The Rt Revd Richard Chartres
Gospel Reading: John XX.11-18
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!
ON the Day of Resurrection, Mary had been drawn to the tomb, the place of death. The tomb was empty and no one, in ancient times, disputed that it was empty, although there were various theories about why it was so. Mary was weeping: “they have taken away my Lord”. She was looking towards the past at blessed hours spent in the company of Jesus, and at all the hopes that had perished on the cross.
But then she turned round. She turned in a different direction. In John’s Gospel, every movement is significant. By the time he had composed his account of Jesus’s life, death and resurrection, John had been meditating for many years on the meaning of these events. By narrating them again and again, inspired by the Holy Spirit, he had penetrated the surface of the story and uncovered the depths. Mary turned round and “saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus”.
The resurrection event obviously did not involve some resuscitated corpse, like the body of Jesus’s friend Lazarus that emerged after four days in the tomb. The raising of Lazarus is the climax in John’s account of the signs which Jesus performed during his earthly ministry. The Resurrection is significantly different. It is not the restoration of an old world or the resuscitation of a corpse but the breaking-in of something new.
Jesus asks Mary, “why are you weeping –- for whom are you looking?” There are various themes in John’s gospel which are repeated and developed, much like music. The very first words we hear from Jesus are addressed to the men who would become his first disciples: “What are you looking for?” Now, in this conversation with Mary, we see that the truth we are seeking is not so much ideas in the mind but rather what we discover in relationship with a person. “Who are we looking for?”
He calls her Mary. God “calls [us] by name”, as it says in the Confirmation service. By naming Mary, he opens her eyes and she turns once again.
Her eyes are open, but not fully, because she then calls him “Rabbouni”, an affectionate diminutive of rabbi — teacher. It is a word from the old life, and Jesus asks her not to cling to him as he was, because Resurrection brings into being a new reality. It is not any resuscitation of the old life. It is an earthquake, a new creation.
This new reality explains the transformation of the friends of Jesus. They had been so full of fear when he was arrested that they had all forsaken him and fled. After the resurrection, they were transformed into a world-converting community. After the empty tomb and the appearances of the transformed body, they were prepared to defy death rather than deny the truth of what they had witnessed.
In our day, we tend to ask questions about the resurrection as if it were simply a past event. Even if someone had taken a photograph of the actual moment, it is part of the “flatland” thinking that is second nature to us, only to be able to regard the resurrection as something past and separate from us. At best, we translate it into some inoffensive metaphor describing an inner emotional state in which winter gives way to spring.
In divine reality, of course, the world of individual bodies and separate events is embedded in a vast continuum in which body, mind and soul are interpenetrated by the Eternal Spirit. What God creates is not destroyed but is re-created and transformed.
The message that Mary was to communicate to the other friends of Jesus is, “Say to my brethren that I ascend to my Father and your Father and my God and your God”.
The earthquake of the resurrection opened a fissure in earth-time through which God’s future could stream into the world. We can be a part of this future by water and the spirit; being immersed in his death in baptism, and receiving the gift of the Spirit. In the Spirit, which makes the risen Christ present to us, which reveals the truth in a person –- the human face of God — we discover that life in all its fullness comes not as we hoard up ourselves and set our hopes of happiness on accumulating things but when, in the power of his Spirit, we give up ourselves to one another and so bring into being a new world of possibility.
God so loved the world that he was generous and gave himself to us in the person of his human face, Jesus. Love for God is not so much an emotion as self-giving and generosity. Self-giving in the power of the Spirit is transformative. This has been proved experientially in the lives of the saints, those who — as St Peter said – “did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead”.
The day of resurrection has dawned, even as we practise social distancing in our own private spaces. It is accomplished. But the resurrection itself is also happening, and the resurrection is full of future hope in a world where we have only just begun to learn how to speak the language of humanity as God intends.
Being a Christian is not buying into a package of ideas about God; it is not signing up as a member of the churchy equivalent of the National Trust to preserve the memory of Jesus. It is immersing oneself in the power of the Spirit in a new creation.
Being a baptised and confirmed Christian means entering a new set of relationships in a transforming community, empowered and energized by the Holy Spirit, who is at work bringing into being the future that God intends.
This morning, as we are locked down in our virtual Galilees, we are all being called to be lively members of God’s transforming community. We are to be ready to spring from our locked rooms at a time of great promise and peril. Our very complex world is menaced by natural disaster and lethal hatred masquerading under the mask of religion. Alone, we can feel immobilized. What can we do against such huge threats? But as members of the spirit-filled, transforming community that the church is called to be, there is nothing that is impossible as we work together to enlarge that fissure through which God’s future is streaming.
As we cherish one another, making one another our work of art without oppressing anyone with our demands; as we own up to our weaknesses and needs, we begin to participate in the great dynamic of the love which is eternally exchanged between the Father and the Son through the Spirit. We become seized by invincible hope.
This morning we are not entertaining some idea but participating in a living reality. Alleluia! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!