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Easter Sermon 2020

by Michael Ford last modified 11 Apr, 2020 08:19 PM

The Bishop preached his Easter sermon online, 12 April 2020.

John 20.1-18

Jesus said to Mary, “Do not touch me”. (John 20.17)

Keeping Holy Week and reading the Passion narrative always makes us identify with the people in it. All human life is there, characters and events that represent every part of ourselves.

In our present very strange time some things stood out as always. The way the crowds welcomed Jesus, then evaporated and turned on him. The betrayal of Judas; the denial of Peter; the disciples who ran away. The complicity of Chiapas the high priest, the political expediency of Pilate the Roman Governor. In John there are touching descriptions of those who stood near the cross: three women - Mary his mother, Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene; and the beloved disciple. They are there this year as always and they reflect parts of ourselves.

But in our present socially isolated circumstances some things have stood out. Joseph of Arimathea, a secret disciple of Jesus, and Nicodemus, who had previously come to Jesus by night but who comes this time in light at the end of the day, as the two people to bury him. That is evocative at a time when we are unable to be with those we love in their final hours and the number attending funerals is so limited.

And early on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came on her own to the tomb and finds it empty. I was ordained bishop on St Mary Magdalene’s day in 2011. That she came to the tomb on her own helped me in the morning when I was lighting the new fire and Paschal candle on my own even though I knew I would be bringing it here for you. Mary Magdalene ran from the empty tomb to tell Simon Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved and the two of them ran together, Peter reaching the tomb first. The disciples returned to their homes but Mary stayed weeping outside the tomb and encountered the risen Christ at first mistaking him to be the gardener. Instinctively she wanted to touch him but he replied, “Do not touch me.”

It becomes a bit of a theme in John’s account of the resurrection. That first Easter evening the disciples were gathered behind locked doors. He showed them his hands and his side. He breathed on them, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. There’s no mention of touch.

Thomas was absent so when he heard the risen Christ had appeared to the others he said that unless he could see and touch the wounds of Christ he would not believe. A week later, when the risen Christ again stood among them, doubting Thomas believed not when he touched but when he saw and exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!”

Touching the body of Christ is what we want and feel deprived of this Easter morning. “Can it be a Communion service?” Christ is risen but at best we could watch like lepers through a contemporary online squint window and make a spiritual Communion. Or can we see Christ meets us in these very particular circumstances: he meets us here in our homes; he meets us in the care of the sick and dying; in the adaption of our own lives to save others; and that Christ meets us in the service of those who are the most vulnerable to the social and economic earthquake we are also experiencing?

This Holy Week and Easter we are locked out of our churches rather than meeting behind locked doors like the disciples on the evening of that first Easter. Unable to touch the body of Christ and receive the sacrament, the risen Christ still meets us here. We are struggling with the limits of language and experience but people seem to be coming to look in to see what we are doing.

The echoes of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus with the realities of caring for the sick and dying in a time of viral contagion are striking. We rely on our health care workers to do a professional job as safely as possible. Our prayers are focussed on them as well as on the people in their care. Our prayers are also for our scientists who are seeking to understand and counter the virus and advise our politicians on how best to counter the pandemic. Our prayers are for them, too.

There’s one group of people who have also been much in mind this week but have been very little talked about. We are locked out of our cathedral and churches and we are confined at home with very limited occasions to go out for exercise or essential journeys. That experience has made me think about prisoners who are particularly at risk because they are so closely confined. Releasing some is an urgent priority.

These are anxious times and we are having to act together in ways that are strange to us. It has been a remarkable response and people are doing so much to care for their neighbours. We would never have chosen this but maybe it’s a big wake-up call to review our priorities. We have redefined who are the key workers and who are the heroes. We are listening to experts and want them to guide our politicians. We see anew that business is here to serve people and strengthen community not just make some wealthy. Business is for the good of all.

The grey and wet start to the year has given way to the most beautiful Spring any of us can remember. In this enforced quiet, a Sabbath, the air is being cleared and the earth renewed.

This Easter Day has brought an unexpected 2020 vision. In it the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ faces the reality of death and suffering and gives new life and hope. It is changing our priorities in ways we are only beginning to glimpse and have not yet touched.

Alleluia! Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

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