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Visiting the tomb – The Reverend Canon Michael Smith (Pastor)

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The Reverend Canon Michael Smith (Pastor)

Easter Day Evensong 21 April 2019

Isaiah 43.1-21 & 1 Corinthians 15.1-11

A story for Easter Day

When he died I was broken hearted. The suffering he had endured was unimaginable. I was angry at the injustice he had suffered, I was frightened for the future, and, I hate to admit it, I was just a little bit relieved it was all over! Being a friend of Jesus was really hard work. I had given up everything to follow him. For three years I hadn’t really had a good nights sleep, meals had been sporadic, the Roman and Jewish authorities had constantly hassled us and, in addition to all this, Jesus kept on challenging us, saying difficult and disturbing things. Yes, if I am honest, there was a sense of relief that it was all over. I didn’t have the nerve to ask any of the others if they felt the same, I thought it might be just me!

It was with this complicated mixture of feelings that I joined the others to visit the tomb on Sunday morning. We walked there in silence and I was thinking; ….. yes I was sad, I loved him and I know that he loved me ……. I would miss him ……. he was energetic and charismatic, great fun to be with, but exhausting. When we got to the tomb I was certain I would weep and wail with the others, but weeping and wailing was easier than following him, for once, I was in control. He would be dead in the tomb and I could do all the things I felt I needed to do, say all the things I felt that I needed to say, weep all the tears that I needed to weep and then walk away and get on with my life, my way. No more compulsion to risk everything and to live ‘on the road’. I could go home and pick up my safe, comfortable, predictable life and look back at my time with him with deep affection and pride. Maybe one day people would write books about him. I would be able to tell my grandchildren that I travelled with him, I knew him, I loved him.

‘Joanna …… Joanna?’ Mary, James’ mother, one of my companions was speaking to me.

Deep in thought I slowly became aware that she was saying my name.

‘Sorry Mary’, I said, ‘I was miles away’.

‘Joanna, what are you going to do now?’

I was embarrassed to answer the question. To tell Mary that I had already thought about going home and getting on with my old life seemed rather callous, this was only the third day since he had died. In order to dodge the issue I decided I would use a trick he often used. I turned the question on her and asked her to tell me what she was planning to do.

‘Well I haven’t spoken to James yet, but I expect we’ll go back to Galilee. His cousins are still fishing the lake and there’s always work for a fisherman. I’ll go with him, help find him a wife and wait for some grandchildren to come along. It’ll be nice to get back to normal.’ Mary stopped speaking, suddenly realising that she was revealing that there was a little bit in her that was somewhat relieved that he was dead as well. ‘I mean, I am heartbroken, this is awful, he shouldn’t have died ……’

‘It’s alright Mary’ I said, ‘I know what you mean and I have been thinking the same way. I would not have missed my time with him but it has been hard work, I am exhausted and all the things he said and taught are buzzing around in my head. I need some time to rest and think it all through. I am quite looking forward to going home as well.’

Mary took hold of my hand. In this way we comforted each other in our sadness and in our shared feeling of shame that we were relieved it was all over. Now Jesus was dead we could remember all the great things he said about forgiveness and mercy and healing, all the promises he made about the Kingdom of Heaven and we could slowly forget all the difficult things he said about loving our enemies and about judgement, and about giving everything we have to the poor and that ridiculous story about a Good Samaritan, I mean, who has ever heard of a Good Samaritan?

The sun was creeping over the horizon as we neared the tomb. The chill of night being replaced by the warmth of day.

We were visiting the tomb to mourn, we also needed to anoint his body because he had been buried in such a hurry on Friday evening we hadn’t been able to do it then.

‘How are we going to move the stone?’ someone asked.

Silence. We hadn’t thought about that. I don’t suppose any of us were looking forward to doing what we were going to do but we all needed to do it – it was a way of showing our love for him. As we prepared to anoint his dead body I thought of Mary, Martha’s sister, who had anointed his body while he was alive only a week or so ago – I really admired her for that, I wish I had her courage. Anointing a dead body isn’t pleasant but it’s easier, less complicated, less open to misinterpretation than anointing live one.

As the morning mist rose the tomb came into view. Something wasn’t right. We tried to make out what had happened, our pace quickened, and then we saw, the stone had been moved.

‘Someone’s moved it for us already’, Mary said.

We looked around and saw two men standing close by. I couldn’t tell if it was the way the sun shone on their white clothes, but they seemed to glow with light. They dazzled us. We fell to the ground in fear. Were they ghosts? Were they Pilate’s spies? Were they angels? We had no idea, but they frightened us. Then they spoke,

‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.’

We stared at each other in disbelief. He had talked about rising after three days but that didn’t make any sense at all so we’d ignored it. I looked inside the tomb to check if what these two strangers were saying was true. It was empty.

We ran back to tell the others. We didn’t speak, we just ran. Out of breath we told them what had happened and what we had seen. We told them that the tomb was empty. And, do you know what – they didn’t believe us. They just thought we were a bunch of exhausted, grieving, sleep deprived, hallucinating, silly women. Fortunately Peter, in order to shut us up probably, got up and went to the tomb himself. When he came back and told them the tomb was empty, they believed him!

He lives.

What now? I suppose I should be telling you that there was a part of me that was disappointed, but there wasn’t. When I discovered he was alive and always would be alive, because he had overcome death, I knew that he would always be with us, he would always be with me. I knew I would have to live with all the great, easy things he said as well as all the difficult challenging things he said. I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to mould my memory of a dead hero to suit me and my life, I knew I was going to have to give my life to him and allow my life to be moulded to fit his teaching, his ways. But that was fine – he would never leave again.

Life remembering a dead hero would be easy, safe, dull and would lead only to the establishment of my own little kingdom with me at the centre. Life with a living friend, a living Lord, would be a constant challenge, complicated, but better by far and will lead I hope, as he always said it would, to the establishment of his Kingdom, the Kingdom of God.

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