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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr David's Sermon

16th April 2006

Fr David Shepherd

Easter 2006

‘When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him’

Today Grace is being baptised. She is the latest person to receive God’s grace in baptism in the 2,000-year story of Christianity. Easter Day is a good day to be baptised. The keeping of Easter Day as a special feast has its origins in the Baptism of new Christian converts in the early years of the Church. Lent was originally the time spent in preparation for Baptism. Then on Easter Day the candidates entered into the liturgical re-enactment of the death and resurrection of Jesus as they were baptised. As we share in this Baptism today we too reaffirm our Easter Faith.

If Grace is the latest young woman to become a Christian then in St. Mark’s Gospel we are given the names of three women who were amongst the earliest. Their names have survived nearly two millennia, because of their close links with Jesus. We don’t know much about them. We know a little more about Mary Magdalene than the other two. Mark tells us that they saw the crucifixion from a distance, having provided for Jesus during his Galilean ministry and that now ‘very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.’ Mark is noted for his brevity, for his use of silence and of secrecy (don’t tell). On Palm Sunday I was struck reading Jesus’ words in Mark’s Passion how little he says. The silence, the gaps in Mark, as well as what he does tell us, are of great significance.

In today’s Easter Gospel we see the impact of Easter faith on the followers of Jesus. There is a radical reorientation in life, a transformation. Passive observers become active disciples. Apparently three quarters of English people know what Easter celebrates with just under half believing that Jesus was raised from the dead. That belief is not expressed in belonging, in active membership of the Church. St. Paul tells us that to be a member is to be a living part of a body. You can’t be a hand in isolation. In a parish like this if belief found such expression we would expect 5,000 or so to be active members of the church and disciples of Christ. Something has to happen to turn passive witnesses into active disciples.

The three women did better than the male disciples. They did not run away in denial or betrayal. Some commentators point out that was because they weren’t tested or tempted as were the close followers of Jesus like Peter. Faced with such a test we would all run. The women did not run but they remained at a distance. How could any one save a sadist do otherwise if they knew and loved the person being crucified? It was all too horrible.

When it comes to faith many like to remain at a distance. They like the Church to be there, they are sympathetic, they share Christian beliefs and morality but they remain uninvolved. Something has to change.

The three women came to the tomb early, ‘when the sun had risen.’ (This is Mark’s way of telling us that the resurrection had already happened) They came to anoint the body. Yet there is still an air of distance and unreality. After all the body was already in the tomb and who would move the stone? The time for anointing had passed. Going at dawn two days after the event reflects the confusion of grief but also an understandable playing safe.

What they found was to completely change their lives once its full impact had sunk in. The tomb was empty. This could have meant anything, no more than a stolen corpse. But they received a message from God. In Mark it comes via a young man in white –an angel.

His words were, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.’

Then come the words that call us to change from passive observers to active disciples. ‘But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him just as he told you.’ The command is to go and tell. As Christians our task is to go and tell others about Jesus.

Mark reflects the earliest stages of Resurrection belief. He records the initial fear and lack of understanding. The process of change is gradual. This is reflected in the fact that Easter in the Christian Calendar lasts for the great 50 days. Gradually the story of the Resurrection unfolds. At first the women were seized with terror and told no one. Later they and the disciples saw the Risen Lord He appeared to them, convincing them that he was alive.

For most of us that process of change, a conversion from being passive observers to active disciples is similarly gradual. We encounter the Risen Lord in the Holy Spirit as we share in lives of worship and service. It is the Holy Spirit given to us in the Paschal mystery of Baptism that enables this change to take place in us. It is God’s gift to us. Our part is to receive it, to be open to it.

The three women, Mary Magdalene, Mary and Salome two thousand years on can lead us to Easter faith because they are like us, fearful, vulnerable and unsure. Like them we can be transformed by our encounter with the Risen Lord. We pray that Grace, standing in that ongoing two thousand year old story and tradition, may likewise be so transformed.


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