As we can not gather together for Easter this year, Rev. Mike and his family filmed a half-hour service at the Vicarage, including the reflection below.
‘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 […] Jesus said, ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, “I am ascending 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!’’. John 20:1, 17-18
Brothers and sisters. If you have been following the reflections we ended Good Friday with a short saying: ‘It’s Friday but Sunday is coming’. On Good Friday we are left with all the darkness, with all the doubt, with all the fear, and with all the questions which the followers of Jesus must have had. This year - for almost all of us - there is a very real connection to that dark day as we too, as a nation, as a community and as the Church face our own days of darkness. The sun may be shining, but there is darkness across our land. Every single one of us has been affected by the pandemic. And increasingly that pandemic is drawing nearer, drawing closer as friends and neighbours catch the virus, as loved ones start to show symptoms, and as those we know, and those we love take their last breath. We - like the disciples - are in a time of darkness. We have our doubts, and our fears, and our questions, and we are looking all around us for signs of hope. And whilst in times of relative ease and happiness slogans and cliches like ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ and ‘Time is a great healer’ may have been some help, in these days those cliches simply won’t do. They are only words, and they give us no comfort, and certainly they give us no hope, at least no hope we can lean on when the virus strikes or death comes to our door. We as a nation - as a world even - are looking around us for hope. A real and concrete hope. A hope which we can rely on, and which actually helps us when real life hits. And the Good News, no - the wonderful news - is that today is Easter Sunday, and in celebrating this great feast we find true and lasting Hope. Why? For, Easter brings hope because the resurrection is true.
In our long Gospel reading this morning, we are taken through the dramatic events through the eye-witness testimony of one of the disciples, named Mary. She was in darkness - both spiritual and physical - as she set out that Sunday morning. She had lost her Lord, and with Him her hope had gone as well. But having loved Jesus in life, she now goes to anoint His body in death. And what she witnessed that day, changed the world. We all know the Easter story, but there have been some - both inside and outside the Church - who have sought to down play it. Who have sought to suggest that Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t real, that it didn’t actually happen. That what happened on that first Easter Sunday was a ‘resurrection of faith’, a belief merely that Jesus would always be with them some how spiritually much in same the way people talk about their ancestors always being with them after death. Some claim that Jesus’ resurrection is really a myth. A myth that tells a truth we find all around us: that after winter comes spring, maybe, that life finds a way. But that belief is of no use to us. It is no use to the thousands going through loss right now, and no use to those who suffer and die each day both here and across the world. If Jesus didn’t actually rise well He can be no comfort to us now. If He is dead, He can’t help us when we get sick, He can’t walk with us as we suffer, and He can’t grieve with us, and give us strength when we lose a loved one. If Jesus didn’t actually rise from the dead, well then He has not defeated death, and as we stand at gravesides and as we mourn those we have lost we have no hope, for if Jesus has not defeated death, then death really is the end. No, these kinds of explanations simply won’t wash anymore. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then - brothers & sisters - our hope is in vain, and our faith is useless. However, as we sit here on Easter morning, surrounded by this pandemic, not knowing what the future will bring, whether our loved ones will be affected, whether our jobs will be affected, or whether our lives will be taken from us, Easter can give us hope. Why? Because the resurrection is true.
When Mary - who was not a mythical character but a real life person of flesh and blood - when Mary got to that tomb 2000 years ago, and when she looked inside she did in fact find that tomb empty. When the disciples, when Peter and the author of our Gospel ran to the tomb both real life, historical people - they too found it empty. And as Mary wept in the garden, she did in fact hear her name called, she did in fact talk to the One who - she thought at first was the gardener - but who was in fact her risen Lord. And just to make sure, Mary did in fact, did in history, did as our Gospel tells us, throw her real physical arms around a real living and breathing physical body, which was in fact the risen Jesus. None of this is myth. None of this is wishful thinking. None of this is cliche. No: Easter brings hope because the resurrection is true. And because it is true, the resurrection makes all the difference in the world If Jesus did actually rise from the dead well He can be here to comfort us now! If Jesus did actually rise from the dead Jesus can help us when we get sick, He can walk with us as we suffer, and He can give us strength when we lose that love one! If Jesus did actually rise from the dead, then, as we stand at gravesides and as we mourn those we have lost we can have hope for Jesus has defeated death, and death is not the end. Easter brings hope because the resurrection is true; or to put it the other way round, because the resurrection is true, we can have hope. Hope that whatever life throws at us, the living Jesus will be with us. Hope that when we die - whether from Covid-19 this month, or from anything else in the years to come - that death is not the end, and that waiting to meet us on the other side just as He promised, is the living and risen Jesus. It may be difficult right now, it may seem dark, and we may be afraid. But it’s Friday and Sunday is coming and that brings hope because the resurrection is true. And because the resurrection is true, we can say our Easter refrain loud, proud and with great confidence.
Alleluia. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.