Readings: Isaiah 25.6-9; Psalm 118.14-21; Acts 10.34-43; John 20.1-18 (view all)
I love this time of year, and I’m always reminded of being outside back home in Mid Wales, where I grew up. There are two things that always straight away let me know that it’s Spring time.
The first is that there are daffodils springing up everywhere — all around the edges of my parents’ garden and on the grass verges on the side of the roads. And the second, is the gorgeous Welsh spring lambs that begin to appear in the fields.
Of course, Easter is about more than spring lambs, bulbs and eggs. But these symbols of new life bursting forth from creation point us towards Jesus and the new life he offers us. So what insight might the incredible news of Jesus’ resurrection 2,000 years ago hold for us in our lives today?
This morning’s Easter gospel is so compelling because we are able to see what is happening even when those in the story itself aren’t. First, it’s Peter and John, who head home as if nothing has happened, and then Mary, one of Jesus’ closest friends, fails to recognise him. We’re desperate to nudge her, ‘Mary – look again! Don’t you see?’ Thank goodness that eventually, after a bizarre case of mistaken identity, the penny drops. Jesus calls her by name, and she realised that he is alive!
It’s then that Mary is commissioned as the first witness to the resurrection in John’s gospel, and she becomes the apostle to the apostles. It is perhaps only because of her faithfulness to that task that the resurrection is proclaimed, and the Church today exists.
And it is how Jesus gives this job to her that reveals to us the entire point of the gospel, the entire purpose of Jesus’ ministry, his death and resurrection. There are just a couple of sentences at the end of the reading, which it’s easy for us to gloss over, but Jesus’ choice of words is deeply telling.
First, he says to ‘Go to my brothers…’ making clear the close family relationship to his disciples.
Then he tells her the message she is to pass on:
…say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
The whole of John’s gospel is characterised by the intimate way in which Jesus speaks about his heavenly Father, but now because of the resurrection, he no longer speaks of God as his Father alone, but as ‘our Father’ and God as ‘our God’.
John wants us to understand that Jesus’ purpose is complete, the purpose he wrote about in his very first chapter, which we read together way back on Christmas Day:
…to all who received him [Jesus]… he gave the power to become children of God.
Through the resurrection of Jesus, we are fully affirmed in our identity as God’s children. As Peter affirms in our Acts reading, ‘God shows no partiality…’ – There are no favourites, no outsiders, none are excluded, all are welcomed!
Jesus is risen, and a new resurrection family is established, and Jesus our older brother leads the way for us to follow through death and into life, and invites us to share with him in the same enlivening, intimate relationship with God.
So, I wonder on this Easter Sunday: Will we, as Christ body, as his resurrection family put aside our divisions and embrace our call to witness to the joy of his risen life? Will we allow him to draw us into intimate relationship with our Father, embracing his abundant, eternal life?
And will we commit ourselves to growing the family – extending real hospitality and generosity to those we know?
Over the last couple of Sundays, I’ve been quoting from the book I’ve been reading in preparation for Passiontide, written by the Revd Samuel Wells. Well, to complete the set, here’s one final story! In fact, I’m stealing a story he has himself stolen from another author, Trevor Dennis. But when I read it, I couldn’t help but want to share it with you:
‘In his book Speaking of God, Trevor Dennis tells of a scene of desolation. He describes a stale, stinking canal, broken lamp-posts, flats boarded up. No grass, and no trees. Graffiti everywhere. For 30 years the site had been empty since an explosion killed Mabel and Arthur, asleep in the bed in the front room downstairs. No one had ever found their bodies. Nothing grew there, until one autumn a seed took route. Nobody noticed the plant for several weeks, but in the end you can’t miss a sunflower. There it stood, five or 6 feet tall, with its heavy, golden head. Most of the local people had never seen a sunflower. Some were changed by its beauty. They no longer had that tired, dejected stoop, so characteristic of the inhabitants of those streets. Most people, however, whether merely bewildered. It was so out of place.
‘The people left the sunflower alone. They thought they would get used to it. But they couldn’t. It showed up the drabness, the desolation all around for what it was: empty, ugly, dead. So people grew bitter about it. It became intolerable. One evening they went in a great crowd and they trampled on that sunflower, and danced on it, and beat the fibres of its leaves and stem, and crushed its petals. Then they went away in silence.’
But the story doesn’t end there. Wells goes on:
And yet the people destroyed that plant in high summer, when it’s flower was full of ripe seed. In their dance of death they scattered that seed over the entire site, and buried some of it in the ground. So it was the next spring what had been a scene of desolation was covered with sunflowers. There were flowers on Mabel and Arthur‘s grave at last.Hanging by a Thread, p. 50.
Jesus is our Sunflower. He took root in our world of despair and desolation. He was crushed and trampled for us, that’s the story of Good Friday.
And yet today, on Easter Day, we celebrate because, in him and through him, new life is birthed. The Church, our resurrection family, is born. And what once had been a scene of desolation is now covered with sunflowers.
Lord of all life and power,
who through the mighty resurrection of your Son
overcame the old order of sin and death
to make all things new in him:
grant that we, being dead to sin
and alive to you in Jesus Christ,
may reign with him in glory;
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit
be praise and honour, glory and might,
now and in all eternity.