Easter Sunday 2021
A record number of burials were recorded in Brazil last week since the outbreak of the pandemic. In masks and full protective gear, and by the light of the moon, grave diggers have been working through the night to make room for the soaring number of people who have died from Covid.
A scene that shows the devasting effects of Covid-19 but also a memento mori reminder.
Burial preparations are beginning to take place at the beginning of todays gospel. It is a ritual that was practiced at the time of Jesus and that still continues today: that every person who has died must be prepared for burial. We hear of a group of woman who have come to prepare the body of Jesus. A final act of love.
In Luke’s account of the Resurrection, two men in dazzling white apear and ask the woman:
‘Why look among the dead for someone who is alive?’
This is a haunting question. Just imagine how they woman felt, not only at what they saw, but at what they had just heard. If you had been there, how would you have reacted to these words that first Easter morning?
‘Why look among the dead for someone who is alive?’
The question directed to the woman is one that goes straight to the point: Jesus is alive. He has risen from the dead.
But I think this is a deep spiritual question for us as well.
In the most obvious way, we are reminded that Jesus is alive and has conquered death! Later, in this service we will proclaim: The Lord is here: His Spirit is with us!
But I think the question also invites us to think about our human tendency to cling on to the metaphorical winter and the difficulty we have in noticing the signs of spring around us.
So often, we look for life in all the wrong places.
We can be like one of those little withered seeds you find in the bottom dark corner of the seed packet, the one that hides away and never touches the earth.
The Resurrection of Jesus offers us a chance to open our eyes to a new reality; a chance to grow and blossom.
But yet we spiral off into a cascade of gloom, pessimism and negativity. We get stuck in the same routine. We repeat the old thoughts and behaviours that do not fit the endless possibilities that resurrection life offers us. We fail to ask ourselves:
What if something truly amazing was to happen?
What if something good can emerge from this messy and chaotic situation?
What if joy, fulfilment and gladness can be found?
A woman was in a beauty parlour and the hairdresser, known to be negative about everyone and everything, asked her, "So are you going on holiday this year?”
The customer replied, "Why yes. As a matter of fact, as soon as I leave here, my husband and I are going to go to Italy.”
"Italy?! Why there? Aside from churches and museums, there isn't much there? Which airline are you taking?”
"Continental??? They're the worst. They are always delayed, they're overbooked, the food is atrocious, and the stewards are so unattractive! I can't believe you booked with them! What city will you be visiting?”
"Rome!!! That's terrible! People from Rome are rude. The place is packed and the traffic there is a nightmare. What hotel will you be staying at?”
"We'll be staying at the Hotel Pantheon.”
"You're kidding me. You obviously have never been there before. That place is a total dump. I had to stay there once, and there were dirty linens, the place smelled, the room service was deplorable and the staff, totally inept. You couldn't pay me to stay there. When you're in Rome, what are you going to do?”
"We hope to see the pope celebrate mass in Vatican City.”
"Of all the nonsense! Do you know how far from him you'll be? You won't be able to hear him or even see him."
And so three weeks later, the customer returns and the hairdresser, of course wants to "rub it in" and asks her, "So how was your trip?"
The customer, says, “Well, we flew Continental, and they had in fact overbooked the flight, so they had to bump us up to first class, and our steward was the most handsome man, and they served us a wonderful meal and exquisite wine.
Then we checked into the Hotel Pantheon, and they had just completed a renovation. 15 million euros, and it's now the finest hotel in all of Rome.
Then we went to the Vatican and, at first, we were so far back, we thought we might not be able to see the pope, but a Swiss guard, tapped me on the shoulder and told me and my husband that we had been chosen to meet the pope face to face. The pope leaned close to me and even asked me a personal question.”
The hairdresser, said, "So what was the question he asked you?”
The lady then replied, “The pope asked me, 'Who messed up your hair?’”
There are many people and situations in life that can discourage us and keep us trapped in a landscape without a horizon. But the Resurrection opens up for us something new: a landscape of renewal, forgiveness and healing; a picture of beauty, dazzling colours, harmony and equality. It’s a landscape beyond compare.
Some of you have seen me out running around the town and beyond. A couple of weeks ago, when Spring had sprung, I ran an 8-mile trail up on the cliffs towards World’s End; the exact same route that I ran just before Christmas.. and I got lost!
Well, I though I was lost. So I stopped and paid close attention to everything around me: trees, rocks, the waterfall, the contours of the hills ahead of me, and eventually I realised that I had arrived at the same half-way point as last time. It’s just that I didn’t immediately recognise the landscape which had changed so dramatically since the winter.
The power of the resurrection opens up for us a new spiritual landscape, one that looks different and feels different; it is a new realm of existence; a new way of being. Through the resurrection, the gates of Eden are re-opened and the exciting news is that we are given the responsibility to be co-workers with God in caring for and nurturing our natural environment and in building up compassionate communities. The resurrection changes everything.
The 20th century Spanish priest, Jose Maria Cabodevilla, said of the resurrection:
“From now on, all books on geography will have to be different, for it is here that the centre of the earth is found, the navel of the universe, the white post from which all kilometres and light years will be measured.”
The message of Easter is a message of joy that fills the whole created order but it is also a challenge.
St Luke is clear about the purpose of writing his gospel. He says that it is written to provide ‘assurance’ and ‘certainty’. He wants his readers or hearers to be encouraged in the faith, equipped in discipleship and joyful in sharing the Good News.
So, how will we share the new life that Easter brings?
One of the things I love about the genre of the British Music Hall is the way that the songs would reflect, in a very down-to-earth way, real life.
These were the days before Radio, Television and recordings. The people who were entertained by these topical songs would sing them in the streets on their way back home. They were catchy choruses and people could relate to the lyrics. Many would buy the sheet music or sing what they heard to a family member of friend, keeping the melodies alive. So much enthusiasm, joy and sharing.
I like to think this way about the joyful news of our Easter faith.
When we leave this church, how will we – as Easter people – sing and share the song of our faith to those around us? How will we keep the story of Jesus alive?
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!