Walk this Way!

Address for Easter Morning 2021

John 20: 1 0- 18

One of the consequences of lockdown has been a huge increase in walking – more people going out on foot; and those who always did, walking more often.
That has been good for us, and our general health – if not always for the pathways: where too many walkers sometimes destroy crops or churn up mud.

And if you do go out walking, you will see a variety of styles among your fellow walkers – the seasoned and purposeful walkers in appropriate clothing, the dog-walkers programmed to familiar routes (and sometimes with the dog seemingly in charge).
You may see parents and children, or husband and wife – where one party is evidently more enthusiastic than the other – and the unvoiced question “whose idea was this?” hanging in the air.
And the way people walk – the body language they transmit – can tell us a lot about how they’re feeling.

When I was small, it was quite normal to see a mother heading off, on foot, to the local shops with her child trailing behind (almost walking in circles) and making it quite clear that this was not where they wished to go! Eventually there’d be an exasperated cry of “stop dawdling!”) and the child, head up, would suddenly put on a turn of speed for about a minute, before resorting to the same delaying tactics.

By the time he reached school age – if it was a “he” – said child would have perfected the art of “trudging” – hand in pockets – and mentally putting off the vision of the school gates, and all that lies beyond: very different from the way he headed home at the end of the day!

As a teenager, they’d probably adopted either the confident swagger of someone who wants to be noticed – OR the head-down “glide” of someone who would much rather be invisible, than in the spot light.
And pretty much all of those traits then translated into the joys and pressures of the adult world of interviews, work, parenthood, family gatherings and all the rest!

There’s a lot of moving around in story of Easter morning. And I wondered what we might draw out from this episode.

First, Mary Magdalen went to the tomb – we’re not told how. We might imagine her rather anxiously creeping through the garden, not sure who else might be around; or moving slowly, with the desolate trudge of someone who really doesn’t want to see the sight she has imagined there.
But when she reaches the tomb,
and sees the stone removed,
we’re told clearly that she ran to the 2 disciples. Perhaps she fled in terror or perhaps it was excitement – she just had to get them to come and see.

And the disciples, when they hear what she has to tell them, both begin running as well.
Clearly they did want to see for themselves whatever had happened there – but perhaps there’s more.

The disciple whom Jesus loved (we don’t know his name for sure) – he outruns Peter – desperate to get there. And I suspect that turn of speed betrays more than just his curiosity – he has to know what someone has done to his friend.

And, when they have both seen the empty tomb, they “went” back to where they were staying. Again we’re not told how they moved, but they were no longer running – perhaps they just thought the grave had been robbed and went with a dispirited trudge – or perhaps they couldn’t quite make sense of what they’d just seen, and wandered back in a daze.

And then Mary is left alone to encounter the risen Christ – the beloved Jesus whom she’d expected to find IN the tomb. And, when she has finally recognised him, it’s clear that she moves to him, because he tells her not to hold him: he IS the person she’s looking for, he confirms, but he’s no longer the man he was. Something has changed in this new life beyond the grave.
And then she goes again to the disciples and tells them boldly “I have seen the Lord”. And perhaps we imagine her moving now with confident stride – determined to share with them what she has found.

From all of that moving around, we can sense a mixture of emotions:
grief; anxiety; longing; hope; amazement.
And in more ways than one, the story of Easter Morning seems to resonate with the place in which we now find ourselves.

During the past year, it seems to me, all of those emotions have taken hold of us at various points –
grief at what has been lost; anxiety at what might be coming next; longing for those people and those places we’re not able to see;
hope with each new beginning
and amazement at the speed of progress.

And now it feels as if there is new life ahead of us –
as restrictions on us are gradually lifted
and more things become available to us.
Perhaps we might be eagerly anticipating a change of scene; or some proper retail therapy, as most shops open again, or maybe just a decent haircut!

In any case, there are new opportunities ahead, provided we don’t mess things up.

Progress is not inevitable, sadly.
Along with new freedoms this week – we’ve seen some of the worst aspects of human nature:
the selfishness that led some to think it’s OK to litter parks and beaches they’ve enjoyed, with rubbish as far as the eye can see.

And there IS always the danger that selfishness becomes recklessness, which could cause infection rates start to rise again – and threatening our precious new life.

And there is the final thread of the Easter story – we have to choose to embrace that new life and to use it well.
To walk in the light of Christ means rejecting what we recognise to be selfish and evil and defending all that what we see is good, and loving and life-giving.
And that may mean exercising restraint, when our actions might harm someone else. And it means being bold in challenging others, when we see the danger signs.

And so, perhaps we should approach the future with neither a headlong charge nor an anxious trudge, but with a confident stride – taking note of the changing landscape around us.

We can’t allow ourselves to be paralyzed by the hardships of the past year –
as if standing, weeping at the tomb.

We can no longer hold on to the way things were,
any more than Mary could hold onto the old Jesus.

Christ calls us onwards –
to learn from what we’ve been through,
to recognise what was not good in the things that we used to call “normal”, and to do things better now.

He invites us to be an Easter People – filled with the joy and hope and strength of his new life.

Let us celebrate all the signs of new life around us.

And as we stride out into each new day,
let’s commit ourselves again and again,
to safeguarding that precious life
for all our neighbours.