Sunday, 12 April 2020

On days when we cannot see
and cannot touch those we love

The Resurrection depicted in a fresco in Analipsi Church in Georgioupoli, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Easter Day, Sunday 12 April 2020:

9.30 am: the Easter Eucharist (HC 2), Castletown;

11.30 am: the Easter Eucharist (HC 2), Rathkeale.

Readings: Acts 10: 34-43; Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3: 1-4; John 20: 1-18.

The Maurice Peel memorial window in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, depicts Life, Death and Resurrection (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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


‘Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb’ (John 20: 1).

This morning’s story of the Resurrection is filled with fear: the women who come to the tomb have witnessed Christ’s horrific death; now, as they steal away under the cover of early dawn to the tomb, their fears seem confirmed when they think that the body of Christ has been robbed from the grave.

In Saint Matthew’s account of the Resurrection, which we read last night, the guards at the tomb shake with fear and become like dead men; the women are so visibly filled with fear that they have to be calmed down and are told: ‘Do not be afraid.’

It was such a shocking time for the women and for the disciples that first Easter weekend. It is a weekend filled with experiences of fear, isolation, betrayal, abandonment and a lonely death.

In two Gospel accounts, Saint Matthew and Saint Mark, the last words of the dying Christ on the cross include a cry that expresses the bitter agony of dying alone: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

It is a literary device of the time to quote a psalm’s opening words to put its full thoughts into the mouth of a speaker. In this case, the dying Christ is quoting Psalm 22, which begins by asking why God seemingly cannot hear ‘the words of my distress’:

O my God, I cry in the daytime,
but you do not answer;
by night as well, but I find no rest.


In these restless days, as people feel fearful, isolated and betrayed, as they watch their loved ones die in bitter agony, feeling abandoned and alone in their final hours, the cry to God of the dying Christ on the Cross on Good Friday has become the everyday cry of many people of faith in the despair created by the Covid-19 pandemic and in their forced isolation.

It would be too easy, but meaningless, to respond or to reply with easy platitudes that speak about having hope and looking forward to the new life promised in the Resurrection and Easter.

And yet, there are so many resonances with today’s stories in the Easter story as it unfolds in the Gospels.

Christ too is buried hurriedly without the presence of his friends, with few members of his family present. Two men who are not part of his inner circle, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, attend to the hasty burial. After his death, his closest friends, the disciples, hide away in fear, locked behind closed doors, fretful for the future.

Yet Psalm 22 ends with hope not just for the future but for future generations:

The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the Lord.
May your hearts live for ever!
(Psalm 22: 26)

For those of us who are worried about not opening our church doors this Easter, we should remind ourselves of how the apostles were locked away too in fear that first Easter. Fear of death, fear of the unknown, fear of what the future may hold, are often at the heart of motivating communal religious experiences and responses.

For those who are worried about not being able to touch and hug those they love, the experience of Mary Magdalene in the garden that first Easter morning has new significance and meaning.

At first, the disciples fail to realise the possibility of a new future. The men stay behind closed doors while the women visit the tomb early that morning. It takes some time for them to accept the news the women bring back from the empty tomb. But for the next 40 days, two phrases are repeated constantly by the Risen Christ: ‘Peace be with you!’ and ‘Be not afraid!’

Christ repeats these words over and over again … for, even in the darkest days, there is always hope, and hope that offers new life.

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


‘Noli me tangere’ … a Resurrection image in a stained glass window in Saint John’s Church in Wall, near Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 20: 1-18 (NRSVA):

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 toward 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 around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” 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, while it was still dark …’ (John 20: 1) … an early morning scene before dawn in a small Mediterranean town (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:

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:

The 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!

Hymns:

286, The strife is o’er, the battle done (CD 12)
78, This is the day that the Lord has made (CD 5)
263, Crown him with many crowns (CD 14)

‘Noli me Tangere’ … a stained glass window in the Priory Church, Penmon, Anglesey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, and are used by permission. All rights reserved.

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

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