16th April 2017
Revd. Cheryl Collins
A few years ago I was struck by a question I couldn’t answer. How did the first witnesses of the resurrection, the women at the tomb, cope with the sudden change from dealing with death, to dealing with life?
They must already have been full of powerful emotions, how could they change from grief and fear to joy and wonder so quickly?
You can imagine I was intrigued when my spiritual reading gave me a possible answer.
Matthew’s gospel reminds us what had come immediately before this narrative of resurrection- After the Sabbath.
Between the death of Jesus with all its horror and sorrow, and the early morning scene at the tomb was a necessary gap as the women kept the Sabbath.
Of course, we cannot know for certain that they did, but it seems very likely. It would have been a central religious practice and a long-standing habit for them to stop whatever they were doing on a Friday evening, light the Sabbath lights, and do nothing in order to remember that the world does not depend on our work but on God. And when everything in our world seems to have fallen apart we turn instinctively to the rituals that hold our lives together.
We know that after Jesus died their dearest wish was to anoint the body as custom dictated, to do for Jesus this last service of love. But it was not until the new week dawned that they made their way to the tomb to do so- what could have kept them away except their sacred duty of Sabbath observance?
What difference does it make that they were keeping the Sabbath?
Well, keeping Sabbath is a spiritual discipline designed to help us trust in God for what we need and let go of our own efforts. It is about resting in God, remembering who God is and observing what God is doing in our world and in us.
it reminds us both of the immensity of God at work in the world and the immediacy of God at work for and in us. They had stopped to re-orientate themselves, even though they were confused and grief stricken, to discover in themselves once again the desire to turn to God, to see and respond to who God is, and what God is doing.
When they came to the tomb then, although they were utterly taken by surprise, they had already reminded themselves that God is the one who creates life out of death, and calls into being that which does not exist.
Here, on the first day of a new week, in the light of a new day, the darkness is pushed away and the they discover just what it means to be the God of the living and not the dead.
None of the gospel accounts describe resurrection, for that is part of the mystery of God, but here in the dramatic trembling of the earth and the dumbstruck fear of the guards we see the signs of God’s power.
And to help the women understand and to show them their part in this resurrection morning God has sent a messenger, an angel.
How typical that the first word is the angel speaks is of reassurance- There is nothing to fear here.
The angel gives the women the responsibility of sharing the good news and leaves them as they set off, full of wonder and joy.
Their joy is made complete as Jesus appears to them and encourages them not to cling to him and to the past, but to move forward into the new life- the resurrection life that God has for them.
I wonder if you identify with the question I posed at the beginning- how can we change from grief to joy? It may be that you feel the Easter story is a delightful story but bears no relation to the reality of your life. What does the resurrection mean for you?
New life is the short answer- but not just pie in the sky when we die, resurrection life began on that Spring morning and continues to this day.
I suspect that like me you will need to practice resurrection time and time again. A favourite poet of mine speaks of doing just that – be like the fox, who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction- practice resurrection.
Practicing resurrection means being open to the possibility however slight it seems to be that our God is indeed the God who creates life out of death and calls into being what does not exist.
That just as that morning brought unexpected joy into the dark and grieving lives of the women who faithfully went to the tomb, God can bring light out of our darkness and new life where everything seems barren and full of despair. That seems like a truth worth holding onto, for ourselves and for our world. When we have run out of energy, of ideas, of solutions to offer, even of tears to cry; God’s resources are infinite, they can never be depleted, with our God there is always more.
Throughout our lives we experience death time and again, not just the death of those we love whose death alters our world forever, but death of hopes, death of dreams, death of promises. Not only that, but apart from these deaths over which we have no control, our faith calls us to continually die to the parts of ourselves which are holding us back, as we offer our lives to become transformed more and more into the life of Christ. if we would be changed from glory into glory as the hymn puts it, we cannot have the glory without the change, the dying to whatever it is we need to let go of.
To believe in this possibility is to practice resurrection and it is not always easy at all.
The resurrection stories remind us that when resurrection happens it is unexpected and unprepared for, therefore we have no control over what happens and how. They also remind us that for God no one is marginal or forgotten. Mary Magdalene plays a central part in all these stories but all else we know of her, is that she was possessed by seven demons- not the obvious choice for the key role. God choses her, and reminds us to pay attention not just to the unexpected event but to the marginal voices in our own lives.
The women were at first afraid and disorientated- understandably when reality turned out to be so much more than they had thought. But they responded to the angel’s instructions, they recognized the power of the Spirit and were ready to play their part in God’s plan.
God’s promise to us in the resurrection is this- Give me your failure, I will make life out of it. Give me your broken, disfigured, rejected and betrayed body, like the body you see hanging on the cross, and I will make life out of it. Give me the situations you do not think can be transformed, the problems that seem overwhelming and insoluble and I will make life out of them.
If like the women we can faithfully wait at the tomb, God can bring resurrection, unexpected and unlooked for in our lives. It will happen again and again as we practice dying to the old selves we inhabit on our journey and stepping into the new and unexpected life God has for us in Jesus.
And like Jesus, we will not be unmarked by death and by all the death dealing experiences of our lives. The community of the resurrection that the risen Jesus, marks of the nails still, visible gathers about him, is a community of the wounded. And just as the cross comes to mean hope and new life we will discover that as St. Augustine puts it, in my deepest wound I see your glory and it dazzles me.
Today as the community of the wounded people who practice resurrection in this place we are invited to God’s table-
• to be taken by Jesus, wounded as we are
• to be blessed by Jesus with all that He is and does
• to be broken so that new life can bloom from our broken places and to be given for the world
• with our own part to play in sharing the good news, just as the women did on the first day of the week.
As we gather together round the table I pray…