SERMON FOR EASTER DAY (6 a.m.) St Mary’s 16.4.17
Until the Reformation there would almost certainly have been a service here on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday of Tenebrae, meaning darkness. During this service readings from the book of Lamentations expressing sorrow and mourning, would have been read. And then, as psalms were read, a set of candles would have been extinguished one by one until the church was in complete darkness and silence. This powerfully underlines John’s gospel account of the crucifixion where Jesus’ final words are “It is finished”. On Good Friday we are left wondering how any joy, hope or glory can come from this catastrophe. All we see and hear are grief, pain, loneliness, wounds, and cries. Scripture is fulfilled. There is darkness over the land. There is no sense in which anything can be seen or understood. There is nothing. It is finished.
But God in Jesus Christ is with us in the darkness.
Matthew has just told us that on the third day two women come at first light to see the tomb where Jesus had been laid. The darkness gives way to dazzling light. An angel from God in white, rolls away the stone of the empty tomb, sits on it, and terrifies the guards. The angel recalls the death of Christ, knows the women are looking for his body, and knows that Christ has been raised from the dead, as Christ previously told his followers. He instructs the women “Go and tell his disciples that he is in Galilee, where you will see him”. Matthew is telling us that in his view believing in the resurrection is not based on some possible wishful thinking by the credulous women but is inspired by God. It is an act of God. For angels to announce this is not at all strange for Matthew as he stands in a long Jewish tradition in which angels appear at great moments within God’s purposes. The God who remained silent in the darkness of Good Friday is having the last word, shining a light that will never go out. This is neither just an extraordinary miracle, nor a special favour to Jesus. God is starting something completely new, fulfilling promises of previous centuries. Now the atonement, the at-one-ment is accomplished.
Astonished by what they hear and see in the bright light of this day, the women run with fear and great joy. They must have gone on remembering and re-telling the story endless times, to more and more people. In today’s language, it goes viral. In seeing Jesus again in the new light of day, the women and his followers begin to realise God’s purpose is for them to be commissioned to a new way of life, in which what he has told them and done in the last three years will come to fruition. They are to go out and tell the world that what has happened will change the whole course of human history.
If we take away the resurrection of Jesus, then Matthew’s writing is no longer a gospel, it is no longer good news. In a sense the cross is the climax of his story of Jesus’ life of teaching, prophecy and ministry, but this only makes any sense at all as the cross of a person who then rises from the dead.
In the beginning God in the darkness said “Let there be light”; and there was light, and God said it was good. As we shall be reminded in a few minutes, at our baptism we have passed from darkness to that light, with thanksgiving. Now the God of all love calls us to reflect that gift of life-giving light, the light of the risen Christ, which will never be extinguished, for the rest of our days.
Alleluia, Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Amen.