Easter Sunday Homily Yr B
“Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord.’” (John 20:18)
During lockdown, I have joined a facebook page of people interested in Prestwich, a former village and now district of North Manchester where I grew up. I’ve reconnected with a few old friends from school days. The other week someone posted a picture of my old primary school It was a strange experience. The smell of the polish, the sight of the desks all came back. It brought back the times when that school was my whole world, and I remembered what it felt like as I finally reached my last day, and a whole way of life came to an end. Whatever could life hold beyond Heaton Park County Primary School? I couldn’t see a story beyond that time and that place – but of course there was more! (that was also 48 years ago!)
Just when Jesus’ followers think his story is all over, the plot gains a new twist. As a new week dawns, John tells us how a grieving Mary Magdalene comes to Jesus’ tomb to see that its heavy sealing stone has been removed.
Shocked to find an open grave, she assumes Jesus’ body has been stolen, and runs to fetch the disciples. Peter and John go inside to discover that the Lord’s body has indeed gone. The obvious conclusion is that a robber has been at work. We naturally interpret the unfamiliar in the light of what we already know of the world. But the explanation will not fit. The grave-clothes are still there. What robber would unwrap a body before taking it, or leave the coverings behind with the head-section separate and neatly rolled? Just when Jesus’ followers think his story is all over, the plot gains a new twist. As a new week dawns, John tells us how a grieving Mary Magdalene comes to Jesus’ tomb to see that its heavy sealing stone has been removed.
John, the “other disciple”, senses that something more is going on. He does not yet understand, but dares to believe that this Jesus, extraordinary in life, is at the centre of something more amazing to come. He does not grasp the full story, but he knows it is not an old story of a dead hero.
Left alone to weep, locked in the time that was Jesus’s life before he died, Mary looks into the tomb to see two angels. Where had they come from? They sit exactly where Jesus’ body had lain, yet they ask her why she is weeping. Events grow stranger by the minute. She turns to see another figure behind her. He, too, seems to have come from nowhere. Common sense tells her that this man is probably the gardener. And if so, perhaps he knows where Jesus’ body has gone. As he answers, he addresses her by name. That one word, “Mary”, reaches right into her and she knows that it is Jesus who stands before her, alive.
But this is not merely a joyful re-union of old friends. Jesus instructs Mary to go to the disciples whom he now refers to as “my brothers”, and tell them of his forthcoming ascension. Unlike Lazarus, whom Jesus brought back to life in this world in a resuscitated body, Jesus himself now heralds God’s new creation in a resurrection body that is qualitatively different. This may partly explain why Mary does not recognise him at first. He is also the last person she would expect to see standing before her, overflowing with life.
As we read the story, we too may have our surprises. Jesus has just risen from the dead, defeating death and confounding his enemies. It is the most unprecedented and unique event in history. Yet the resurrected Jesus first reveals himself in a garden to a woman with little status at that time and in that place, either among his earthly followers or in her own culture. Why did Jesus not proclaim God’s vindication directly to his enemies by visiting the Sanhedrin or knocking on Pilate’s door? God’s kingdom ways are beyond our earthly ways.
Serving Jesus as Lord brings change. We may long for him to restore aspects of our lives to how they were. But Jesus’ life growing in us makes all things new.
As we face the end of life’s seasons – a failed ambition, a fruitful ministry, a job well done, a child grown up – a loved one mourned even the gradual end of a pandemic, the risen Jesus can meet us in the places where we least expect. Like Mary Magdalene, we can be tempted to hold on to the Lord as we have known him on our journey so far. But we are to keep following him, and allow our lives to be transformed in ways we could never have imagined.Serving Jesus as Lord brings change. We may long for him to restore aspects of our lives to how they were. But Jesus’ life growing in us makes all things new.
Although we do not know what that will look like or where it will take us, we can trust the one whose mighty power has raised Jesus from the dead and whose love for us is limitless. Whatever the mysteries of our route, our destiny in Christ is glorious.
Canon Rev Philip Barrat