Easter Day Sermon

21/04/2019

21st April 2019, Easter Day, York Minster, 10.00 am

Holy Communion

Gospel Reading: John 20: 1 – 18

Theme: ‘There is nothing love cannot face: there is no limit to its faith, its hope, its endurance’ (1 Corinthians 13: 7).

Prayer:

O God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, shine in our hearts ‘to give us the light of the knowledge of your glory, in the face of Jesus Christ our Lord’. (2 Corinthians 4: 6) Amen.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was till dark, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb. She saw that the stone had been moved away from the entrance.’ (John 20: 1).

Mary Magdalene, who was she? She was a follower of Jesus of Nazareth out of whom Jesus is said to have cast ‘seven demons’ and who ministered to him in Galilee (Luke 8: 2).

Later she stood by his cross at the Crucifixion (Mark 15: 40), and with Joanna and Mary, the mother of James, discovered the tomb was empty and heard angelic announcements of Jesus’ Resurrection (Mark 16: 1ff). Mary of Magdala was granted an appearance of the Risen Christ early on the same day (Matthew 28: 9, John 20: 11ff). This is the Mary of Magdala in our Gospel reading.

But as far back as we can go, at least since the time of Pope Gregory the Great, Western Christian tradition identified Mary Magdalene with the ‘woman who was living an immoral life’ who anointed Jesus of Nazareth’s feet in the home of a Pharisee, Simon (Luke 7: 37).

Mary of Magdala has also been identified with Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, who also anointed Jesus of Nazareth (John 12: 3). But the Gospels give no real support to either identification and these identifications have now been abandoned by Churches in the West.

My route to York was the same taken by the highwayman Dick Turpin whose hanging was held at Tyburn with professional mourners who put on a show for the large crowd. When I am gone, please do not identify me with Dick Turpin because we took the same route to York for different reasons!

Now then, on this Easter Sunday morning what lesson does Mary Magdala, the first Apostle of the Resurrection teach us?

There is nothing love cannot face: there is no limit to its faith, its hope, its endurance’ (1 Corinthians 13: 7).

As we heard, ‘Early on the first day of the week, while it was till dark, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb. She saw that the stone had been moved away from the entrance.’ (John 20: 1).

Mary of Magdala’s love for the Lord made her rise early, and that love helped her to overcome any fear that would have prevented the likes of me from going out ‘to the tomb while it was still dark’.

There are so many fears which we just cannot shake off especially those in the darkness of our minds and hearts. Fears which would have certainly intensified by deep sadness, like those of Mary Magdalene, because of the thought that we have lost forever the person whom we have loved so deeply and who had transformed our life from despair to hope.

But love wakes Mary of Magdala early to go and be with her Lord. He may be dead and in a sealed tomb but he is still her Lord. Love can see in the dark when looking for Jesus.

Sadly, for her, ‘the stone had been moved away from the entrance. Her Lord taken out of the tomb and she did not know where they had laid him’ (John 20: 3) – so she tells Peter and John. They come and ascertain that the body of Jesus was not there and they ‘go home. But Mary stood outside the tomb weeping, and peered into the tomb’ (John 20: 10 – 11).

Mary of Magdala was not going anywhere. Love can’t leave the place where the subject of that love is. I fully understand Mary Magdalene’s tenacity which is very much like that of a Yorkshire Terrier: never letting go; and only doing so in order to get a firmer grip.

Please forgive me for this personal memory. I remember staying with my mother – in her room at Trinity Hospice – never leaving her side for seven days. She was the one person who had loved and cared for this four pound in weight baby who was expected to die before I reached the age of five. Even then, there was no guarantee that I would reach the age of ten. Dr Billington, who brought me into the world, said to my mother, ‘What Sentamu needs is to be loved all the time!’ Her love would not let me go and I stayed at her bedside till death parted us.

‘There is nothing love cannot face: there is no limit to its faith, its hope, its endurance’ (1 Corinthians 13: 7).

Mary Magdalene was a brave woman. She said to the Risen Jesus, thinking he was the gardener, ‘If it is you, sir, who removed him, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away’ (John 20: 15). Love makes her strength appear to be sufficient. For love makes the impossible possible. Where there is love, the task ahead of us is never as great as the power behind us.

But Mary Magdalene was also pre-occupied with her own reflections and sadness. Like her, we see only that which we have the inward power of seeing. Mary Magdalene turns twice from looking at the empty tomb. The Lord calls her by name, and shows her that he was alive and would be with her always. She was filled with joy.

And her response says it all: ‘My Master! My Teacher, My Leader!’ My dear Master!’ She was so overjoyed she wanted to hold on to him. But she must go to his ‘brothers’ – his friends, his disciples – and tell them that The Father, who is God, is God to Christ, and God to them. The Father of Christ, and their Father also. And she tells them this earth-shattering news; and that she ‘has seen our risen Lord’. He lives! The great redeemer lives!

There is nothing love cannot face: there is no limit to its faith, its hope, its endurance’ (1 Corinthians 13: 7).

The one great lesson that Mary of Magdala has to teach us is this. That Easter’s meaning for those who formerly were without hope and without a true direction in life is a source of ever-recurring wonder. Some of the effects of Christ’s Resurrection were eloquently described more than sixteen hundred years ago by John Chrysostom in his Easter message:

‘Those who were formerly living in the shame of sin are now living in confidence and in justice:

They are not only free, but saints;

Not only saints but just men [and women];

Not only just men [and women] but sons [and daughters];

Not only sons [and daughters] but heirs;

Not only heirs, but brothers [and sisters] of Christ;

Not only brothers [and sisters] of Christ but his co-heirs;

Not only His co-heirs, but His members;

Not only His members, but temples;

Not only temples, but instruments of the Holy Spirit.’

Yes! A visible and palpable community of the Holy Spirit.

Dearly Beloved, have you seen the Risen Lord? Has he filled you with the life and power of his Risen Life?

Now then! Like Mary of Magdala, go and tell. Be anointed with the Holy Spirit and love the poor, the prisoners, the broken and enslaved victims. In the midst of the paralysis of the Brexit-analysis be a realistic reconciler. Be the change you want to see. For we are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song.

There is nothing love cannot face: there is no limit to its faith, its hope, its endurance’ (1 Corinthians 13: 7).

Mary of Magdala, thank you for showing us how the amazing love you received from Jesus totally transformed your life. The Jesus who was crucified because He loved like no other. Risen Lord, work your salvation in us too. Amen.