Easter Sermon 2015 – “The Ministry of Resurrection-telling”

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

‘“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.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.’

The words which I have just read, and with which St Mark’s Gospel concludes, stand in strong contrast to those with which the Gospel began and which we read a few months ago on the First Sunday of Advent. There St Mark proclaimed, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”[1]

St Mark has set out to tell everyone the “good news”, but those who receive the great news of the resurrection of this Jesus from the dead react with terror and amazement and fear – and silence!

The women who have come to the tomb in which Jesus was hurriedly laid a couple of days earlier, – Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome – have bought spices with which to anoint his body. I heard someone say the other day, “I hope they kept the receipt!”

On the way, the women are worried as to how the stone in front of the tomb might be moved; but when they get there that worry is unnecessary. For the stone has been rolled away already – and Jesus is gone! A “young man dressed in a white robe” (an angel or two in other Gospels) tells them “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him”. He then gives them a task: “Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee”.

Throughout this Holy Week, I have been talking of ministry (= “service”) given to us as followers and disciples of Jesus Christ.

On Palm Sunday, we spoke of “the ministry of donkey-fetching”. Two of Jesus’ disciples were given the very ordinary task of fetching the donkey on which Jesus was to ride into Jerusalem. Our ministry of donkey-fetching is to do the very ordinary things of our life in service to Christ, whatever he asks of us. And most of us, most of the time will find “ministry” very ordinary.

On Maundy Thursday, we talked of “the ministry of foot-washing”. This entails our being willing to serve one another – Christians and those so far outside of the church. No one is outside the orbit of the love of God as revealed in Jesus’ life and death and resurrection; and we are all called to serve the least and greatest equally, without prejudice or discrimination.

On Good Friday, we encountered “the ministry of cross-standing”. According John’s Gospel, at the foot of Jesus’ cross as he was dying were his mother, his aunt, Mary Magdalene and the disciple John. Their presence was undoubtedly a comfort to Jesus in his last awful hours. We, as followers of Jesus and his disciples, are called to stand alongside those who are dying and those who are the victims of injustice and oppression, of violence and evil.

Today, we are introduced to the ministry of “resurrection-telling”. “He is not here; he is risen; go and tell”. This is the mission of all Christians. To tell the whole world that Jesus Christ has conquered death; that he has been through it and come out the other side; and so can we. This is “good news” indeed!

Sadly, in St Mark’s account of the resurrection, those who were given the “ministry of resurrection-telling” failed to do it. Which is probably why a number of attempts have been made to finish the Gospel on a more positive note. In many Bibles you will find at least two possible “better”, “happier”, endings. But Mark – the first-written of our Gospels – definitely leaves us with the mission unfilled.

Matthew, Luke and John have appearances of Jesus to various of his followers; St Paul in today’s Epistle details numerous post-resurrection appearances[2]; and the early Church built everything on the proclamation that Jesus not only died but rose in triumph because death could not hold him.

St Peter’s sermon to the household of a Roman centurion, Cornelius, of which we read a little as our first lesson this morning, tells the story clearly and succinctly. “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people, but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.[3]

And so the story has been told generation by generation, for some two millennia so far. And so we – today’s disciples – are called to be witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus – to tell the story of his suffering and death which restores the relationship between God and all humanity, to heal division and to overcome the fear of death – and to tell of our own experience of his resurrection life in the here and now.

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus went through human life and death, “so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.”[4] Isn’t this good news?

It is good that we have journeyed together through this Holy Week – from Jesus’ joyous welcome into Jerusalem, through the Last Supper, his painful prayer-time in the Garden of Gethsemane, his unjust trials before the High Priest and the Roman governor; to his crucifixion and death.

It is good that we could experience a little of the utter devastation as the broken and pierced body was laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea, and walk with the dispirited woman towards that tomb early on Easter morning.

And it is wonderful that we can say with the angel, “He has been raised!”

But if we simply enjoy this celebration together and go off to eat breakfast and chocolate, and that’s all we do, we will be like the Marys and Salome in the Gospel – amazed, terrified and afraid.

The resurrection of Jesus is GOOD NEWS! And, like St Peter and the apostles, “we are witnesses”.

How can we not share this news – in our lives and with our words and actions?

 

The resurrection of Jesus transforms our lives and our world.

 

The ministry of resurrection-telling is yours and mine.

 

Christ is risen! Alleluia!!     He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

[1] Mark 1:1

[2] I Corinthians 15:1-11

[3] Acts 10:39-41

[4] Hebrews 2:14-15

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