Rev. Joy Steele-Perkins on John 20 :1-18 (Easter Day 2024)

Happy Easter to you all!

Today we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus –

The Christian church preaches about a Saviour who died, ok that seems historically legitimate, but we don’t stop there. We make the bizarre claim that this Saviour didn’t stay dead but rose again!

Amazingly, today’s reading about the resurrection of Jesus, features no actual account of the resurrection! There is no detailed description at all of Jesus’ rising from the dead. There are no chilling details about how Jesus’ body mysteriously passed through the grave-cloths, leaving them wrapped and intact. There’s not even an explanation as to how the stone was moved away from the tomb!

What we do know, I think, is that something fantastic happened that  morning over 2000 years ago, and those who were closest to the action don’t seem to have had any more clues about it than we do, or if they did, they chose not to share them!

Our story begins in a garden and this is something that is unique to the author of the book of John. This image of a garden is significant because it brings with it echoes of the creation story back in Genesis, where God sets everything up in a garden. Here again, our story is in a garden; Jesus’ arrest is in a garden and he dies in a garden and is resurrected in a garden.

And now Mary is in the garden. She enters our story first and sees the stone has been removed from the tomb. She fetches the 2 disciples, and they enter the garden to check and sure enough, they find that Jesus’ is nowhere to be seen.

The disciples are so freaked out that they run back to their homes as fast as they can. The next scene pans to Mary again. She has stayed in the garden, at the tomb and is weeping. And as she weeps, two angels appear in the tomb and then a voice (who she presumes is the gardener) asks her why she is weeping. Jesus calls her name and then she recognises him. And runs (again) to tell the other disciples.

As well as there being no actual account of the resurrection itself, another interesting thing we notice in this story is that none of the characters actually experience the resurrection story the same way. The two disciples see an empty tomb and believe and go home. We then see Mary who sees an empty tomb and experiences confusion, and it doesn’t fall into place for her until she hears her name.

Those of us who have heard this story many times may well have compared these two reactions; the two disciples believe straight away and it takes Mary a while. We may well have interpreted this story (in Mark’s version particularly) as the disciples running away afraid while Mary and the other women faithfully stay put. I wonder, however, whether these two different reactions are equally valid responses to meeting a risen Jesus?

Some of us come to a new understanding based on the evidence before us and are moved from confusion to recognition very quickly. Others of us need to be invited into the story and given more time to be and live in the experience in order for us to be changed by it.

I have had the privilege of hearing many people’s stories in my roll as minister at St David’s and one of the things about these stories that strikes me is that some of us have had a big conversion experience – bolts of lightning, voices from the heavens, the altar call, the being bowled over by the Holy Spirit – while for others of us (myself included) the recognition of who Jesus is, is a gradually transforming thing – as we move through life and have different life experiences and come into contact with different people who show us Christ in many different ways.

Neither of these experiences is any less valid than the other – just different. God speaking at different times, to different people, in different ways. For Mary, we remember that this is the woman who has just experienced a double trauma so no wonder her ability to recognise Jesus is different to the other disciples. She was at the foot of the cross and watched Jesus die and now, going to mourn by herself, she finds that Jesus’ body has disappeared.

In this story we see an important space of unrecognition – a space full of weeping and confusion – before eventual recognition. This space that Mary is given is a space that lots of us need too; it’s as if the author is saying, “if you are confused or weeping that’s ok”. Take your time, it’s ok to be in this space. But you will hear your name.

What we also see in this story is that although Jesus tells Mary to announce his up-coming ascension she doesn’t do that at all. Mary goes back to the other disciples and says simply, “I have seen the Lord”. In doing this, Mary testifies to where she is – she’s not saying this is what you must believe, she simply gives her experience as testimony right where she is at. It’s like she is saying, “I have seen the Lord, but I don’t even know yet what that means.”

If we take Mary as our example then, it’s not necessarily about it making sense, or getting religious creeds or doctrines right, or totally understanding the resurrection (because let’s face it, who can?). Mary simply tells people “this is what I have seen”; this has been my experience …and it was amazing!

This story is part of the one long story that begins in a garden right back at the beginning of creation and ends in a garden at Jesus’ death, and yet what this bizarre story proclaims is that it didn’t end there in the garden. It is a story that keeps on going.

The fact is that the resurrection exceeds all of our attempts to pin it down and explain it. All we can know is that somehow, in an ancient tomb on a starry night, God worked to bring life out of death. Somehow, from the heart of loss and misery, God enacted salvation and that changed people and changed the world. And what is truly amazing is that we are part of this story and God is present with us as we live this story of hope in the dark places of our world today.

In all the hopelessness that the disciples felt and that we may be feeling today, what the Christian message of Easter proclaims is that there is hope; there is light in the darkness, even in the most hopeless of places. This hope is personified perfectly in Jesus, because the Christian hope believes that Jesus did not remain buried, he did not remain in that tomb, he did not remain dead.

What the message of Easter proclaims is that Jesus is risen. He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

First broadcast on The Sunday Eucharist – March 31, 2024


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