Sunday, 1 April 2018

‘They have taken the Lord out
of the tomb, and we do not
know where they have laid him’

‘Noli me Tangere’, by Mikhail Damaskinos, ca 1585-1591, in the Museum of Christian Art in the Church of Saint Catherine of Sinai in Iraklion, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 1 April 2018, Easter Day:

9.30 a.m.: The Easter Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton.

11.30 a.m.: The Easter Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin, Tarbert.

Readings: Acts 10: 34-43; Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24; I Corinthians 15: 1-11; John 20: 1-18.

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

Early on the Sunday morning (‘the first day of the week’) after the Crucifixion, before dawn, Mary Magdalene, who has been a witness to Christ’s death and burial, comes to the tomb and finds that the stone has been rolled away.

Initially it seems she is on her own, for she alone is named. But later she describes her experiences using the word ‘we,’ which indicates she was with other women.

In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, these women are known as the Holy Myrrh-bearers (Μυροφόροι). The Myrrh-bearers are traditionally listed as: Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James and Joses, Mary, the wife of Cleopas, Martha of Bethany, sister of Lazarus, Mary of Bethany, sister of Lazarus, Joanna, the wife of Chuza the steward of Herod Antipas, and Salome, the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, and Susanna, although it is generally said that there are other Myrrh-bearers whose names are not known.

Mary and these women run to tell Saint Peter and the other disciple – presumably Saint John the Evangelist – that they suspect someone has removed Christ’s body. The ‘other disciple’ may have been younger and fitter, for he outruns Saint Peter. The tidy way the linen wrappings and the shroud have been folded or rolled up shows that the body has not been stolen. They believe, yet they do not understand; they return home without any explanations.

But Mary still thinks Christ’s body has been removed or stolen, and she returns to the grave. In her grief, she sees ‘two angels in white’ sitting where the body had been lying, one at the head, and one at the feet. They speak to her and then she turns around sees Christ, but only recognises him when he calls her by name.

Saint Peter and Saint John have returned without seeing the Risen Lord. It is left to Mary to tell the Disciples that she has seen the Lord. Mary Magdalene is the first witness of the Resurrection.

All four gospels are unanimous in telling us that the women are the earliest witnesses to the Risen Christ. In Saint John’s Gospel, the Risen Christ sends Mary Magdalene to tell the other disciples what she had seen. Mary becomes the apostle to the apostles.

The word apostle comes from the Greek ἀπόστολος (apóstólos), formed from the prefix ἀπό- (apó-, ‘from’) and the root στέλλω (stéllō, ‘I send,’ ‘I depart’). So, the Greek word ἀπόστολος (apóstolos) or apostle means one sent.

In addition, at the end of the reading (verse 18), Mary comes announcing what she has seen. The word used here (ἀγγέλλουσα, angéllousa) is from the word that gives us the Annunciation, the proclamation of the good news, the proclamation of the Gospel (Εὐαγγέλιον, Evangélion). Mary, in her proclamation of the Gospel of the Resurrection, is not only the apostle to the apostles, but she is also the first of the evangelists.

In Saint John’s Gospel, when Mary first sees Christ, she does not recognise him. In this reading, the Greek is regularly phrased in the present tense: Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb (verse 1), she sees (verse 1), she runs, she comes, and she says (verse 2); John sees (verse 5), Simon Peter then comes, and he sees (verse 6); Mary sees the two angels (verse 12), they say to her and she says to them that she does not know (verse 13); she then sees Jesus (verse 14); Jesus says to her (verse 15, and again verses 16 and 17) – notice this is three times in all; and she then comes announcing what she has seen and heard.

The language is constantly punctuated with the word ‘and,’ giving it a rapid, fast-moving pace, rather like the pace in Saint Mark’s Gospel. This is a present, real, living experience for all involved, and not one single episode that be relegated to the past.

The Risen Christ does things he did not do before: he appears in locked rooms, there is something different about his appearance, his friends do not realise immediately who he is. This is the same Jesus, but something has changed.

Why does Jesus tell Mary: ‘Do not hold onto me’ (Μή μου ἅπτου, Noli me tangere)?

How do we recognise new life in the Risen Christ?

How do we understand the invitation from the Risen Christ to feast with him?

When we accept the new life Christ offers, how does our vision change?

Where do we see the presence of the Risen Christ?

Do we see his presence in the people and places we like and that please us?

Can we see him in the people we do not like and in the situations we find challenging? – the hungry child, the fleeing refugee, the begging person on the street, the homeless addict sleeping on the street or in the doorway?

Is my heart changed by the Risen Christ?

Where do I see the broken and bruised Body of Christ needing restoration and Resurrection?

Do I know him in the word he speaks to me and in the breaking of the bread?

Is the presence of the Risen Christ a living experience for us this morning?

Let Easter be an every-morning, every-day, living experience for us.

Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

The women at the tomb … a stained glass window in Saint Ann’s Church, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This sermon was prepared for Eater Day, 1 April 2018

John 20: 1-18 (NRSV):

1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ 14 When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.15 Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ 16 Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”.’ 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Early on the first day of the week … Mary Magdalene came to the tomb (John 20: 1) – a window in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: White (or Gold).

The Greeting (from Easter Day until Pentecost):

Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God,
you raised your Son from the dead.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus,
through you we are more than conquerors.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
you help us in our weakness.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day (Easter Day):

Almighty God,
through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ
you have overcome death
and opened to us the gate of everlasting life:
Grant that, as by your grace going before us
you put into our minds good desires,
so by your continual help we may bring them to good effect;
through Jesus Christ our risen Lord
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Introduction to the Peace:

The risen Christ came and stood among his disciples and said, Peace be with you.
Then were they glad when they saw the Lord (John 20: 19, 20).

Preface:

Above all we praise you
for the glorious resurrection of your Son
Jesus Christ our Lord,
the true paschal lamb who was sacrificed for us;
by dying he destroyed our death;
by rising he restored our life:

Post Communion Prayer:

Living God,
for our redemption you gave your only-begotten Son
to the death of the cross,
and by his glorious resurrection
you have delivered us from the power of our enemy.
Grant us so to die daily unto sin,
that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his risen life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Blessing:

The God of peace,
who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus
that great shepherd of the sheep,
through the blood of the eternal covenant,
make you perfect in every good work to do his will,
working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight:

or:

God the Father,
by whose glory Christ was raised from the dead,
raise you up to walk with him in the newness of his risen life:

Dismissal: (from Easter Day to Pentecost):

Go in the peace of the Risen Christ. Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thanks be to God. Alleluia! Alleluia!

‘Noli me tangere’ ... a Resurrection image in a stained glass window in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

286, The strife is o’er, the battle done
78, This is the day that the Lord has made
263, Crown him with many crowns

The Resurrection … a stained glass window in Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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