Lesley’s Easter Sermon

John 20:1-18

Mary Magdalene – the first person to discover the empty tomb – she along with some other women. Some believe that there were two bands of apostles – a group of men and a group of women, and that Mary Magdalene is a natural leader, like Peter is in the male group.

She comes with spices to anoint the body of Jesus and finds him gone. The stone is rolled away – he’s not there. She came to the tomb expecting a body – she didn’t get what Jesus was saying about him being resurrected and now the body has gone she still thinks he’s dead – obviously – just someone has moved him. What does she do? She goes to find her opposite number on the male disciples’ team.

Peter and John rush to the tomb. Peter goes in. The linen is still there but no Jesus. The blokes – they saw and believed. Apparently. Not sure entirely what they believed but they believed something and went home. Perhaps they caught the end of the match on telly – I don’t know. They didn’t seem to explain it to Mary.

Now Mary – she thought Jesus was dead when she set off, she thought he was dead when she saw the stone rolled away, she thought he was dead after the male disciples had showed up, clocked the empty tomb, believed and gone home to put their feet up. Perhaps they had tried to explain it to her – but she had been at the crucifixion – perhaps she was traumatised – perhaps she didn’t believe in people becoming undead.

Let’s just stop a minute and work out what we know about Mary – in history she has been conflated with other Marys and with the woman who washes the feet of Jesus with her tears and so she has ended up being considered to be a loose woman. However, modern scholarship says that there is no evidence that she is any of these other people. With the exception of Luke’s gospel she is only mentioned at the crucifixion and in the resurrection stories. Luke tells us that she had seven demons driven out of her and that she was one of the women supporting Jesus out of her own means.

Part of me still thinks that she was the woman anointing Jesus’ feet with her tears. I am drawn to that idea. That she anointed Jesus for burial once and then comes again with the oils. I am also attracted to the idea because although I don’t believe in demons in the sense of the mediaeval ones – I do believe in demons in the sense of those terrible imps that sit on our shoulders and whisper in our ears
“You are no good”
“You should be ashamed of yourself”
“People treat you like dirt because you are dirt”
“You need to be afraid.”

And these demons don’t multiply in easy times, they come and roost through trauma and pain – I believe that Mary had suffered much and even that she loved much because she had been forgiven much.

But now she wept outside the tomb – it was bad enough that they tortured and killed Jesus, now they had taken his body away and she didn’t know where they had put it… and when she had asked the only people she could think of for help, they had been no use at all.

Next she looks in the tomb and sees to angels sitting where Jesus had been laid and asking why she’s crying. Does she think they are angels? No – I don’t think so – she asks “where have you put Jesus”. Finally, lo and behold – Jesus himself turns up and does she recognise him? No – she thinks he’s the gardener.

“Mary” he says. And then she knows, and then she clings to him, and then she believes, really believes, deeply believes.

Here – in this story is our story. If you want to know what Christianity is then the resurrection is the place to find it. But let me take you on a little digression for the moment.

I don’t know about you, but in my mind and my heart is the knowledge that soon we will have a curate amongst us. Will I be preaching next Easter or will our curate? Will I be helping with the Good Friday Crafts or will she? What can I teach her, what will she learn from us, what will bless her that we do and say?

I also have that feeling inside – I don’t know if you know the one – when you meet someone who is expecting their first child. Inside you are saying to yourself “You have idea what you have done, your life is never, ever going to be the same. Ever. But I can’t tell you this because I will scare you.” Does anyone else recognise that feeling?

I have it about our curate – in June she will be given a small bit of white plastic that will change everything. I’ve been reflecting on what it is that is so fundamentally different about being a priest and I realised that it is mostly the expectations of others, and often the misunderstandings that people have about Christianity. Specifically:

• People think that Christians are in the business of judging others and considering themselves ‘holier than thou’.
• People think that Christianity is all about being good and not doing fun things so that you can have pie in the sky when you die.
• People think that to be a good Christian you have to have unwavering beliefs about a whole list of things – you have to believe at least six impossible things before breakfast.
• Only squeaky clean people who have never done anything wrong in life are Christians and no one else is welcome.
• People think that going to church is like frequent fliers miles and ensures preferential treatment on earth by being bumped up to Business Class where fewer bad things happen to you.

Now the result of all this is that once you wear a dog collar people expect you to judge them, they expect you to not swear, not be bound by the typical hardships of life, never to doubt anything, not to wake up in a bad mood, not to have ever done anything wrong and be totally focussed on everyone getting enough brownie points to get into heaven. It can get wearing at times!

None of these things have got anything to do with Christianity. Instead we have a woman, who doubts and doubts and doubts until she doubts so much she summons Jesus and then she still doubts until he calls her name.

And this woman… I believe she was intimately acquainted with the pain and hardship and humiliation and cruelty of life. I don’t believe that she was squeaky clean, I expect she had been cruelly used by people all of her life… and I believe that Jesus healed her of layers of pain…. Seven layers, perhaps.

We are the body of Christ – all of us, here today and we are the crucified Christ – in this church we know, between us, pain and humiliation and betrayal and fear… but we are also the resurrected Christ – you and me – we are resurrected such that those things are changing, like they were for Mary, changing and transforming, for us too, we are in this together, we are being resurrected together and as the resurrected Christ we are here to offer hands of healing to our broken world… scarred hand that bear the mark of the nails, but resurrected hands all the same. This is Christianity. This is our faith.

Christ has risen
He has risen indeed Alleluia.

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