Rev Dr John McCulloch
St. Andrews Jerusalem and Tiberias
April 2021, Easter Sunday (year B)
Acts 10: 34-43 & St John 20:1-18
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable to you o Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
Christ is risen! Hallelujah!
These bold words invite us into one of the biggest mysteries and hopes of the Christian faith. We read the words of the apostle Peter from Acts 10: 39: ‘They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day’.
The power of God’s love, on which his kingdom is built, seeks to bring resurrection into our lives and our world; a reality that we do not wait for until after death, but which we live by and embrace now.
The kingdom of God stands in opposition to the kingdoms of this world whose systems of economic injustice and normalized violence, crush the poor and the oppressed.
The Easter story is that we worship a God who associates with all those who are crushed and tortured; identifying with the suffering humanity down the ages, crucified on the crosses of injustice and hatred, of rejection and cruelty; identifying with all those who are disfigured through the violence of this world. And by responding to those who crucify him in transforming love and forgiveness; we are reminded that the power of love is stronger than death.
Descending into the very depths of hell itself, our God defeats the power of death; and brings hope to all who have been imprisoned in captivity.
Theologian Jurgen Moltmann puts it like this:
Christ’s resurrection begins in the world of the dead. He draws up Adam with his right hand and Eve with his left, and with them pulls humanity and the whole sighing creation out of the realm of the dead into the new transfigured world of the eternal life of the new creation. So we may say that Jesus’ death on the cross was solitary, and exclusively his death, but his raising from the dead is inclusive, open to the world, and embraces the universe, an event not merely human and historical but cosmic too: the beginning of the new creation of all things.
On this Easter day, we proclaim the death of death.
We proclaim that the kingdoms of injustice of this world will only be defeated by the power of forgiveness and outpoured sacrificial love, seeking for the redemption and healing of both oppressor and oppressed.
Resurrection is one of the deepest mysteries of the Christian faith. It is not so much an event to be proved, as much as something to be embraced and longed for. Faith is ultimately a mystery, into which we are invited to be renewed and imbued with hope. Mystery is always beyond us, but as we embrace it and long for it, it changes us.
But most of our world is living in Holy Saturday. It is difficult for us to imagine what it must have been like for the early followers of Christ on that first Saturday, because we approach Good Friday and Holy Saturday retrospectively, so we know how the story ends. But for those early followers, Holy Saturday was the end. Jesus had been betrayed and deserted by his friends, charged by a prejudiced court and crucified outside the city walls.
As we gather here, we live in a world beset by violence. Not far from here in Yemen and Syria, war and conflict continue to devastate the lives of so many. Our thoughts and prayers are with them today…
Most of our world lives in Holy Saturday, where there is no hope, where all expectations have ended, where God has died, and where we are left to our own devices to navigate alone through our world of tears and sorrow. Our world has not learnt the ways of peace.
But we are Christ’s body here on earth, for is not the church his body? And should it therefore not follow on that as his church, we should embody the beautiful mystery of resurrection, bringing hope and renewal to a world locked in the despair of Holy Saturday?
Notice in John’s gospel that Peter and John run to the empty tomb, see the linen clothes, and then run home. What a contrast with Mary Magdalene, who did not flee during the crucifixion as the other men had done out of fear, but remained there. And here she is, at the empty tomb from the early hours. Note how in verse 11 we read ‘But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb’. She stands weeping, longing and yearning for her Lord.
To yearn is to long for the world will be different. Yearning opens our hearts to the mystery of divine love, where all our questions, doubts, conflictive emotions and desires, are held in the eternal love of God.
Notice that Mary’s yearning does not go unheard. His first words after the resurrection are addressed to Mary: ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Who do you seek?’ Who are you looking for?
The question at this climactic point is not ‘what are you looking for?’, but ‘who are you looking for’?
Truth, love and compassion had been embodied in a life, and communicated in a relationship. Jesus calls her by name, and then she recognizes him.
The event of the resurrection transformed the disciples from group of men who had been hiding in fear of their lives; to boldly embrace the gospel and then be even prepared to die for it, walking in the footsteps of their master; most of whom were to die as martyrs. What a transformation!
Jesus calls Mary by name, and he calls us by name this morning. Calling us out of the tombs of despair and hopelessness where we so often remain; rolling away the heavy tomb-stone of fear that prevents us from embracing the life and love that Christ offers us. Raising us up from the shadows, and calling us to stand alongside those who have lost all hope.
The resurrection not only brings life and hope, but brings us boldness. Boldness to confront the forces of death and dehumanization in our world. Compassion to stand with those who are rejected and crushed by the powerful of this world.
The early Church was founded after the resurrection, which is why during Eastertide the lectionary takes us through the book of Acts, instead of an old testament reading; as it is in Acts where we read the story of the early church.
The resurrection stands in opposition to the darkness of our world, and calls us into his service as his body here on earth; to walk in his footsteps, to love sacrificially, and to point to the hope that we carry within, until the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of his Son.
Christ is risen! Hallelujah
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning was now, and ever shall be. Amen.