Fr David's Sermon for Easter Sunday
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. +
Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Three years. Four days short of three years is how long it has been since we have been together, in church, on Easter Day, to proclaim the resurrection. Three years ago, I had only been among you for two and half weeks, newly licensed as your Priest-in-Charge. Many of you were still wondering who this strange man was who had been appointed as your new priest. This strange man, for example, who referred to himself as Father David. Indeed, I soon picked up that some of you were worried about just how high church and traditionalist I might be, and especially whether my use of the title Father meant that I didn’t approve of or accept the ministry of women as priests.
It was a concern that I had not foreseen, coming here from a parish where the Priest-in-Charge was known as Mother Anna, and thus where I had automatically been called Father David from the day of my ordination. But three years ago, we had the same gospel reading on Easter Day as today, and my celebration of Mary Magdalene as the one who took the news of the resurrection to the eleven, the Apostle to the Apostles, hopefully assured you that I fully and unequivocally rejoice in God’s call to ministry of all those God calls without reference to sex or gender.
I’ve had chance enough since then to preach about the Gospel as a Gospel of inclusion, that I’ve hopefully left no room for doubt that I wholeheartedly believe that all are welcome in God’s church, all are invited to God’s table and that God’s calls a whole variety of people to serve in a whole variety of ministries. Not only should sex be no bar to ministry at any level, but neither, as we as a church family proclaim, should sexuality, gender-identity, disability, neurodiversity, ethnicity, class, background, or any other false barrier that humanity likes to raise.
As we have journeyed with Christ through this Holy Week we have been reminded of the call to peace and humility in Jesus’ choice of a donkey, rather than a battle horse to ride. We have seen the call to love and service in the new commandment and the stooping to wash feet, and we have understood the cross as breaking down barriers and calling us to newness of relationship, with God, with one another, and with all people. It especially acts as a challenge to us to stand with the persecuted and despised, those who the world continues to crucify because their identity, their nature, or their very existence is too much of a challenge to the scramble for power, wealth and privilege.
So rather than focus on her role as Apostle to the Apostles, I want us to think today about another way in which Mary Magdelene, possibly my favourite of those of Jesus’ disciples we find in the Gospel accounts, gives us a wonderful example of humanity, love and spirituality, both in today’s gospel readings and elsewhere.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. One of the most profound spiritual gifts, is something that is rather at odds with the patriarchal history of religion, and our society’s stereotyped and often dangerous expectations of masculinity. The gift of tears can be at the same time beautiful, moving and deeply challenging. Whether we weep with compassion for the suffering in the world, sorrow at how our sin and failure has grieved God and others, the joy of wonder at the beauty of creation and the abundance of God’s love, grief for the things and people we have loved and lost, or relief in the face of reassurance and forgiveness, tears bring cleansing, they bring release, and most importantly, they bring us closer to knowing the compassionate love of God, shown in Jesus’ own tears at the grave of Lazarus, his friend.
Mary of Magdala represents many of these experiences to us, the deep love of the one who has known deep trouble, deep forgiveness, deep joy and here, deepest grief.
I have been so pleased to see so many in church this Holy Week, walking the way of the cross: whether at Stations on Wednesday, at supper, the Eucharist or the Watch on Thursday, or Messy Church or the Solemn Liturgy on Friday, because it is only through experiencing for ourselves, the extremes of emotion and experience that Jesus and the disciples went through that the joy of today can be fully experienced.
The challenge of the call to service in our Lord and Saviour humbling himself to wash us, and then telling us to do the same for others; his command to love as he has loved, and his command to keep as a perpetual remembrance, the Eucharist he instituted; the injustice of his trial and sentencing, and the pain, humiliation and self-offering of the cross, are all brought to their fullest meaning in the power of the resurrection.
The choosing of humility, love and self-offering of the one who has power even over death, has a profoundness that only tears can really express, and stands in stark contrast to the way that many with power and influence exercise and abuse it today.
Here in this journey and its destination of the empty tomb, is the most stark and radical choice we can face. The reaching out of two arms on the cross, is so much more of a rebellion against the ways of the world than even sticking up two fingers.
It is a choice between the hardness of heart necessary to trample on others, in the scramble to the top, and the openness of heart necessary for love, service, self-offering and tears.
The wonder of the resurrection doesn’t take away from that, it merely confirms the profundity and power of the choice. Jesus’ offering on the cross can no longer be seen as a defeat, a failure, it is the subversive choice of one with the ultimate power to choose, and so becomes the subversive symbol of a people called to follow that choice.
Yet, as fallible humans, as members of a selfish society, and as a body that has gone from a radical alternative lifestyle, to a grand institution and a part of the establishment, we are continually in danger of forgetting the subversive nature of our faith, and the subversive nature of the one on who that faith is centred.
The Jesus that stands before us today is so different from the image of God we create in our heads, so different from our experience of worldly power and our acceptance of its priorities, that we have to question whether finding ourselves face to face with him, we are any more likely to recognise him than Mary in the garden.
The combination of cross and resurrection stands as a permanent reminder that the ultimate victory lies not in seeking power through force, deceit and corruption but through love, humility and tears.
The outpouring of love on the cross and the triumph of the resurrection serve to strengthen us to stand with the persecuted, to raise up the fallen, to challenge the
powerful and to weep with those and for those who the world ignores, oppresses, deprives and persecutes.
But are we willing to call Rabbouni, teacher, Lord, the one that calls us to such a radical and subversive way of life? Are we ready to embrace the humility necessary to know the depths of God’s compassion, to demonstrate the power of God’s love, to weep God’s tears?
As we stand, confused, conflicted, unsure outside the empty tomb, and as we will celebrate in a few minutes when we renew our baptismal promises, Christ calls each one of us by name: Mary, David, Kathleen, N, N, N. Will we hold back, protect our dignity and composure, respond half-heartedly or not at all? Or will we turn, recognise the power of Christ’s calling fall on our knees, let the tears flow, and embrace the way of Christ so firmly, that Jesus needs to tell us not to hold onto him?
Do we place our faith in the rulers, authority and power of this world and this life? or the one whose way of love, his resurrection shows us, all things will, in the end, be subject to?
Will we go home today to say we had a lovely service, or complain about the long sermon? Or will we go from this place to proclaim with Mary Magdalen, in word and action and tears of compassion: ‘I have seen the Lord’?