MATTHEW 28. 1-10
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’
The Easter festival is made-up of several different events: the intimate meal on Maundy Thursday with the sharing of the bread and wine and Jesus washing the feet of his disciples; the trial, the persecution, the crucifixion of Jesus outside the city on the Friday; the quiet of the Saturday, the Sabbath, when the world rested, albeit in a most peculiar way. For most people it was just another Saturday or Sabbath; it was the day that the world was desolate, but like the first Sabbath, the task was “finished” in time.
And then, as the women go to the tomb in the early morning, they discover the tomb is empty, the grave clothes left behind and Jesus is nowhere to be seen, (it seems!). It is our well-known story, yet I hope not well-worn.
For me this Lent has been dominated by the Ash Wednesday phrase – “Remember you are dust”. A diagnosis of cancer cuts through the facades very quickly, and fast-deteriorating health maybe even more so. We all have to face mortality, and for some this Lent has been a Lent of real grief and mourning, not just diagnosis. We are all fragile, mortal, human; BUT as we have followed Lent through we have met Nicodemus, who wanted to know about eternal life (He was a bit confused as we are often), and we have met Lazarus, and his sisters Mary and Martha, whose real grief at real mortality is changed to joy. Lazarus died and was buried, in his grave-clothes, just as Jesus would be; Lazarus was brought back to life, hence wrapped in grave-clothes, but Jesus was raised to new life, the life he tried to explain to Nicodemus, and the truth of his statement to Martha – “I am the Resurrection and the Life”.
I am writing this early this year as I don’t know how I will be feeling in the run-up to Easter: I have my first chemo session. Easter for me will not be a big celebration of feeling good and fit and joyous; it will be a quiet reminder that despite our mortalities and the cancers of body, soul, society and the world, new life is offered, new life is there for us – gifted to us at our baptisms – “the sign and seal of new birth” – but requiring us to accept this gift and live as those who believe in the Resurrection of the body, the Communion of Saints and the life everlasting.
Easter and new life is a gift for each of us to receive – not an automatic sprinkling system. This Easter do we rejoice to receive this gift, and do we nourish and delight in this gift. The cost of this gift is seen on Good Friday – the self-giving of God, in Jesus; it is seen on Maundy Thursday in Jesus washing the feet of his disciples; it is seen in Jesus sharing our earthly life, weeping with Mary and Martha (in their grief) at the sorrow within the world. God is not immune to the suffering and hardship.
The reality of this gift is seen on Easter Morning when Jesus greets a different Mary by name – not some big crowd event, but personal to her and so to each of us. The risen Jesus greets us each by name – because, as Ash Wednesday also reminded us, God is rich in mercy – and in that mercy, God offers me new life, not because I deserve it, but because God made me to find my fullness in him, God desires not the death of a sinner, but that all should find life. Hallelujah!