Sermon for Easter Sunday
Holy Cross Palermo, April 8 AD 2012
Exodus 12:21-28 Colossians 3:1-11 John 20:1-10
THE first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early,
when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre,
and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.
This morning, our Gospel appointed for Easter does not report on the appearance of the risen Jesus, but merely on the empty tomb. It was the moment of first belief in the Resurrection of Jesus.
Today, as with those first disciples, we are being encouraged to believe in Him whose risen body we have not seen. We are to marvel at the empty tomb. And remember our Lord’s words to Thomas, Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. (Williams)
Then she ran, and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. So they ran both together … For as yet they knew not the Scripture, that he must rise again from the dead.
All of them in deep grief, in a state of shock, unable to comprehend the horrors of the Cross they had witnessed only two days before. Yet another indignity? Grave robbers? And yet Peter and John ran when Mary came to them – surely, the Holy Spirit speaking in their hearts, even while they ran, the faintest whisper of the truth as they could bear it, breathing ever so carefully on the dull embers to rekindle hope, preparing them for the sight of the empty tomb, and its significance.
And the other disciple [John is referring to himself] did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre; and he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. Then came Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and saw the linen clothes lie; and the napkin that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.
Not the work of robbers, why would they leave the cloths? Why would the napkin about his head be wrapped and in a place by itself? The Holy Spirit perhaps bringing to their minds now the words Jesus spoke again and again of his promised resurrection while he was with them, remembered, but not received until now in their hearts.
Then went in also that other disciple [again, this is John speaking about himself] which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed.
No trumpets are needed, no whole host of heaven, a still small voice, the light coming on, the first candle lit. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness overcometh it not. [John 1:4]
Blessed are [we this day] that have not seen, and yet have believed.
The empty tomb.
Why was Mary Magdalene there keeping vigil? Why is she the first person in the world to whom our Lord would soon after choose to reveal himself, in the garden?
Luke and Mark describe Mary Magdalene as the woman from whom Jesus had cast out seven devils. She had a great appetite for life, and yet, apart from God, that great desire had only led her into great bondage. She was troubled by every passion and it had led her to the gates of death. St Paul lists several ways we can find ourselves bound: fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence (which has been described as “a ruinous disharmony at the core of a person”), and covetousness, which is idolatry (always wanting more earthly possessions)… wrath, anger, malice, slander, and filthy talk. (things which we can begin to actually enjoy) …For which things' sake, says St. Paul, the wrath of God comes on the children of disobedience. When we lose ourselves in these things, God leaves us to discover how empty are their promises – this is how he expresses his wrath.
Mary Magdalene, sweet Mary, knew hell and had been delivered by her Lord – her soul had been swept clean of seven devils – cleaned, but maybe still like an empty tomb. She knew the grace of forgiveness, and she had mortified, put to death, her members which are upon the earth, she knew the power of the Cross, but did she yet know the Resurrection life? If she were alive to Christ, would she have sought his body with mourning, would she have been fixed upon the earthly object of His presence?
What about us?
We have gone to the Cross, we have begun to mortify our members which are upon the earth – we are less and less white-washed tombs filled with dead men’s bones. And when we have confessed our sin, when we have received forgiveness, are we just empty tombs? Are we stuck, forgiven at the foot of the Cross, but not yet alive to Christ?
IF ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.
If you have undertaken some sort of fast during Lent – its purpose was to be engaged in this process of turning our minds and our hearts from the earthly to the heavenly – to come to see that we truly live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. We can now return to those earthly consolations, but, if our fast has been effective, we see these things in a new light, a Resurrection light. When we receive earthly consolations, they do not to put an end to the desire at the heart of our being. We see earthly consolations not as an end in themselves – we see also more clearly that what we desire is God and we come to love all earthly things in God.
Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, [we don’t find our life in earthly ends but in God] and your life is hid with Christ in God.
Finally, a few words about the resurrection of the body. A great preacher said:
“The resurrection of Christ was not a return to mortal body. It was not resuscitation, as with Lazarus; nor was it the escape of immortal soul. It was the transformation of body, the reconciliation of flesh and spirit. The Risen Lord was not a ghost: "A spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me have." (Luke 24.39) The disciples were incredulous. Clearly, in spite of what Jesus had said, the disciples expected no such thing. They hoped to embalm his body, and preserve it as a sacred relic. Their immediate reaction to the resurrection was fear and dismay. They knew the limits of the possible. "Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe," said Thomas. (John 20.25) But they saw, and they believed, and their lives became a witness to the resurrection.” [Crouse]
For many people today, the resurrection story seems not quite credible. "We would accept more readily a more 'spiritual' salvation. Men die, but their ideals live on. …We live on in our descendants, and find in that a kind of spiritual immortality". [Crouse] I’ve even heard this preached at Christian funerals – to the Church's shame! this is not the Christian teaching on the Resurrection.
That kind of living on into the future has a terrible emptiness about it, an incompleteness and inconclusiveness. Do you know anything about your great great grandparents? And besides the lack of immortality in such a notion, we know the goodness of being embodied, and how could heaven be better without our senses transformed, made perfect? How could heaven be better without an embodied loved one to embrace, or if there was no cheek to kiss?
The Bible's teaching on the Resurrection speaks of the wholeness of man's salvation in Christ, which must include the redemption of the body. It must involve a redemption in which nothing can finally be lost except for sin. [Crouse] Our longing is not to be unclothed, but to be clothed upon. (2 Corinthians 5.4) St. Paul says, "If the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you."
How we are transformed is beyond all explanation - but Jesus showed the disciples something of that Resurrection body - he could appear and disappear, he could pass through walls, he ate before them a piece of fish and an honeycomb. "We know not what we shall be, but we shall be like him." (1 John 3.2) "God has established resurrection in Christ, and what is Christ's belongs to those who are his." [Crouse]
"For our citizenship is in heaven, from whence we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself." (Philippians 3.20-21)
Christ is risen! And we will rise in him!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
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