Rev. Elaine Graham
Hallelujah! Christ is Risen!
It is time to celebrate, death has lost its sting! It is a time of great joy and thanksgiving.
It is a bit of a challenge for us to rejoice and celebrate over Zoom but celebrate we will.
I am sad that we are not together in person to pass the peace of Christ, to hear the choir sing, and to join together for coffee following worship, but someday we will do that, and I look forward to that celebration.
But today we celebrate Easter. The Risen Christ lives! Hallelujah!
The events of Easter are the foundation and key to our faith and our hope; it is central to everything that Jesus taught concerning himself and the Kingdom of God. It is central to everything that the church has proclaimed since the day that Jesus ascended into heaven. Easter Day is a day of joy and celebration.
But the first Easter began on a very different note.
In this morning’s gospel reading we have Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene, a disciple of Jesus, going to the tomb to prepare the body of Jesus for burial. The sun would have been rising as they approached the tomb; it would have been very quiet and I imagine that the sadness, the disbelief and the horror of the previous three days would have hung heavy in the air. I imagine the women walking slowly, their heads hung low, their eyes sore from their tears and their hearts filled with pain and sorrow.
And just as the women approached the tomb, scripture tells us that there was an earthquake. I imagine the two women holding onto one another, weary and frightened, wondering what in the world was going to happen now. We read in the gospel of John that the guards were so frightened by the earthquake that they ‘became like dead men’.
And it is in the moment of the ground literally shaking beneath them that an angel appears to the women and speaks to them saying ‘do not be afraid’.
The truth is that the women at the tomb had more to fear than just an earthquake, like the disciples and all who had followed Jesus, they had much to be afraid of. Their beloved son, teacher and friend had been murdered; their very association with Christ put them at risk with the authorities.
The Roman Empire was comprised of people who appeared to be ruthless, cruel, unjust and all-powerful. Knowing Jesus was enough information for the authorities to throw someone into jail; following Jesus was enough information for the authorities to put someone to death. Everyone who was connected with Jesus had much to fear.
Anyone who has dealt with fear will tell you that real fear has the ability to shut people down and to break people’s spirits.
Fear can eat away at one's self-confidence.
Fear can dis-empower people and fear can certainly silence people.
For the followers of Jesus, this fear had the potential to put an end to the Christian story and all of the crucial work that Jesus had done – and at this moment of time, they would have been extremely fearful.
And then comes a message from God: ‘do not be afraid.’
Had these words come from anyone else they would have had very little meaning. But these words spoken by the angel were words from God – words that held great comfort and great love.
Imagine Mary, the mother of Jesus, her surprise and her confusion as she heard the very words that the angel Gabriel had spoken to her when she was told that she was with child.
We hear these words every Advent: ‘do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favour with God.’
Mary’s previous experience with the angel and these words must have been a wonderful comfort for her during this time of deep sorrow and despair. Mary had the advantage here, she had heard and lived these words before and she knew them to be true. There was no need to be afraid for God was with her and she was not alone in whatever was ahead of her. In that moment, Mary’s fear turns to joy.
There was no need to be afraid, for the resurrection was true. Jesus had been raised from death! With the resurrection, death loses its sting and the world becomes a place filled with hope, not fear, as all believers receive the gift of life everlasting.
But the resurrection is much more than an assurance of life everlasting.
The resurrection of the crucified Christ is the foundation of our Christian faith. Had the resurrection not occurred we would not be gathered here this morning.
Had the resurrection not occurred we would not have the writings of the New Testament. Jesus would be a historical figure that we would have learned about possibly in school or on the biography channel.
We would know him as a great teacher, one who tried to change the world, one who claimed to be the Son of God and one who had failed.
The resurrection of the crucified Christ gives glory to God and his son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with God.
The resurrection is God’s sign, telling us that even in the darkest times God is with us, with us in love, with us in strength and with us in hope – and we need not be afraid.
The resurrection of the crucified Christ enables us to hope for transformation in our personal lives, it makes room for hope of transformation in our communities and all of creation.
When God raised Jesus from death, God was showing us that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God.
Totally grounded in Christ, we learn to expect the unexpected from God: we look for life out of death, hope out of despair, joy out of sorrow. And not only do we look for the unexpected, but we are empowered to do the unexpected - to go where life is otherwise hopeless and recall God's promises to others.
The women at the tomb did not expect anything out of the ordinary to happen when they arrived at the tomb of Jesus. But their faithfulness to the task of honouring their dead put them at the centre of a life-changing event.
God met them in their love and their faithfulness. And in that moment their lives change; their faith was renewed and their fear eliminated.
And then within moments of receiving the good news from the angel, the women met Jesus. Imagine the joy and the light-heartedness that they must have felt. What a spectacular reunion that would have been.
And then Jesus gives them further instructions, “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.“
Go and tell - Jesus wants the world to know that he has been raised from the dead.
Throughout the scriptures, we hear Jesus telling people not to tell of his wondrous deeds, but that is no longer the case. Jesus has commanded the women, and us, to go and tell.
The women went no longer in fear but in faith. And Jesus carries us from fear to faith by his promise; He is alive.
There is great comfort and peace for us when we embrace and live in the light of all that the resurrection promises us – the promise of life everlasting – the promise that one day we will be with God and all who have gone before us – And until that day we are called to seek the resurrected Christ in our daily lives, through our experiences with others and their experiences with us.
And we do this by following the teachings of Jesus.
Jesus taught us by his example to love and respect all people - to live peacefully with one another – to honour and respect the dignity of every person and every creature here on earth.
Jesus taught us that it is our responsibility to care for the poor, the weak, the lonely and the isolated. Jesus taught us that when we do this for the least among us we do it to him. So as we go forward into the Easter Season let us be as Christ in our thoughts, our words and our actions - let us be bold in our faith – let us go into the world living and telling the good news!
Jesus Christ is risen today!
Christ has risen indeed!