Sunday, 4 April 2021

Finding faith and meaning
to end our fears and
to fill the empty spaces

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

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 4 April 2021, Easter Day

10 a.m.: The Easter Eucharist

The Readings: Acts 10: 34-43; the Easter Anthems (I Corinthians 5: 7-8; Romans 6: 9-11; I Corinthians 15: 20-22); John 20: 1-18

There is a link to the readings HERE.

‘Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark’ (John 20: 1) … scurrying through Mediterranean streets before dawn (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

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, only to find that the stone has been rolled away.

At first, it seems she is on her own, she alone is named. But later she describes her experiences using the word ‘we.’ There are other women with her too that early morning.

In the alternative Gospel reading in Saint Mark’s Gospel (Mark 16: 1-8), Saint Mark says that on Saturday after sundown, the women buy spices to anoint Christ’s body.

Early on Sunday morning, they go to the tomb. It is a dangerous task, risking being identified with the man who has been executed publicly, shamefully.

Imagine them scurrying through the back streets and city lanes, creeping outside the city walls, hoping no-one is awake yet or sees them in their secret mission.

But when they get to the tomb, the stone has been rolled away, and the grave is empty.

Mary and these women rush back to tell Saint Peter and Saint John they fear someone has taken away the body. But the tidy way they find the folded wrappings and rolled-up shroud shows the body has not been stolen. They believe, yet do not understand; they return home without any explanations.

But Mary 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 and sees Christ, but only recognises him when he calls her by name.

Peter and 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, the first person to the Risen Christ. He sends her back to tell the other disciples what she has seen, she becomes the ‘Apostle to the Apostles.’

But, despite Mary’s good news, the disciples have remained at home, socially isolated, their doors locked in fear (John 20: 19) throughout that first Easter Day.

This is the second consecutive Easter that our churches are empty and our church doors have been locked in fear … this time in fear that church services may be ‘super spreader’ events.

What is the dominant feeling this Easter morning: Fear? Or Faith?

Writing in the Guardian last week (29 March 2021), John Harris talks about the way the year of lockdown has brought with it ‘the sudden fear of serious illness and death, and the sense of all of it being wholly random.’

When they filled their census form earlier this month, John Harris and his partner ticked the ‘no religion’ box. Later, though, he admitted he ‘felt a pang of envy’ as he ‘wondered how religious believers were feeling’.

He writes, ‘Like millions of other faithless people, I have not even the flimsiest of narratives to project on to what has happened, nor any real vocabulary with which to talk about the profundities of life and death.’

In the first phase of the pandemic, Googling the word ‘prayer’ increased by 50%. An Easter service led by the Archbishop of Canterbury from his kitchen table attracted 5 million viewers, described by the Church of England as the largest congregation in its history.

As the pandemic lockdown continued, the symbols of religion made very visible recoveries, have come back to life, have given people new ways of finding, exploring and expressing meaning in life.

That exploration ranges from a renewed interest in the second series of Fleabag and its explorations of ethics in an age of individualism, to a startling surge in the popularity of early Christian composers such as William Byrd and Palestrina, and to virtual pilgrimages to a degree, according to a leader in the Guardian, ‘that would have astonished Geoffrey Chaucer.’

The fear of the Apostles, locked away in isolation in their homes that first Easter Day, ought to speak to the fear of people in this lockdown era, looking for real ways ‘with which to talk about the profundities of life and death.’

Somehow, on this Easter morning, I find this empty church speaks to me of the empty grave on the first Easter morning.

The Easter Church must be a community that, after the lockdown, is found willing to grapple with the great issues of life. People do not want to be alone. They are seeking community that responds to the authentic questions of life, death, love, anxiety, longing, and the search for meaning.

The task in mission for the post-lockdown Church is to rush back, like Mary and the other women, to rush back and to fill the empty places in the core of people seeking a ‘real vocabulary with which to talk about the profundities of life and death.’

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

The Empty Tomb … a fresco in Saint John’s Monastery, Tolleshunt Knights, Essex (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 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.

She ‘came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb’ (John 20: 1) … (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

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.

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:

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:

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:

271, Jesus Christ is risen today (CD 17)
286, The strife is o’er, the battle done (CD 17)
288, Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son (CD 17)

Saint Mary Magdalene at Easter Morning … a sculpture by Mary Grant at the west door of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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

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