Matthew 28 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 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. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 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.” 8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Easter, the most important day in the church year, the highest day of celebration. All over the world will be heard ‘Jesus is risen, Alleluia, he is risen indeed alleluia’. We can’t get enough alleluias on Easter day.. praise the Lord we say over and over and we feel a great infectious overwhelming joy.
Easter, the most important day in the church year, the highest day of celebration. All over the world will be heard ‘Jesus is risen, Alleluia, he is risen indeed alleluia’. We can’t get enough alleluias on Easter day… praise the Lord we say over and over and we feel a great infectious overwhelming joy.
My old vicar used to complain that people come to church on Palm Sunday and on Easter day, both days of celebration, and the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday get missed, and with it the point of Easter. Even in the passage today, we find the joy that I speak of but also the most extreme terror. We read of an earthquake and an angel who’s appearance was like lightening, who rolled back the stone and the guards were literally petrified – their terror was such that they became like dead men. They had a job to do – and they had completely lost control, their small world had been blown apart – they probably had plans and expectations about that day, they had weapons, they had authority, they were the might of the Roman Empire, and they were powerless, losing control even of their bodies.
And the women? It is hard to keep up with all the Mary’s in the New Testament – but we have here Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James, (neither of which are Mary the sister of Lazarus nor Mary the mother of Jesus). They had a sad job to do that morning – to anoint the body of their dear friend. That job was clearly impossible given the lack of body… so their emotions were mixed… fear given the terrifying experience they had just witnessed and great joy, that perhaps the one they loved so much had indeed risen and was not dead, joy that they might once again see him.
But what is the point of all this high emotion? Why did it all have to be so awful during Holy Week? Well, of course, I don’t know. What I do know is that in the mystery of it all I find healing and freedom. Let me tell you about the things that have affected me this Holy Week…
On Holy Monday we had an Easter Labyrinth up at St Mark’s. We walked a course, one after the other, stopping at ten different stations and considering the journey that Jesus took through Holy Week. I was asked to pick up a large stone and recognize heavy burdens that I was carrying, like the heaviness of the cross. I put the stone down at the foot of the cross and asked Jesus to carry it for me. With that acion was a great release. At the next station I was asked to pick up nails and remember that Jesus cried out “Father Forgive them, even in his great agony”. It is hard to forgive when we are still hurting, but we were invited to place down the nail as a sign of forgiveness. I was reminded that forgiveness is not an event, an action, but a state of mind and a state of the heart. It is all about loving others, my heart felt lighter.
On Maundy Thursday we had a service at St John’s where all the lights were on and Alan wore a bright white and gold chasuble and we remembered the New Commandment to love one another as Christ Loves us. As a symbol of that, and remembering Christ’s actions, Alan and I washed the feet of our fellow disciples. We then shared the meal of fellowship – communion – which was instigated on that very night at the Last Supper. But then the betrayal. The lights were all turned off, the church was stripped of all colour, the wood was laid bare on the altar, we took the left-over communion to the Lady Chapel and sat in silence and in darkness. One person after another slipped home – representing the scattering of the disciples, the disunity, the denial, the cowardice, the weakness that is within us all.
On Good Friday we met here at St George’s and spent an hour at the cross, considering some of the stations of the cross, hearing readings and seeing images. Each station led me into a greater understanding of the injustice, the pain, the horror of our Lord’s Passion, and the response of those around him on his journey. Christ’s own response was love, dignity, forgiveness and acceptance. Christ was carrying the cross for me in some mysterious way. Carrying it for all of us. And doing it willingly.
What could or should be my response? I was particularly moved by the repeated prayer by Saint Ignatius at the end of each mediation:
Dearest Jesus, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to love and serve you as you deserve,
To give and not to count the cost,
To fight and not to heed the wounds,
To toil and not to seek for rest
To labour and to look for no reward,
Except that of knowing that I do your Holy Will.
Finally, at the confirmation service last night we heard a reading from Paul – unless we die with Christ we cannot be raised with Christ. Unless we travel with Jesus into his death, into his pain and recognize within it our own pain and weaknesses and sinfulness then we will not be able to enter into Christ’s resurrection. Holy week is a wonderful way of doing that and each year it takes us deeper into the heart of God, if we let it.
So the joy we know isn’t just that one man once cheated death. No the joy is that for all of us we can overcome sin and pain and fear and all that is dark and instead know hope and love and joy in our lives today. We are Easter people and Halleluiah is our song.
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Jesus Raises Lazarus From the Dead
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days.”
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
How many English Heritage workers does it take to change a lightbulb?
Jesus came to change the world, and that is what I want to talk about today.
Today, we are celebrating All saint’s day. Sometimes people think of Saints as people with halos in stained glass windows. They aren’t. Saints in the bible are anyone who follows Jesus. Saints are you and me.
Sometimes people choose to celebrate the lives of those who have gone before us on All Saint’s day, but I prefer to do that at the All Soul’s. Jesus came to change the world, and the church, the disciples, the saints… us… we are the means through which Christ changes the world.
Incredible as that seems.
Sometimes people tell me that Christianity is about being nice.
Sometimes those of us in the Church can give others the impression that the church is all about me, and my comfortable worship space, and the people who make me comfortable.
But it isn’t.. Archbishop William Temple said:
“The Church is the only organisation that exists for the wellbeing and fraternity of its non-members”.
Of course the church exists to bring forward, to bring into existence the Kingdom of God. The place where Love, Joy, Peace exist. The place where people journey towards loving God and one another. The Good News that we offer is that there is a pathway towards light, and not darkness, towards life and not death, towards love and not hate.
This is dramatic, life-changing stuff. Which brings me to the Gospel passage.
Lazarus had been dead for four days. Jesus could have come sooner, but he didn’t. Martha’s words ring like an accusation, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
I guess anyone who has experienced grief has experienced that one.
She is talking about the past, but Jesus is very much in the present. I believe that the resurrection isn’t a historical event on Easter Sunday, it is something within us, we are an Easter people.
And so Jesus came to the tomb, the place of death and called out:
LAZARUS, COME OUT!
And so “The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
My old Bishop – Bishop Alan once spoke of the church like the figure of Lazarus – we are brought back to life by the power of Jesus – struggling towards the light, covered in grave clothes, staggering, hampered…
I was a lecturer at New College in Oxford and there was a sculpture of Lazarus by Henry More. A huge thing, grave clothes draped around this half dead, half alive body, head at some rather alarming angle, like some sort of zombie. I rather hated it, if I am honest. But since listening to my Bishop I have become more at peace with it. Yes, of course we are half dead, but we are struggling away from that and towards the light.
It reminds me of a quote from Howard Thurman
Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who are alive.
So for you, for me, for us,
Where is the life?
Where is the fire?
And let us get unbound and let go. I can almost imagine Jesus laughing – for goodness sake let’s take all those bindings off and let poor old Lazarus free.
What is binding us? Individually or as a church?
Unbind our prejudices and let us go with a new view of others.
Unbind our tiredness and let us go refreshed.
Unbind our thinking that the glory days are behind and let us go into a new vitality.
Unbind our fearfulness and let us go trusting God.
Unbind our smallnesses and let us go thinking big.
Unbind our hearts where love stops short and let us go to love everyone.
Unbind us, and let us go.