‘Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!’ These words are echoing today in many churches, in many congregations, in many languages throughout the world as we greet the risen Christ on this most special of festivals.
Some time ago I spent Holy Week and Easter at a monastery in Yorkshire. The monks started the celebrations for Easter Day in the middle of the night so that they could greet the resurrection at first light. When first light appeared and the resurrection was announced, the whole church erupted into celebration. Icons that had been covered were opened up, the bells were rung, there were crashing chords on the organ, the monks started blowing party whistles and ringing hand bells. It was great. But although it was very dramatic, the joy and laughter was a little bit synthetic, a bit gentil, not really very real. However, that changed when one of the monks became a bit too enthusiastic with his hand-bell and as he swung it, the clapper broke loose, whizzed across the sanctuary and hit the monk conducting the service on the head. Then there was real joy and real laughter, though the celebrant was a bit dazed by it all. However, according to St Mark, joy was not the first response to the resurrection. Let me remind you of what we heard:
Then (the women) went out and ran away from the tomb, beside themselves with terror. They said nothing to anybody, for they were afraid.
Isn’t that surprising?……Or is it so surprising? It is easy to forget that new life can be frightening. When a baby is born into a family, there may well be excitement at having this new, little life, but whether we admit it or not, there is also fear and apprehension as we realise that things will never be the same again. When we move into a new relationship, we may do so with excitement and happiness, but if we are to take the relationship seriously, there will at some level also be apprehension and fear as we realise things will have to be different. When a new Vicar comes to a parish, there will be change. So perhaps it’s not so surprising that the women at the tomb were afraid. Maybe they knew that if he had risen and if they were going to take Christ’s resurrection seriously, then things would have to change. Their lives, their understandings, their attitudes would be both comforted and challenged. The comfort was that the Jesus to whom they had committed themselves, the Jesus who had given them confidence, support and God’s love, really was who he said he was. The comfort was that not even death could defeat real life. The challenge was that they would need to work out and live out what this meant for their ordinary daily lives. If we’re going to take the resurrection seriously, it means challenge and fear as well as joy. No wonder they were afraid.
As they were coming to terms with the tomb with the stone rolled away, the women discovered not only had Jesus risen, but he had gone on ahead of them and he was calling his followers forward:
But go and give this message to his disciples and to Peter; ‘He is going on before you into Galilee; there you will see him as he told you.’
They didn’t see Jesus at the empty tomb – he was calling them forward. For Mark’s Gospel, the empty tomb was not proof of the resurrection, it was evidence of it. Jesus was calling his disciples forward to Galilee, to the place from which they had originally come, it was there that they would see him, this would be the proof of the resurrection. The evidence of the resurrection was the empty tomb, but the proof was to be found in the places and among the people with whom they were familiar. So too with us, we celebrate the resurrection in Church, but the Risen Jesus is constantly calling us forward, forward to the ordinary places both to find and to show Christ already at work there. We celebrate here, but we show that what we celebrate is true by the way that we live and work outside here in our ordinary lives. We have evidence here, but the proof of the resurrection is to be found in the way that we live our daily lives. It is the way in which we treat those who are special to us that is proof of the resurrection; it is in the way that we treat those whom we find difficult; it is in our attitude towards those who have disappointed us; it is in the way that we support those for whom life is difficult; it is in the way that we speak up for those who are being unfairly treated both at home and abroad. This will be the proof of the resurrection, as people see the followers of Christ Church Erith listening, deeply listening to the questions raised by our society and reinterpreting the good news that Christ brings to the questions of the 21st century. The proof of the resurrection will also be seen in the kind of community we are as Church – are we seen as a community of joy and celebration, open to God’s future, whatever it may be? It is these things that prove the resurrection for us and will prove it to those who meet us.
Easter is a marvellous celebration…..and it’s particularly special for us today. The monk conducting the Easter service in the monastery was dazed as a result (of the celebration), the women at the tomb were frightened out of their wits: new life as well as bringing joy, also brings apprehension and fear. Having celebrated the resurrection, which we do every Sunday, the next task is for us to go out from here and prove the presence of the Risen Christ in our ordinary day-to-day lives.
Alleluia! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Christ Church Erith. 8.iv.12.