, Jesus is risen from the dead! – be afraid!
Afraid because no one rises from the dead – it just doesn’t happen.
Afraid because God has seriously interfered in this world to make it happen – what might he do next?
Afraid, because certainties have become uncertain, and that is worrying.
But there is a counter-argument which says that of course the women were afraid, it is the most natural reaction to extraordinary news.
Of course they were afraid, because they had just come across a scene that did not relate remotely to their expectations or their grief.
Of course they were afraid – it’s normal in circumstances like this!
We are so far removed from these events that the normality of human reactions within them is lost on us. But if we were to try to put ourselves in their shoes, present ourselves outside that tomb early in the morning with our arms full of burial spices and linen wraps, do we really think we would react differently? And keep going back – would we have stood up to Judas and the arresting soldiers in Gethsemane? Would we have owned up to our love of Jesus, when confronted in the courtyard of the Chief Priest’s house? Would we even have made it to the foot of the cross, to watch Jesus die? Who knows?
But in the Christian community which received Mark’s Gospel, there were people who, on hearing those last words about the women’s fear, would have nodded, and said, “Ah yes, they told me that themselves”, or “Ah yes, I heard Peter talking about that once”, or even, “Ah yes, I was there.” The resurrection events were still fresh, still vivid for Mark & his community, and the good news begins with a normal human reaction to an abnormal divine intervention in this world.
Resurrection is not a human action, it is divine. Resurrection speaks of God finding a new way to talk about love, to demonstrate love, to make love real. Resurrection starts with our fears, and transforms them into joy – however slowly or quickly we need that process to last.
And so then we can light the Easter Candle with joy, and sing the songs of resurrection with delight, rejoice in all the trappings of Easter that we have piled onto it with gleeful abandon, for we will have allowed resurrection to enter into normal life, and we can shout, “Christ is risen!”, and all enthusiastically respond, “He is risen indeed, hallelujah!”
Rev Peter Hart