April 21, 2019
Categorised in: Sermons
Preached by The Very Revd Catherine Ogle using Acts 10: 34 – 43 and Luke 24: 1 – 12 at Easter Day Eucharist, Sunday 21st April 2019.
Alleluia, Christ is risen, he is risen indeed! Alleluia!
On Easter morning, after the darkness of crucifixion and suffering, of pain and death, we celebrate the joy and the wonder of resurrection. The life of Christ that cannot be contained in a tomb, cannot be held by death, but breaks out, bringing new life.
Let’s think for a while about that first Easter morning and the miracle of the resurrection.
In the morning, on the first day of the week, some of the women return to the tomb. They come expecting death and hoping to tend to the dead body of their friend and teacher, the body that is battered and broken and wrapped in linen cloth. Arriving, they find the stone sealing the tomb is rolled away. Jesus is not there. Two ‘dazzling’ men appear and tell them that Jesus is in fact, alive: ‘he is not here, but has risen.’ He’s no longer to be found among the dead. And the women are reminded that Jesus had told them that this would happen, that he would be crucified and that he would rise again on the third day. And the women remember and go back to the city to tell the disciples, though people don’t believe them. Peter runs to the tomb and sees for himself just what the women said, and he sees the empty tomb and the linen cloths, lying empty.
In both the gospels of Luke and John there’s careful mention of these linen cloths, discarded in the tomb, and indeed, they have a profound significance. You may know that once a year, in the great Temple in Jerusalem, on the day of the Atonement, the High Priest, would go, alone, into the Holy of Holies, that most holy part of the temple where it was believed, God’s presence dwelt. Once a year, only this once, the High Priest would go in to make sacrifices and prepare the scape-goat to take away the sins of the people. In order to do this the high priest washed himself and put on new linen garments. He carried out his sacred tasks and then, as he left the holy of holies, he would leave the linen garments behind him. (Leviticus 16)
On Easter morning, as Peter stooped to look into the empty tomb, he saw the linen cloth used to wrap Jesus’ body left behind. Luke and John both record this carefully. This is so significant to the gospel writers because the tomb is the new holy of holies. Christ is the high priest. The sacrifice has been made, the scape-goat has been released. And God’s presence is fully revealed, through the absence of death. And the place of this holy revelation is completely open to everyone and anyone who is willing to come, and stoop and see. (Just as at the birth of Christ, the stable was a place where anyone could come, could stoop and see. Christs earthly life has been lived, from beginning to end, in humble places, open to everyone.)
And the empty tomb teaches that God’s life and holiness is for sharing, everywhere. His friends meet him on the road to Emmaus, in the breaking of bread, in a garden, at the lake-side. They know that Jesus is alive and they share his life with others, and we read in our first lesson how Peter realises that the life of Christ is for everyone, including Cornelius, a centurion and the gentile people gathered at his house. They are all baptised in the near of Jesus Christ. And so the life of Christ animates more and more people and faith in him spreads in the Middle East and the Mediterranean, through Europe and throughout the world.
And now, in our days, the resurrection brings life and hope, peace and joy and is available for everyone, everywhere. But so often, like those first women, we are heart-broken and tired, we expect and look for death, not life, because we forget what Jesus promised. Each Easter reminds us that Jesus promises new life. And we can look at the world with courage and hope. So, we can bear to look at the terrible fire at Notre Dame and know that out of ashes, new life can rise. We know this because of our own west window, a symbol of courage and resurrection hope. We can have courage and hope that we too can be re-made, in our brokenness and our mess. With Christ’s life within us, so we can know peace, hope and love. And we can bring his life to others. And we pray this morning for Christians in Sri Lanka, with so many cruelly and deliberately killed on Easter day, that their faith in resurrection will sustain them and bring peace to that land.
I want to close with a powerful example of resurrection faith. Just over a week ago, a retreat took place, at the Vatican, for leaders from South Sudan. Former rivals in a bitter and bloody civil war, now seeking to live and work in peace. Towards the end, the Pope took an astonishing step. He went to the President, and knelt, and kissed his feet. It was an action of humility, as when Jesus knelt to wash the feet of his friends. Pope Francis moved to do the same to the Vice-President, who tried to stop him, as Peter tried to stop Jesus. Francis kissed his feet. It was an astonishing action of Christ like humility. Our own Archbishop Justin said, ‘See the power of weakness’. See the beauty of the life of Christ when lived in the world today, bringing life and peace. The life of Christ cannot be contained in a tomb, it brings new life and conquers death.
This Easter may we have this courage, this love, to live Christ’s resurrection.
I’m endebted to Paul Hills wonderful ‘Veiled Presence’ Yale University Press, for this understanding of the discarded linen cloths.