'Early on the first day of the week [...] Mary Magdalene went to the tomb
and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.' John 20:1
Alleluia! Christ is Risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
There was a man called Ian that I used to know. Ian and I went to the same church at the time and we became quite good friends. He was a modest unassuming man who helped in lots of practical ways around church and it took a while to find out that he was actually a senior officer in the Royal Navy. He couldn’t tell me much about what he did but I know that he was on secondment to NATO’s headquarters. Ian was very open about his faith in the Navy and some years before I knew him, Ian was in command of a ship and his commanding officer – a Commodore I think – came aboard Ian’s ship to do his annual review. The Commodore said that Ian was basically wonderful but that ‘all this God stuff was getting in the way of his career.’ Without a moment’s hesitation, Ian respectfully asked ‘What do you think is going to happen when you die?’ He was brave as well as modest!
Whatever Mary Magdalene, Peter and the other disciple thought would happen when Jesus died, they were not ready for the events of that first Easter morning. Most of us are so familiar with the Easter story that we are not surprised but place yourself in their shoes that first Easter and cut them a little slack for being confused. They’d seen him arrested, tortured, mocked, crucified, dead and buried in a borrowed tomb, blocked in with a big stone but now the stone was moved, the grave was empty and the one thing that grave robbers would be interested in, the grave clothes were all that was left in the tomb. If we were Mary and Peter, I think we’d be confused too. Of course, they were also brave. Jesus has been crucified as a rebel and the Romans generally rounded up everyone associated with a rebel and crucified them too. No wonder Peter denied Jesus at the sham trial. By Easter Day they are brave enough to break cover and come to the tomb, only to find it empty.
We know what happens next. How Mary, Peter and hundreds of others encounter the Risen Lord. How they come to realise that all he said about himself was true: “that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Matthew 16.21b) How by dying our death, he shares his life with us. How by taking the sin of the world upon himself on the cross, he sets us free. Free to be in a new relationship with God, with each other and with all of creation. More than this, death itself is put to death on the cross as Jesus is raised to life. Which brings me back to my friend Ian’s question to his Commanding Officer: What do you think is going to happen when you die? For many people today it is a deeply uncomfortable question. The late Pope John Paul II observed that we are a death-denying generation. We pretend it doesn’t exist and then are unprepared for it when it comes. We live as if this life is all there is and so try to find comfort in all the wrong places.
Sisters and brothers, the Resurrection of Jesus cuts through all of this. In putting death to death on the cross by rising to new life, Jesus offers each one of us the possibility of sharing in his sinless life. He is the first fruits of the eternal harvest, his bodily resurrection is the pioneering foretaste of what is to come for all who believe and trust in him. So what do you think is going to happen when you die? In the light of the joy of the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ we can confidently proclaim that we too will be raised to life again when this one comes to an end. Raised to life to enjoy the perfect, unmediated presence of God forever. Freed from the darkness of sin and death to live in the light of Christ forever. Freed to play our part in a new creation where all can live in peace and harmony. No wonder we cry ‘Alleluia! Christ is Risen - He is risen indeed. Alleluia!’
So sisters and brothers, let us live confidently, abundantly, lovingly, fearlessly in the light of the resurrection of Jesus each and every day. Confident of his love displayed for all to see through the cross. Confident of his power displayed through the resurrection. Confident that he is who he says he is. And let us, like Mary, Peter and the other disciple, and rush to share the good news of the resurrection with those we love and care for. Amen (from Fr Nick McKee, Director of Vocations).