9am Easter Day Sermon

I want you and you are not here. I pause
in this garden, breathing the colour thought is
before language into still air. Even your name
is a pale ghost and, though I exhale it again
and again, it will not stay with me.

The Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy’s poem ‘Miles Away’ captures for me something of the feeling that perhaps Mary Magdalene had as she entered the garden on that first Easter morning. She’d waited until the sky over Jerusalem was coloured with the first streaks of the dawn and she hurriedly heads back to the place where she’d left Jesus.

He was everything to her. He’d given her back her life. When she’d first met him in Galilee she was nothing, notorious, a sinner but he saw through all of that and saw the real her – he scraped away the sin like layers of grime on an old painting, the accretions of her life and revealed her true beauty. He’d given her back her life and then she stood beneath his cross as his life ebbed away and little by little it felt as though hers had done so as well.

But it was a new day and the air smelt fresh and the garden was beautiful and so she came to be with Jesus. But when she arrived she couldn’t believe her eyes; when they’d left the garden on that momentous Friday, the tomb was sealed with the stone and Jesus was secure. Now when she came to the tomb it was open and it was empty. She’d lost him once, she’d lost him again; his life had been taken from her, now his body had been taken as well.

In utter grief she runs back and finds Peter and John and brings them to see what they can see, to see what they can do to make it better. But they’re as shocked as she and head back to tell the others that Jesus had gone.

But Mary stays there unable to move, grief stricken

I want you and you are not here. I pause
in this garden, breathing the colour thought is
before language into still air.

and in the half light of the dawn a stranger comes close.

Perhaps of all encounters with Jesus in the gospel this is the most powerful. I’ve been thinking about it a great deal since Edmund de Waal’s installation ‘Another Hour’ was placed in the retrochoir. Those twelve vitrenes with their clouded, opaque glass, their mysterious contents demand that you stop and spend time there, moving carefully between them, trying to catch a glimpse of what seems tantalisingly hidden.

Through a glass darkly ...

Through a glass darkly …

Then the other day I arrived for Morning Prayer. It was before eight and the sun was streaming into the retrochoir and it illuminated the pots that are almost hidden by the glass, in a way that I had not seen before. It was like the experience in the garden for me, seeing and not seeing, as St Paul, writing to the Corinthian church describes it

Now we see in a glass darkly but then face to face.

Mary looks at the stranger and sees a gardener. She looks but she does not see her Lord, does not see the one she’s followed, the one whose feet she anointed, the one whose feet she washed with her tears. She does not see the one who gave her back her life, who revealed the true beauty of the person she is.

She doesn’t see him, until he calls her by name. In the peace of that garden, in the quiet of the dawn when only her own racing heart could be heard, her name rings out, ‘Mary’ and she knows who it is.

In many ways I find it easier to understand Good Friday than Easter Day, I find it easier to preach the cross than the resurrection. I know what pain feels like; I know what suffering looks like. It’s so bound to the human condition; and resurrection – well it always seems to be out there, beyond the next hill, unknown and unknowable as I am at the moment.

For Mary she was locked into Good Friday and then she heard her name and she was drawn into resurrection life. Jesus had called her into new being and new understanding.

I have called you by name
you are mine.

as the prophet Isaiah describes it. (Isaiah 43.1)

Of course the truth is that we’re participants in the resurrection already – it’s just that so often it doesn’t feel like that. Hobbes said that life is ‘nasty, brutish and short’ and for too many people that’s true too much of the time. We can’t see the resurrected Jesus for the tears that flow, obscuring our sight, we live in the half light and look through the darkened glass and simply do not see what’s staring us in the face, do not hear our name being called for the background noise of our fractured lives.

But when you were baptised you were baptised into Christ’s death and resurrection and named as his; we are already participators in his promises, in his life, in the new life that this Easter celebrates.

When Cornelius and his household had heard Peter speaking they were so moved that they asked for baptism and Peter responded. They were brought into Christ and so were we. To make that clear we renew our baptismal promises today as our response to the truth of the resurrection that we recognise this day and we seek the grace of God to live resurrection life.

Simply put that means living in hope, living recognising that evil has been defeated and that death is not the last word in life. We live grace filled, joy filled lives, we live in a way that acknowledges that on this morning the whole of creation was made new, that all of life was resurrected and that in a second garden the sin committed in the first garden has been undone, that the fruit of the second tree is life whereas the fruit of the first tree was death.

We are children of the resurrection, named and known by God, we are living the life now and it is good. And though bad things happen, yet they cannot take away from this truth, that the Lord is risen and we breathe the colour of resurrection, the vibrant colour of life, life lived in all its fullness.

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