A sermon for Easter Day 2020

Easter Day Sunday 12th April 2020   Year A

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene, acme to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.” John 20:1

So begins John’s gospel account of Jesus’ resurrection. Most of the attention is focused on what happened once Mary Magdalene realised that the tomb was open. How she ran to get the disciples and how she encountered the risen Jesus in the garden. It is exciting but have you ever considered to time before Mary Magdalene discovered that the tomb was open and Jesus was alive?

Mary Magdalene and the disciples were the first to encounter the risen Jesus but as far as we know were was NO witness to the actual point of Jesus’ resurrection! For the resurrection happened inside the sealed tomb. in the darkness of the cave from which the tomb was hewn! To quote the theologian Barbara Brown Taylor:

“Everyone who saw the risen Jesus saw him after (the resurrection). Whatever happened in the cave happened in the dark.”

      From ‘Learning to walk in the dark’  P.129

When I re-read Brown-Taylor’s words recently I was struck by the similarity between Jesus resurrection and his birth. Jesus was born in a stable or more likely a cave used as a stable. Caves made the best stables in Palestine 2000 odd years ago; they had no draughty corners and were warm and secure on three sides from attack. The tomb was also a cave. Both of these caves today are covered in elaborate church structures. The Caves are still there, though offering their protection to the holy and sacred sites.

There is, I think, also a parallel to be drawn between the darkness of the tomb and the process of Jesus’ re-birth and the Virgin’s womb and his birth as a baby. Both the tomb and the womb are dark and protective spaces and until relatively recently little was known, let alone seen, of what actually went on in the womb during pregnancy.

Today we can see in to the womb and glimpse the developing child. I have been awe-struck by the ultra-sound images of my grandchildren and great nieces and nephews. Jeremiah’s words have never seemed so true:

“ I knew you in the womb be for I formed you.”           Jeremiah 1:5

Every time I see the next generation issuing from my sons, niece and nephew I realise how much I have loved those grands and greats from first seeing their scans. the womb is now a less mysterious space but the process of life is NO less amazing!

The process of Jesus’ second birth, his resurrection is just as amazing as the prices of his conception and birth. So amazing, in fact, that we cannot ever fully comprehend it. We do perhaps get glimpses of this process from those who have ‘died’ and have been resuscitated - my William for a start! It took a significant amount of energy to bring him back and that was pretty soon after a cardiac event. How much more power and energy did it take to restore Jesus to life after three days? God alone knows!

Actually, I am quite glad that it is only God who knows how resurrection happened. Resurrection is meant to be a mystery, something we ponder on and pray about NOT something we explain away and ultimately ignore. It is meant to be sometime that inspire us and encourages us to look for the glimpses of new life, re-birth and resurrection in our own lives.

We all do experience resurrection - those times when our lives change unexpectedly and hopefully for the better. Times when our health improves or we recover from something; times when we learn to something that we were unable to do before and those times when we fall in love. We often don’t see those times coming but when they do arrive they can change us and bring us great joy.

We don’t usually see them coming as they tend to ‘develop in the dark’ unknown or unseen. Yet their power can be amazing, just like Jesus’ resurrection today.

Today is nothing short of a miracle. Do not try to explain it away let what went on in the dark of the tomb fascinate you and let it live in you. Rejoice in it and let its celebration of new life permeate your whole being and bring you new life too. Barbara Brown-Taylor goes on to say:

“Whatever happened in the cave happened in the dark. … As many years as I have been listening to Easter sermons I have never heard anyone talk about that part. Resurrection is always announced with Easter lilies, the sound of trumpets, bright streaming light. But it did not happen that way. If it happened in a cave, it happened in complete silence, in absolute darkness, with the smell of damp stone and dug earth in the air. … I let this sink in: new life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark. …”            P.129

In the light and brightness of this Easter Day; a very strange Easter Day with our churches closed and the world locked down to resist the Covid19 pandemic; we still need to celebrate the darkness of the tomb, for like the darkness of the womb it brought forth new life. If anything else today tells us that the darkness is not something to be afraid of because it is something that leads to the light.

The last few weeks have seen some dark times but the light is there and we are being led forward into its brightness. This is what Jesus’ resurrection teaches us. There is always light and hope and we will always come though dark times into brighter days. It may be a tough and agonising journey but Jesus will be with us and God will be surrounding us even if we are unaware of his presence at the time.

‘Alleluia! He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Amen.