May I speak and may we listen, in the name of the crucified, risen and ascended Christ. Amen.
‘Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’!
In 1958, Dr Sangster, Minister of Westminster Central Hall – a preacher of great fame, a pulpit giant, a man whose preaching brought sinners to their knees before Christ’s throne was diagnosed as having an incurable disease that caused progressive muscular degeneration. When he learned of the diagnosis, he made four resolutions: “I will never complain. I will keep the home bright. I will count my blessings. I will try to turn it to gain.” Later he wrote: “There have been great gains already from my sickness. I live in the present. I am grateful for little things. I have more time – and use it – for prayer.”
Over the course of two and a half years he experienced the gradual paralysis of his muscles, which left him with no voice and able to move only two fingers. With them he communicated with others by writing, but eventually even that became illegible, and then impossible.
On Easter morning, just a few weeks before his death, he managed to scribble on a little piece of scrap paper: “How terrible to wake up on Easter and have no voice to shout, ‘He is risen!’ Far worse, to have a voice and not want to shout.”
We’ve been waiting a while for this day, for this moment – when we can say ‘He is risen!’.
We’ve been building up to it Sunday by Sunday and particularly in Holy Week – and now we’re here.
We’ve observed this season of Lent,
We’ve sacrificed things, and fasted,
We’ve remembered the command to be servants to one another,
We’ve had our feet washed,
We’ve celebrated the Institution of the Lord’s Supper,
We’ve walked the way of the cross,
We’ve endured the silent mystery of Holy Saturday,
And now – this morning – I wonder.
Is he truly alive for you?
Do you have the Easter joy of Mary Magdalene?
Do you have the deep burning desire to tell the world that Jesus is alive, like Dr Sangster on his sick bed longed to shout!?
Do you have any sense in the depths of your heart that that which we heard in John’s Gospel is in fact true?
Or are you still searching for the living amongst the dead?
You know everything we do here in this place,
Everything we have ever done here,
From the conception of the very first Methodist society in Rumney to the present day,
This very building, All that people have given over the years – only fundamentally makes sense because our motivation has been this belief that Jesus Christ is alive.
You only set down roots in a community,
And you only seek for a place to worship – because someone and something is worth worshipping for an indefinite future.
We are here, in this place, doing what we are doing,
Because generations of people have proclaimed Christ to be risen.
We add our voice to Mary Magdalene’s. We say the words that on that morning, Dr Sangster couldn’t say!
But why? Jesus is alive again, so what?
What difference does it make?
Well, for a start it finally shows us that this man from Nazareth – is not just some ordinary human being.
It shows us that his message and his lifestyle and his promises are truer than we had imagined them to be.
It shows us that even in the face of empire, and against the will of the leaders of the day both political and religious – Jesus triumphed over death.
And so love won over hate.
Justice won over injustice.
Light won over darkness.
Goodness won over evil.
And sin lost its power.
Remember those words in John’s Gospel:
‘Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.’
Those words, ‘while it was still dark’ are for me, the most profound words in the Gospel of John.
That Jesus rose from the dead in the darkness. The darkness with which John’s Gospel opens, the darkness which did not overcome the light.
And Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb in the darkness of her grief.
And as Pilates worst fears are realized,
Mary’s wildest dreams are unfolding.
Now, unlike the mystery of Advent and Christmas when we celebrate entering into the world in Christ. Easter is much more complicated to truly understand, because not only does God in Jesus enter in a deeper way into our sin and humanity and brokenness, but actually God in Jesus Christ breaks all the limitations of our human life and entered a new realm beyond death.
Death is no longer death as we knew it.
Life is no longer life as we knew it.
Everything has changed, because one man has risen from the dead.
In John 16, Jesus told the disciples: ‘you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.’
Today their sorrow has indeed been turned to joy!
Today their hearts are rejoicing!
Today they have seen the lamb that was slain, alive – dignified and risen.
And in rising from the dead, what has Jesus revealed to us?
Well that God’s power is greater than all of the principalities and powers of the world. Even in days such as ours….!
That God in raising Christ has transformed and transfigured the whole order of the universe. Everything is redeemed – Everything has potential – Everything is imbued with Christ’s power.
The resurrection of Jesus shows us that God can take the very worst we can do to him, and turn it into the very best he can do for us.
The resurrection of Jesus shows us that God’s love for us, is so strong, so radical, so powerful – that it can even transform something as dark and miserable as death – and turn it around, into something life-giving and eternally redemptive.
The resurrection of Jesus – shows us that we all have hope, through him who lives again!
The story of Easter, invites us to leave behind all our misconceptions about the world, about ourselves, about our life together – and to enter into the mystery of God’s grace.
The story of Easter, invites us not just to look at the life of Jesus and be inspired, but to listen to what he says and to trust in his word.
This greatest season of the Church’s year encourages us, by looking at him who was slain and is risen, to discover the place and person in whom the whole of heaven is opened up to all, and for all, for all eternity.
Today, something of the light of God penetrates the darkness of our life, and our world, and our hearts.
Today, we can feel the joy which many look for in other places in vain.
Today, we can look through the cross, not just at it – to the empty tomb, to the risen King of Love and see and know and feel ourselves forgiven, sanctified and redeemed.
Today, might we with Mary Magdalene be bold to say to the world:
‘I, have seen the Lord!’
Today, might we with the whole church in heaven and on earth throughout the ages, be bold to say those words which sum up our faith:
I believe in God, the father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Holy Catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
For Christ has died, and Christ is Risen, and Christ will come again – and to him in whom death is swallowed up forever be glory, power and dominion. And may he be praised, worshipped and glorified in the world and in the church, and in this place – both now and forever.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!