Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. 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. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Good morning and may I begin by wishing you all a very Happy Easter, a very happy but very different Easter. I’m sorry that once again I can’t see you but to be honest I’m rather relieved that you can’t see me because I now look different and I’m not yet used to the me I see in the mirror. My usual artfully tousled coiffure (at least I hope that’s how it looks) is now flatter and straighter and it doesn’t feel like me. I’m sure I’m not on my own in finding life a bit strange and disorientating due to all the changes, both major and minor, hair styles being the least of them, that have been forced on us since the pandemic caught up with us. Perhaps for the first time in our lives (for most of us) we are gaining first-hand knowledge and experience of what it’s like to have all our certainties and securities and freedoms taken away from us and knowing that we are not in control of very much at all. Many of the people in biblical times would have would have known these feelings all too well; they frequently lived under foreign occupation or in exile and we know that their oppressors were not exactly famous for their kindness or subtlety.
Yes life is very different for us now.
Looking back to the beginning of Lent, which now seems so long ago, things looked fairly normal. Yes we had some challenges to face following the retirement of our vicar and the fact that we knew we weren’t going to get another one of our own, but we were working things out and making plans, we were coping. At that point, as we saw how situations were developing rapidly in China and then Italy we thought that we might have to make changes but I don’t think many of us envisaged just how quickly all our plans and assumptions would be so abruptly cast aside. Giving things up or taking things on for Lent has taken on a whole new meaning!
In the last four weeks we have all come a long way and had to make a great many changes and adjustments to the way we live. Some of us are having to stay at home, whether we want to or not and others are having to work harder and longer than ever and in genuine fear for their safety or even their lives. As we look on, we see how these changes have shown the best in human nature in some and the worst in others. I think on balance we are blessed with seeing far more of the best than the worst but hopefully we will all use these strange and challenging times to reflect on our own values and behaviours and as I said in my previous sermon, make plans to be better people and a better society and in so doing make a better and fairer world for everyone.
In our reading from Acts Peter says “I truly understand that God shows no partiality”. Perhaps it’s dangerous to take such a short section of a quote and apply its point about partiality to our current situation but we are certainly seeing that the virus we are contending with has no partiality. When it gets a grip we are all at risk whether old or young, male or female, rich or poor, powerful or powerless or indeed whether we believe in God or not. At the time of writing this sermon, our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is in intensive care just as many others are and by the time you hear or read it I have no idea what his condition will be. Lest there be any doubt, we really are all in this together.
What this pandemic is showing us, at great cost in lives and countless other ways, is just how fragile and superficial the world that we have constructed for ourselves actually is. In so many ways it is amazing and complex and wonderful but we now see how easily it can be broken. All that we have relied on and to a large extent taken for granted cannot now be relied on. We are by no means helpless but we are most definitely not in ultimate control. Perhaps we had made the mistake of fooling ourselves that we were but nature has a way of putting us straight from time to time.
Holding onto our faith can be challenging at the best of times and these are not the best of times. Holding onto our faith especially when we don’t understand what is happening or why and when everything seems to be going wrong and failing can lead us to doubt ourselves and our choices as people of faith. But we have incredible examples of holding onto faith in desperate circumstances throughout the Bible including in our reading from John’s Gospel. Jesus’ Disciples and followers must have felt that everything they had put their love and faith into had come to nothing. The man they loved and believed in had been humiliated and executed in the cruellest way. Why? What was it all for? They didn’t understand but they held together in their grief and distress and wanted to look after Jesus even in death which is why Mary went to his tomb. As we know, their faith was not in vain and ultimately they were given the gift of understanding through his resurrection. Even so, many others still regarded them as deluded or misguided or trouble makers and it takes courage and faith to keep going when that is how others see you.
How will our faith be supported and encouraged? For me it is when I see God working through my fellow people wherever and however that might be. As I said earlier we have seen this current situation bring out the best in many people; those working in hospitals and social care and community practice to care for the sick, those working, often unseen, to maintain our supplies and services which enable our societies to keep functioning, the incredible coming together of disparate groups to build hospitals, develop tests and possible treatments, design and manufacture equipment to support the sick and the incredible pulling together of people from all walks of life doing all they can in their own small ways to support and care for each other through these dark times. So much has been achieved by so many in an incredibly short space of time. It just goes to show what we can do when we lay aside tribalism and self-interest and it is heartening. I really hope and pray that we can hold onto this spirit of loving kindness, compassion and cooperation as we move forward in the months and years to come. Jesus reminds us of the commandments at the heart of our faith, to love God and to love our neighbour as ourselves. Are we finally going to listen and more importantly to do as he asks?
Kath, Lay Reader
Please also see the sugguestion from Church's Together in Britain and Ireland on singing hymns on Easter Day.
That our hearts may rejoice.
That our hearts may rejoice.
That our hearts may rejoice.
That our hearts may rejoice.