Sermons from St
Fr Dennis Smith, Easter Day, Sunday,
April 16th, 2017
The story of Easter has to be seen and wondered at. It has to be told and retold, lived out, in life and in death, in time and into eternity. This is what Mary of Magdala and the other women came to know in their Easter experience as told by Matthew and John. They see. And through them, others also see. They become windows into the wonder of resurrection. They become icons of Easter. The Eastern Orthodox tradition has treasured icons at the heart of their spirituality, worship and prayer from the earliest centuries. They believe icons to be windows into heaven, opening up the life of eternity for human hearts and minds to perceive and to embrace.
This is exactly the gift that Mary and the other women have offered to Christians throughout the centuries. They have become windows into the risen life of Jesus, enabling us to see Easter truth which mere words can never fully grasp. Take Mary herself as an example. She is for us an icon of the presence of the Risen Jesus at the heart of human despair. Her master, her Lord, in whom she had placed her love and her hope, had died. She had witnessed that dearth, had remained with the other women at the foot of the cross and had heard the final cries of agony and acceptance as Jesus had died.
Now she comes to anoint his body as a final sign of her love and devotion – and the body was gone,. She was in despair. Her agony was compounded. But Mary sees her lord. He lives. Many women (and men, of course) still share the same despair: seeking to pay their final tribute of love to a disappeared husband or wife, father or mother, son or daughter, brother or sister. Searching among dead bodies. Mothers in despair around the world, searching for weeks and months for their dead sons among hundreds of dead bodies. Then suddenly they stop searching and stop weeping for they realize that all the bodies they have seen are their sons, embraced by love and by the friendship of all the women and men who are friends in this struggle; It’s as if they experience resurrection. Mary becomes an icon of this transforming, renewing and restoring miracle of resurrection. It’s not a response to words spoken but of seeing beyond and beneath the surface of things.God’s resurrection miracle at work in human despair, hopelessness and loss. Jesus, the risen Lord, still stands among us in his risen power. We may not always rccognise his presence among us as we despairingly search for signs of him around us, but he calls our name, he addresses us in person, by name, and we know that it is he who has come to us. In this powerfully gentle presence s our hope and joy, our future and freedom. “I have seen the Lord!” Mary becomes an icon of resurrection, enabling us to see beyond the surface of things, beyond the surface of our lives, and to discern in the depths the power and presence and promise of God in Jesus offering the world new life and new hope. But Mary is also an icon of the love, forgiveness and renewal of God, transforming our sinful and fragile lives. There are many traditions surrounding Mary. Among them is an image of Mary as someone “possessed by demons”, by the powers of evil. She is seen as being in the grip of internal and external forces that throw her into turmoil and threaten to shatter her life. So she becomes an icon of the power of evil in human lives and of the brokenness and powerlessness that results.
But here, on the morning of resurrection, she is changed. She has been held and embraced by love. She knows the power and energy of the love and forgiveness of God in her crucified and risen Lord. She is made whole again and knows the power and victory of love at work in her life. She is restored to humanness and belonging, to love and peace. The battle with evil forces at work in her life is over for her: She is embraced by love. Here in the resurrection garden she knows the fulfilment of that embrace and energy of love. Though she herself must not embrace! She is accepted, forgiven, loved, made whole – in the risen Jesus alone. And her world is new!
She is still a icon of God’s transforming and renewing resurrection love for us and for our world. In this sense, we are called to be Mary: to see her as a window into eternity and so to rejoice in hope and be embraced by love. Mary, however, isn’t alone. The women who are her companions on this journey of discovery – as we see if we look at St. Matthew’s account of the resurrection story – also become icons of Easter. They enable toe others to see and so be transformed by the resurrection story.
On that resurrection morning they too are invited to “Come and see": to be witnesses of the resurrection, of the fulfilment of Jesus’ promise. They are invited to “go quickly and tell his disciples” to follow him to Galilee, for “there you will see him.” And on their hurrying journey, suddenly Jesus was there on their path. There Jesus himself gives them a word of reassurance, “Do not be afraid,” and sends them on their way to tell the disciples to go to Galilee for “there they will see me.”
Again then it’s about meeting Jesus unexpectedly on the way to unexpected and challenging places and “seeing” him there. So now the women become not only icons of hope and ove – as Mary was – they become icons of companionship with Jesus as he calls his friends to bear witness to what they have come to see and to know and to believe – in all the challenging places of our contemporary world. And to go on with that journey of discovery and witness as companions of Jesus and of one another. They have become icons for our journeying with Jesus, for they enable us to see – in ways that mere words cannot always express – what it is to be embraced by resurrection and to open the promises of eternity to others as we make our journeys through a perplexing world in which faith is often questioned and believing becomes fragile and threatened. In the world of Galilee, where economic and social injustice often undermined human potential, Jesus would meet his disciples and there they would become – in their living and in their speaking, despite all their frailties and failures – proclaimers (even icons) of the Kingdom. They too would see – for they had contemplated these icons of Easter on their journey – into the truth of resurrection and enable others to see and believe and trust God’s promises in the risen Jesus. This iconic journey continues in our own day and beyond, as we, in Bishop David Jenkins words in his book “The Calling of the Cuckoo” says “Go on with God: We are called to join in God’s amazing agenda of unending love with all the grace, guts and intellectual, spiritual and moral energy and insight we can muster … God goes steadfastly on but it takes time to catch up with where he has moved on to.
So go on with the risen Jesus … And you too will see – and be glad!”