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John 20.1-18. Easter 6 2016
Not the gospel set for today. I hope you don’t mind indulging me as at the beginning of my ministry here, as I have done in the various jobs I have had, I begin by focussing on the very essence of our Christian faith which is of course Easter. Hence this lovely passage from John’s gospel this morning.
John, the beloved disciple ‘saw and believed’! In this Gospel record there are no angels at the tomb entrance giving an announcement, no reassuring words that Jesus has risen. In Mark’s gospel we hear that the women had the angels there to tell them what was going on, and they still fled in terror and amazement. In John there is only the stark emptiness of the tomb and the telltale abandoned burial clothes. And John, the beloved disciple, saw and believed.
Well of course he did. He of all the friends and followers of Jesus is the one most close to him. After all for these last three years he has been with him, ate with him, hugged him, listened to him, seen what he has been doing, argued with him, been in awe of him, and no doubt utterly frustrated by him, and above all else loved him. He has experienced someone living the resurrection life
So no real surprise for John. Initial shock maybe, but the empty tomb is no real surprise for him. Jesus’ life had been one of conquering death, of defeating all that separates, injures, destroys. Of course, if Jesus is the word made flesh, God with us, the incarnate God welcome at Christmas, then wouldn’t we expect this? Jesus is the visible expression of the nature and passion of God. Jesus is the manifestation of what it means to be full alive, fully human, fully who he is. He is our benchmark and inspiration for all we can be ourselves, made, like him in the image of God, created to be fully alive and in love.
So John saw and believed at the empty tomb, because he already believed. The post-resurrection appearances and reassurances were not needed by John. He knew, because he had already worked it out. Jesus was the messiah. Nothing can defeat life and love.
The Gospel narrative follows with the touching and deeply intimate story of Mary’s encounter with the risen Jesus. We know of Mary, the one who anoints him with costly perfume and washes his feet with her tears, drying them with her hair, the one who has found herself through the redemptive love of Jesus who draws the beauty of her personality forth to defeat the hurt and separation within her, bringing healing and life. Mary is a living example of the impact of resurrection.
And she is beside herself with anxiety, grief and sorrow. For her the tender words of recognition and reassurance from Jesus bring her to new life again, faith and resolution. And more than that, I think, Jesus after the initial embrace, gently, I suspect, gives her the resolve to be her own person. ‘Do not cling to me’, come on, get on with your life, living your unique life abundantly and with love, for that love comes from me. It is the dynamism which is giving you real life.
The experiences of these two are not uncommon. They are deep expressions of our humanity. And they are, or can be, our experience too. The Churches expression of faith needs to be about putting words and movement around our experience of love and life, of sorrow and death, of lament and hope, of fragile rebirth after hurt, and of the tenderness of love.
We are to embody, live out this resurrection way of living in how we live with one another, demonstrating what it means to be a community loving as Jesus loved. For this is the destiny of every human being, and none are excluded in God’s community.
So I am saddened when we turn the community of the Church into a series of dogmas and boxes we have to tick off before we can belong, for it then becomes an institution - dry, lifeless and crusty in its concern for doctrinal purity over the risk of abundant life..
Jesus challenged the Pharisees and religious leaders of his time for much the same reason I believe he would challenge the churches today. If the world walks past our doors it’s largely because we the church have missed the plot and failed to connect with the guts of their experience and need for life and love. Let’s hope the General Synod meeting next week is inspired by the Holy Spirit to be filled with abundant life.
There are those Christians who believe in the actual bodily resurrection of Jesus, and there are those Christians who see the resurrection story as the most profound metaphor in human history which catches the vary nature and purpose of God. Whatever your belief, let’s not get away from the central point of the whole resurrection message. I suspect God is more interested in us experiencing the essential meaning of the resurrection and then living with integrity, nourishing relationships of mutuality and love, reaching out to all in need, standing firm against injustice and all that denies life and love.
The essence of the resurrection faith to my mind is in the experiences of human relationship. Whatever culture, religion, colour, class, sexual orientation or anything that marks our difference and distinctiveness from one another in our myriad diversity, the common bond we have is in our yearning for love and life. This yearning is the movement of Love within each one, the love which is eternal, which can never die, which will burst out of any locked and closed preconceptions we may have. It is not unusual or weird or in a sense even miraculous. The resurrection is simply how things are!
And as the story of Jesus confirms, though we may bury it, kill it, run from it, lock it in a tomb, this love will not be defeated. Our destiny for fullness of life will be realised, somehow, somewhere, some day.
In the delight of friends and friendship, in my brokenness and hurt, in my fragility and weakness, I know that my redeemer liveth, and that all shall be well. And tentatively again, day by day, moment by moment, I can venture to live that resurrection life and become the person God has created me to be. And wherever I see people, of whatever faith or none, reaching out to one another in Christlike love, protesting against the forces of death, then I can rejoice, for like John the beloved disciple I can see and believe the truth of the resurrection. Christ is risen. he is risen indeed! My prayer is that all of us here, the people of God of St Mary’s Cathedral are and will strive to be God’s Easter people, loving as Christ loves us! Amen.