A sermon given by the Minister on Easter Day 2016:
For Mary and Peter and John in today’s story, there is a completely new way of seeing reality.
Mary’s grief must have felt unstoppable. Earlier in the week she pours out her precious ointment, she pours out her tears, she pours out her heart as she washes Jesus’ feet. Now she comes to his grave the moment that is possible, to pour out her grief. A grief that is added to by the fact that she finds the tomb exposed and empty. She has brought Peter and John but they don’t have any answers. So she weeps and weeps and weeps.
Peter and John are blokes and they don’t weep. They run – they race to the tomb, feet pounding, unstoppable.
All three are full of an unstoppable yearning for Jesus, who they have loved and lost, horribly and forever……..
And it changes. But slowly. First, he’s not there. The stone has been rolled away. That’s puzzling and confusing and distressing for Mary, who naturally runs to tell the community leaders. Then they see that the grave clothes have been left behind. What does that mean? Who would take a naked body away? But he grave clothes are neatly folded, suggesting that this is planned and wholesome. As John steps inside, he realises that God has been at work, he knows not how. Mary is still in deep distress, pouring out her grief, and has that wonderful first conversation with risen Jesus, who she mistakes at first for the gardener. Then everything changes. She is filled with joy and runs to tell the community ‘I have seen the Lord!’ From unstoppable tears to unstoppable joy in two amazing minutes.
Over the next days and weeks, the community of those who loved Jesus came to understand that God’s mercy, God’s love, is truly unstoppable. Just as Jesus poured himself out in loving service, healing and teaching and empowering, in his ministry; just as he poured out his blood on the cross; so he continues to pour out his life beyond the grave. Death is no barrier. In forty days they will receive the outpouring of the Spirit and the Jesus movement itself will become unstoppable, drawing people into faith by the power and joy of the message, lived out in the lives of the believers. It fulfilled people’s deepest yearnings. It was the story of God’s unstoppable mercy.
What do you know of God’s unstoppable mercy in your life? Do you yearn for God and the fulfilment of God’s vision? For purity and simplicity and for goodness in your dealings with others? Lent has been a time for decluttering our lives to let that yearning grow stronger and more real. Our experience in this church over the last year has been one of pruning, allowing us to open ourselves to know in our bones that we depend on the mercy of God, the kindness of God for our very existence.
When are the times when you have known unstoppable tears like Mary’s, a need to run and run and run, like Peter’s and John’s? I think of the first time I knew deep loss – my baby died – when I barely stopped weeping for six months. And then there was Jesus standing behind me, much as Jesus-as-gardener stood behind Mary, and everything changed and I knew the kindness of God in my bones. Today, Easter Day, remember those old experiences of God’s grace, mercy, kindness, and re-live them. I know you well enough to know you have experienced them in big ways and small. They are they reallest thing on this earth or beyond it. Let the reality of the risen Jesus seep into your heart and leak out into your life.
Let the reality that God’s mercy rules everything leak out into your life. And then let it flow. And then let it pour.
What we celebrate at Easter is that God has set something to work in the world, and in our lives, that is simply unstoppable. History is changed, and so are our lives. That our bodies will die is an irrelevance. God is working his purpose out, and it’s a purpose that means fulfilment for everybody; for every human being and for the whole of creation.
What that means is the from now on we see our lives as God does; as incredibly precious, as set free from guilt and shame, and following that from blame and resentment. Emptied out, we have room for the Spirit to flow through us. We live our lives thankfully, courageously, lovingly, knowing that just as the life of God was renewed – gloriously – in the person of Jesus after his death, so God will renew life in us – gloriously – after every setback, every disillusionment, every day and every moment. We no longer put ourselves down or think badly about ourselves, because we are precious to God. We no longer think judgementally about others or put them down, because they too are precious to God.
We are no longer cynical about the world and its future – whatever people around us say about how terrible things are – because God has entered history and changed things forever. As God works God’s purpose out, with kindness and mercy, we put ourselves at God’s side as co-workers, always looking for the thing that will help his people to fulfilment, always engaging with the world in such a way as to bring it about.
It looks something like the vision we have in our Old Testament reading; a city of delight and joy, where early death in unknown and long life is normal, where people are no longer exploited but whose work brings prosperity and security, who can see a bright future for their children, where those with aggressive instincts and those who are vulnerable will be able to co-operate; where there will be no more destructiveness. How does our church life enable us to play a part in making that vision a reality? We can explore that as our Year of Kindness continues into spring and summer.
Come, then, to this Easter table, where the risen Jesus meets us and feeds us with his own being. Come, and be comforted. Come, and be transformed. Come, and take courage for the things that lie ahead. Jesus has triumphed. So do we. Let yourself become unstoppable.