‘Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!’ These words echo in many churches, in many congregations, in many languages throughout the world as we greet, with joy and celebration, the risen Christ on this most special of festivals. They have already said these words in Australia and New Zealand. They will have a particular poignancy for those Christians persecuted and chased out of their ancestral homes in Syria and Iraq. They will feed the faithfulness which gives energy to the dwindling numbers of Christians in Palestine, the land of Jesus’ birth and life. Hopefully, they will bring comfort to the families of those sixty-four people, many of whom were children, who were killed in the shopping-centre fire, in Siberia. Hopefully, too, they will bring hope and encouragement to the people of Salisbury that have been profoundly affected by the chemical weapons attack.
The message of Easter brings joy, hope, encouragement and comfort. And today, we join our voices to theirs, committing ourselves afresh to the Risen Christ.
However, according to St Mark it brings something else as well.. Let me remind you of what we heard:
Then (the women) went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Is it not incredible that the initial reaction to the greatest event in history is fear? It wasn’t as if the disciples were not warned that this would happen. There were a number of times that Jesus told his followers of his death and resurrection. Yet despite being forewarned about this, the first reaction to his rising again was fear: ‘Terror and amazement had seized them……..they were afraid’ are the words we heard. 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 we face the prospect of retirement or moving to a new home of a new job, then there may be a level of excitement, but there will also be fear. If we, or a loved one, become seriously ill, life changes and we are frequently confronted by fear and apprehension.
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 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 change, challenge and fear as well as comfort and 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 this beautifully decorated Church, but the Risen Jesus is constantly calling us forward, away from here to the ordinary places we live and work 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 of this building and in our ordinary lives. We have evidence here, but the proof of the resurrection is to be found elsewhere. It is the way in which we treat those who are special to us that is proof of the resurrection; it is, perhaps more so, in the way that we treat those whom we find hard to get on with; 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 in our communities and further afield; it is in the way we view life when the going gets tough. It is in all these places that the proof of the resurrection is to be found.
Easter is a marvellous celebration…..and it’s particularly special here, on Exmoor, this morning as we are surrounded by so many signs of new life. It can bring joy, hope and encouragement. However, the women at the tomb were frightened out of their wits showing that it can also bring change, challenge, terror and fear. Having celebrated the resurrection, which we do every Sunday, the next task is for us to go out from here, discover, point out and celebrate the presence of the Risen Christ in our ordinary day-to-day lives. That’s where the proof of the resurrection will be seen.
Alleluia! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Readings: Acts 10.34-43; Mark.16.1-8.
Sermon preached at St. John’s, Cutcombe, near Wheddon Cross, Exmoor, Somerset.
Image 2 –Sami Family (from Northern Europe) at Easter Celebrations taken by Mortson.
Image 3 – St. John’s, Cutcombe, Exmoor.