Sunday 4th April 2021
Although we have been able to resume public worship not everyone is able to attend so this service was streamed live on YouTube and is still available now. This was the first streamed service from St Chad’s and this was also the first Sunday since March 2020 for which we had not produced a pre-recorded service. The service can be found here.
Lent 5 – Easter Day
Revd Preb Maureen Hobbs
Who here (or at home?) is looking forward to their first Easter Egg? Who has already had their first Easter Egg? (more than one???) Wow! Yes, lots of us enjoy the thought of chocolate today – especially perhaps if you have been strong-minded enough to deny yourself a taste all Lent long…. (which I confess, I am not!) But then we have all been deprived of rather a lot this past year, so I would not be too harsh on yourself if, like me, you could not resist at least an occasional taste of chocolate (or whatever else is your favourite treat) during Lent. For my dog, Suzie, it would be liver cake which she absolutely adores – no accounting for doggy taste! But then chocolate is very poisonous for dogs, so do keep it well away from your lovely pooches!
Back to eggs. Have you ever thought what it must be like to be inside an egg? Actually all animal life starts that way, with an egg which has to be fertilised before developing into an embryo. But none of us can remember what that felt like…. But if you think about it, it must be rather dark and cramped – just like the tomb must have been for Jesus.
Inside the tomb it is perpetually Good Friday… sad and despondent. But on that first Easter Day, the tomb proved too cramped and too confining for Jesus to stay there. And bursting out – much like you will crack the shell of your Easter Egg today, Jesus emerges to stand with us now and for ever.
Not that anyone actually saw that moment happen – not the soldiers who were either sleeping or had fainted in fear. Not Mary or the other women, who had yet to arrive. The actual moment of resurrection is a private one – just between God. All that excitement and joy which for a few hours God keeps to Godself. And just as we may start by keeping the chocolate for ourselves at first… there comes a point when you cannot help but want to share it around… No?
On Easter Day I like to focus on Mary’s story. Partly to remind myself that it was to a woman that Jesus chose to show himself first of all. And the first person to say ‘I have seen the Lord – he has arisen!’ was a woman. Even if she was sadly not at first believed! When Mary arrived in the Garden the resurrection had already happened, but she did not know it. She was still trapped in her own Good Friday and to her it must have felt like it was still happening. Even when she first discovers the tomb empty, the great stone sealing it rolled away and the grave clothes folded up, her first thought is not “Oh, Jesus has arisen.” But “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” So she asks the Gardener (who she hopes has witnessed the events of the night) to tell her what he has seen.
And that’s it – we cannot remain stuck in Good Friday – or at least, we should not. But I suspect that too many people do.
Social Media on Friday was full of the rather unhelpful tweet from Professor Alice Roberts, who I have always quite enjoyed as a TV presenter of scientific programmes, that “Dead people don’t come back to life.” Of course to post this on Good Friday was a calculated insult to Christians of every variety and it sparked a predictably vigorous response from many. I did not feel moved to join in the online arguments that followed. But I did feel a sense of profound pity for her. First that she thought it clever to do such a thing, but also that she is stuck in a Good Friday of her own making…. So presumably no Easter Egg for Alice!.. And it is not true that scientists in general take an anti-faith stance. You may have seen one of the professors behind the Astra Zeneca vaccine being interviewed on Songs of Praise a week or so ago and saying how important prayer is to him.
And it is not that Christians are naive enough to believe that death is not a very real thing and something we will all, in our turn, experience. It is just that we no longer consider that death is our final destination. Rather it is a stage through which we pass and, as another Twitter authority (Revd. Richard Coles) put it we proclaim the resurrection not to refute a biological truth, but as an expression of faith in the power of God, which is measureless.
My life at present is becoming dominated by last things…. The last time I will celebrate Easter at this altar and with you all; the last time reaffirming my ordination vows in this diocese … my last few weeks as a vicar coming up! You get the picture.
And at first glance we might think that Easter is about last things too. – The last supper; the last words from the cross, the last commandment (to love one another as I have loved you).
But Easter is not about looking back – which is what we human beings are so keen on doing! That would be to live in an endless Good Friday….
God does not live in the past but God is always looking to and anticipating the future!
If resurrection is about anything, it must be about brand new beginnings. “Past put behind us, for the future make us” as the hymn puts it. Whatever has happened in the past is over and done with – for good and for ill. God allows us to put it all behind us and promises us a perpetual fresh start with him. Forgiveness is what he wants to give us, not regrets and recriminations. And when we accept that, is when the resurrection begins to dawn in our hearts too.
When we read Mary’s story we can tell the exact moment it happened for her – it’s when Jesus calls her name and she finally realises who it is standing before her. Suddenly all the sadness is turned to joy. Mary’s Good Friday is gone – shattered – once and for all, like the shell of an egg, and the new life is set free in her.
May that be your experience this Easter and for ever more.
Christ is risen. Alleluia! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!