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Sermon for Easter Day

The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman

Easter Knowledge, Easter Faith

We’ve discovered a new game to play – ‘The mystery sound game’.  All you need is a quiet electronic trilling sound, the sort of sound that is made by some electronic devices such as carbon monoxide detectors when their battery is about to run out.

The game is best played at night when there are no other sounds, and the longer between trills the longer you can make the game last.  Anything from 10 – 20 minutes between trills works well.  It’s a game you can play on your own or with other people.

If you’re playing with someone else the first part of the game is when one person asks another, ‘Did you hear that?’.  This part in itself can go on for some time until finally both people hear the noise at the same time.  You then move onto the next phase of the game, trying to find where the noise is coming from.

This part involves at least one person going to every room in the house and sitting quietly to see if the sound is coming from that room.  The first rooms to go to are the one where any suspect alarm or detectors might be located but when these have been ruled out other rooms can be visited.  There is mystery and confusion as you try to work out where the sound is coming from.

The game finally ends when one person opens a window to discover the sound is coming from somewhere across the road and not form your own house at all.  You still might not be sure where the sound is coming from but at least you have enough information to move on to something else.

In some ways it’s a bit like that for Mary and the disciples in today’s gospel reading (Jn 20 v 1 – 18).  They don’t quite understand what is happening, it’s all a bit of a mystery.

If you read the accounts of the resurrection in all the gospels it’s clear that not of the disciples or anyone else such as Mary that was involved in finding the tomb empty really understood what was happening. 

In all the gospel stories of the crucifixion and resurrection it could be argues that the only person who has any insight into what is happening apart from Christ Himself is the thief on the cross next to Him who asks that Jesus remembers him when He comes into His kingdom! (Lk 23 v 43)

Some of us saw the Riding Lights production ‘Inheritance’ a week or so ago.  A very powerful production of the events leading up to the crucifixion of Christ.  As we watched the production it was possible to see the various characters depicted working out for themselves who Christ was and the impact He was to have on the world but were still unsure to exactly what this meant.

In Colm Toibin’s book, ‘The Testament of Mary’ (which is a work of literary fiction not theology shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2013) he beautifully tells the story of Mary trying to piece together the events that led to her son’s brutal death and make sense of his life which she sees as one where Jesus appears to be surrounded by men who could not be trusted or had questionable backgrounds.  She is surrounded by overpowering grief and continues to live in fear for her life in exile.  She does not have all the answers.

When we look back on the Easter story with our hindsight and understanding of what was happening it’s easy to forget the sense of mystery and confusion that the disciples must have felt.  Perhaps Jesus was not all they thought He was.  Perhaps He was just some kind of charismatic speaker and leader from a village 90 miles away with delusions of grandeur.

When they were with Him they often struggled to understand Him and keep up with His teaching so perhaps it’s not surprising they they don’t seem to completely understand what is happening once He’s been crucified.

They didn’t immediately make the link between some of the things Jesus had said and the events that were now taking place.  They were confused, uncertain and almost certainly going through bereavement which made logical thought and behaviour really difficult for them.

But they kept moving on, kept moving forward.  They didn’t have all the answers, they couldn’t explain what was happening in a logical manner, partly because it defined all human logic. 

The reality was there for all to see – Jesus had been crucified, buried in a tomb, but he was inexplicably no longer there when they went to look for Him to anoint Him.  The facts were indisputable, but that didn’t help them in their understanding.

It wasn’t until they experienced the resurrected Christ for themselves that things began to make sense. 

And it’s really only as we begin to experience the resurrected Christ that Easter begins to make sense

Experience what it meant to truly die to self and individual ambitions and agendas and experience the resurrection of the new life in Christ personally.

Because as we look back at the Easter story we too can be in the same position as the disciples that went to the tomb.  The reality of the empty tomb was before their very eyes.  The Easter facts of the crucifixion and resurrection were and are undeniable – if they were not they would have been disproved years ago.

Many of us don’t have a problem with understanding the Easter facts, but we can confuse our cerebral head knowledge of the death and resurrection of Jesus with understanding of what the reality of Easter means in our lives and thinking that we fully understand the Paschal mystery which is Easter.

The Easter story, and in particular the resurrection, are more than just mere neutral facts.  At their very heart they are life changing and transforming and in a sense can never be fully understood and realised until we meet with Christ. 

Because it’s not so much the fact of the resurrection that makes a difference in our lives but more the reality of what that means for us as we live out our lives as redeemed, re-created and transformed people who live out an Easter faith.

As we acknowledge Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, and die to self so that we can be raised in Him, so we parallel the events of Easter in our own lives and Christ Himself as He died and rose again, three days later.

That doesn’t mean to say we will, or even need to completely understand Easter or the mystery of our faith.  Just as for Mary in the Colm Toibin book or the disciples in the gospel stories, we will probably never fully understand it. 

There will always be parts which remain a bit of a mystery, parts which we only begin to understand bit by bit, year by year, and bits that we still find a bit confusing.

But as believers we understand and accept enough of the facts to move on in faith, to be comfortable in the mystery, and to live out the faith of the experience of the risen Christ in our everyday lives

It’s true we are able to look back on the facts with a certain degree of understanding, but as with Mary and the disciples, we look forward, without necessarily understanding all of the details or implications, with faith and expectancy as the risen Christ takes increasing hold of our lives.

Jesus died and rose again so that we all may come to know Him and His Father and in so doing have life in all its fullness.

We may not fully understand it at a cerebral level, or comprehend why Jesus went through what he did for us.  But we are invited to accept it, and to experience the transforming outcomes of the presence of the resurrection in our lives.  That is the message of Easter.

We don’t have all the answers, we might not even know all the Easter facts, we never will.  But in the risen Christ, and through our Easter faith, we know the one who does.