Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

Easter morning
April 9, 2012, 9:38 am
Filed under: Sermons

A sermon preached at All Hallows, Easton, 8th April 2012

“On the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark.” I remember, some years back, being in Jerusalem just after Easter. We were staying in a hostel just outside the Old City, and on the Sunday morning I slipped out by myself, at about 7 o’clock, and went through the gate opposite the hostel. Hardly anyone was to be seen in the narrow streets, and I reached the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The site of the Tomb itself is contained in a little structure right under the main dome, and the second Mass of the day was about to begin. The Franciscan priest and a couple of servers were in the inner chamber, and the rest of us- about a dozen- were in the so-called “chapel of the Angel” immediately outside. It was a wonderful and memorable experience.

In all four Gospels, women play a prominent part in the Easter story.  This seems fair enough, as they had been the faithful ones standing by the cross, when the brave men had run away. Having seen where Jesus was buried, they came back as soon as the Sabbath rest was over to do what was right and fitting: to wash and perfume the body, and lay it to rest with all the proper ritual there had been no time for on Friday afternoon. The Gospel writers mention several women, but they all agree that one of them was Mary Magdalene, Mary from the town of Migdal in Galilee. Despite the popular impression, the Gospels nowhere say that she was a great sinner; St Luke says that she was one of the well-to-do ladies who supported Jesus in his earlier ministry.

So, “On the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark.” Finding the tomb open (and maybe not staying to see the angel the other women saw), she ran to find Peter. Peter the Rock, Peter the First Lieutenant of the Lord. Peter and John run back to the tomb (what a lot of running there is!) and find it as Mary had said. Peter even goes inside the tomb. Then, when the men have gone again, scratching their heads over it all, Mary stays and meets Jesus.

We can imagine the scene: Mary falling to her knees and holding on to Jesus for fear he might disappear! So Jesus says, “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.” What did he mean? I suppose, in part, he meant that there was no need to cling- he was not about to vanish! Instead, he had a job for her: to go and tell the others, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

It may seem to us that it would have been nicer if Jesus had not ascended, but stayed on earth for us to see him and hear him. A moment’s thought will show us that this would be a mistake. Until modern times, with radio and television, Jesus remaining on earth would have meant that for nearly twenty centuries very few people would have been able to see him and hear him, and then only by travelling to where he was- in Jerusalem, say. Jesus in heaven, Jesus enthroned with God, can hear us wherever and whenever we call on him. In the Blessed Sacrament, we have a tangible guarantee of his presence with us.

We do not need to “hold on” to Jesus (as Mary did), because he is always with us. Mary did not recognise him at first, nor did the disciples going to Emmaus. Actually, we also do not always recognise Jesus! Because every one of us, every human being, is an image of Jesus, a representation of Jesus. “What ever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me,” he said. On Good Friday, at All Saints, I was leading the devotional hour with readings from a lady called Caryll Houselander, who died more than fifty years ago. She had had a difficult life, which was transformed when, one day, she was travelling on a busy underground train and she suddenly saw Christ, living and rejoicing, suffering and dying, in each and everyone of the passengers. When she left the train, the mystical experience continued for several days, convincing her that we serve Jesus best when we serve him in one another. Christ is risen! May he be risen in each one of us! And may we bring that good news to everyone, so that he may rise in them too.



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