12 April 2020

Easter Day 2020 – ‘He’d Gone’

Passage: John 20 vv.1-18: ‘Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed.’
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Sermon: ‘He’d Gone’

John 20 v.8: ‘Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed.’

He'd gone. Mary came to the tomb, and he was not there. Peter and John came to the tomb, and he was not there. But when John went in, and saw his absence, he believed. Yes, he would appear - to ones and twos, to groups of friends. But not to everyone: not to the crowds in the temple or synagogue. Just to those in a garden or behind locked doors.

And those witnesses were to proclaim that ‘he was risen’; that life had triumphed over death; that good had defeated evil; that Jesus was set free and let loose in the world.

How could they do this, when Jesus was not there, not visible, not obvious, not able to be paraded in front of the crowds as God's great Exhibit A? How could they do this, when only a few had seen him? How could they do this, when he had publicly died the most shameful of deaths?

Maybe it goes back to that early moment in the still-darkened garden, when John saw - not his risen body, but his absence - and he believed.

The faith that Jesus ‘was risen’; that he was the crown­ing fulfilment of God's promises and plans; that he was the key to a liberated future for all - that faith is not evoked through dramatic signs alone. It is evoked by the story and the memory of one who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by empire and by misplaced religiosity; by the sense that this, supremely, was a life God blessed, a life God approved, a life God attested, a life that could never be finished by death. That story, so near, that memory, so raw, must have combined in that moment with the sight of the absence of Jesus: and John saw, and he believed. And that story, and that memory, would be told to hundreds and thousands and millions who had never seen Jesus: and even in his absence, they, and we, would believe too.

And in believing, we can be caught up into his life. Strangely enough, we in a sense become hidden as the risen Jesus is hidden. Remember Paul's words: 'You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.' Yes, people can still see us. But there is a secret, a mys­tery to us, like the secret and mystery of the risen but invisible Christ. We live like others around us: we eat and sleep and dress and work and play. But our real life is not what people see on the surface. It doesn't belong to this temporary, finite world. Our real life is hidden with Christ in God. It is safe in God's eternal sphere.

And so we dance to a different music and march to a different drumbeat. We go the way of Jesus, whose life God approved and raised never to die again. And as we do, mysteriously, others may encounter the hidden Christ whose secret life we share.

The world around us danced to the music of wealth, marched to the drumbeat of power. Or it did, until everyone’s life was put on hold and a virus proved to be the great leveller, hurting rich and poor.

But our life revolves around neither wealth nor power. Our life is hidden, with Christ, in God. People may look at us, as John looked at the linen wrappings and the cloth rolled up, and think: 'She's gone', 'She's not here', and yet they believe: because somehow they grasp that the source of our life is elsewhere, guarded in God's eternal sphere.

So, let’s live out our Easter faith in our Good Friday world. Let’s ‘live tomorrow’s life today’ (Brian Wren), believing the curtain has been pulled back, freeing us to live the life of heaven here on earth. Let’s enter, day by day, as Jesus taught us into the secret place of prayer, where we revel again in our roots in eternity; where we open wide the channels through which the fresh springs of true life can pass from Christ. Let’s live each day in this world as those who have a com­pass and light from another. We live trusting that the way of Jesus is the way of the future: not the way of the dictators or the suicide bombers, not the way of those who amass wealth to themselves without care for the hungry, not the way of the small-hearted and hard-hearted and bitter-hearted.

Till then, we pass on the memory; we tell the story. We don't allow the news of Jesus to be silenced by self-isolation or social distancing, nor by em­barrassment, or ignorance, or the tragic failings of his followers. We share it simply, straightforwardly, not raucously, not defen­sively. We have no Exhibit A to parade before people. We have ourselves, as the channels of his hidden but risen and eternal life.

Strengthened for this task, we gather round tables in our own homes, remembering collectively his life and his death and we rediscover his absence and his presence. We see and we believe.

Revd. Russell Furley-Smith, Easter - 12 April 2020

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