22 March 2008

Easter and the joys of the Resurrection

Patrick Comerford

Acts 10: 34-43; Colossians 3: 1-4; John 20: 1-18.

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

How many of you find it difficult to get up early in the morning?

I used to find it difficult to get up early on two different types of mornings. There were those mornings when I was a schoolboy and I knew I hadn't done my homework. I found it difficult not so much to wake up as to get up: to face up to my responsibilities, and to take the consequences of not meeting my own responsibilities.

And there were those mornings I found it difficult to get up because I had been allowed to stay up too late the night before. I wasn’t in trouble, but my body sure was.

But, looking back on my childhood, there were mornings when it wasn’t difficult to wake up early in the morning at all. What about you?

● Christmas morning was an easy morning to wake up early. Perhaps looking for Santa’s presents. It was exciting. There was a lot to look forward too.
● Your birthday: birthdays are always full of surprises when you're young and full of life.
● The morning of a big football or hockey match, or a music competition you had entered: and your stomach was full of butterflies.
● There was the morning when we were starting our holidays: when I was at the beginning of an exciting time, setting off on a journey, somewhere wonderful where I knew it was going to be exciting and I was going to have a great time.

And then there are times of sadness, times when you’ve slept uneasily because of what's ahead:

● Being woken up in the dark, fearing what’s happening outside, or even in the house inside, and not being able to get back to sleep, wondering and worrying about what has happened.
● Before going into hospital to have a test or an operation.
● The night before a funeral, especially the funeral of someone we love and who has been close to us.

These are sad times to remember, although years later we’re glad those doctors operated, glad to look back with fond memories on members of our family long after they’ve died.

In our Gospel reading this morning, we are told how the women in the story were up while it was still dark, long before morning would break. It was Passover. But their reasons for being awake while it was still dark and for rising early are not because of any holiday excitement or expectation. They couldn’t sleep the night before because someone very precious – the most important person in their lives – had died.

And yet this story moves from one that begins with being one of the saddest reasons for getting up so early, to being one of the most joyful reasons for being up early in the morning.

At the beginning, it’s as though they were going through the worst time in their lives.

But then the story suddenly changes. It’s as though all their Christmases, all their birthdays and all their holidays had come together, and much, much more.

Jesus has died, died in the most awful way, late on Friday, and he was buried late on Friday evening, just as it was getting dark.

Then, Saturday was a day when no-one in the Jewish world could do anything. You couldn’t open the fridge, turn on the light, cook the dinner. They had to wait until early on Sunday morning to go and sort out things at the grave.

Well, they didn’t get to sort them out. Because it had been such a hurried burial, things would have been in a mess. He wouldn’t have been put in a proper shroud. His eyes wouldn’t have been set closed ... all those messy things that most of us don't have to even think about these days, thanks to the professionalism of funeral directors.

And they brought with them spices and nice clothes, and things like that. Which remind me of the swaddling clothes in which Jesus was wrapped as a baby, and the spices the Wise Men brought to Jesus as his first birthday presents on that first Christmas.

And when the women get to the grave, there’s a greater shock waiting for them. The stone has been rolled away.

Could someone have been there before them?

So, they tell Simon Peter and John the Beloved Disciple.

Now, I have to admit, we men aren’t very good at making deductions – at looking for the whole picture. When these two men look inside the tomb, they take everything at face value.

If we had relied on what they had allowed themselves to see, at first hand, would we have ever realised the significance of that first Easter?

They looked inside, they saw an empty gave, and then they went home again.

But Mary hung around in the garden. And she has the first encounter with Jesus as the Risen Lord. She now realises what it was all about. What those past three years with Jesus were all about. What Jesus was trying to say to them all the time as he preached, as he told them parables, as he healed, as he went fishing, as he had meals with them and fed them all.

Can you imagine her excitement? A dark night of waiting has been turned into the most glorious morning. The spices and clothes they were bringing are no longer needed. Instead, here is the most wonderful present possible. Human hate been defeated by God's love.

No, nothing can ever be that bad any more. Because God loves ... you.

Easter means that all the fears we have in the middle of the night, all the fears you have early in the morning, are nothing compared to how God wants to take care of you, mind you, love you.

God has rolled away all the big stones that get in the way between us and him. We only have to look for ourselves and to believe. And that’s why Easter should be better, is better, that all the Christmases and all the birthdays and all the other special treats rolled together.

Glory to + the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, Amen.

This semon was preached during the Eucharist of the Resurrection from the Church of Ireland Theological College broadcast on RTÉ Radio (medium wave and lon-wave) at 10.45 a.m. on Easter Day, 23 March 2008. The celebrant was Canon Adrian Empey, Principal of the college. Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation at the Church of Ireland Theological College. The icon is a Greek representation, Noli me tangere - Μή μου άπτου

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