3 April 2021
Isaiah 25: 6-9
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death for ever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
Acts 10: 34-43
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.’
Mark 16: 1-8
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. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to 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. 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.
God of glory,
by the raising of your Son
you have broken the chains of death and hell:
fill your Church with faith and hope;
for a new day has dawned
and the way to life stands open
in our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Lord of all life and power,
who through the mighty resurrection of your Son
overcame the old order of sin and death
to make all things new in him:
grant that we, being dead to sin
and alive to you in Jesus Christ,
may reign with him in glory;
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit
be praise and honour, glory and might,
now and in all eternity.
Back in November 2018 I went on a Retreat led by Rt. Revd. John Pritchard, former Bishop of Oxford. Many of you may recall that prior to that, he had been Archdeacon of Canterbury. In those days, back in the ‘90’s he used to run excellent teaching days for the diocese, so I knew that the Retreat would be full of interest. Little did I suspect that he would persuade many of us there to consider going on another retreat, one that would take place by the Sea of Galilee. Hearing about the wonder of standing on the shore and looking over at the same range of hills that Jesus would have looked on convinced me that going on this Retreat led by John Pritchard would be right for me. Places on the Retreat for 2019 were already taken. However, I duly talked to an old friend of mine who I reckoned would also want to go, and we booked up. We were all set to go in May 2020. Sadly, it was not to be, for, as we know, the pandemic prevented travel. We booked up again with much hope for this year but sadly, again, it was cancelled for the same reason. We are now set to go next year in April….and pray that we shall.
Mark relates that the young man in the empty tomb told the women, ‘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.’ We might be 2000 years too late to see Jesus in those heady days just after His resurrection, but my friend and I reckoned that we would certainly sense Jesus’ presence there in Galilee. We really wanted to go.
Surely, anyone who had been told that Jesus was going ahead of them into Galilee would be so totally amazed that they would immediately rush out and tell his good friends, and especially Peter, to get there without delay. Mark tells us that those women did not do anything of the kind. Instead, he tells us that they went out and fled from the tomb.
Maybe that is understandable. Let us try to picture the scene. The three women, Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James and Salome, had accompanied Jesus ensuring that He and the rest of the disciples were fed and cared for as they travelled around. Three days ago, they had watched the crucifixion of their dear friend, Jesus. No one could say they were particularly brave, for they kept a low profile, watching from a distance. Two of them had followed Joseph of Arimathea, who had laid Jesus’ body in his tomb. They had watched him roll the huge stone into place which sealed the entrance to the tomb. The three women had gone to buy spices so that they might anoint Jesus’ body. They hurried to the tomb just after sunrise, wondering who would roll away the stone.
Imagine their shock when they got there and found that the tomb was open. There was no corpse lying there. Instead, there was a young man… or was he an angel? Whoever he was, he was telling them that Jesus had been raised. He was not there. They were awestruck. All that talk they used to hear from Jesus – could his words have come true? They were truly terrified and utterly amazed, so amazed that they fled and did not tell anyone what they had seen. They were afraid.
It does not seem a very satisfactory climax to Mark’s gospel, does it? It seemed so unsatisfactory that later writers have added further verses recounting that Mary Magdalene saw the risen Christ and told the disciples that she had seen Him.
But, for today, we have been given just those eight verses which are probably the original ending of Mark’s gospel. Why would Mark have ended his gospel like this? It was hardly good news that the women had fled and had said nothing.
To understand this a little better, we need to reflect that Mark wrote his gospel about 60 years after the birth of Christ, so around 30-odd years after Christ’s resurrection took place. By that time, Christians were already experiencing persecution. So, he was writing to people who may well have been afraid to declare their faith. People listening to his account could well have been shocked that he recorded that the women fled and had said nothing. However, through Mark’s careful narrative, they would already have in some way identified with the women. They would have empathised with them as they had witnessed the agonising death of Jesus and would have, so to speak, travelled with them as they watched his body being buried. So vivid would have been Mark’s story-telling that they would have known immediately how awestruck those women must have been to have found that the stone had been rolled away and that the body of Jesus had gone. As people who were fearful for their own lives, they would have felt for those faithful women who, at that crucial moment, had failed to obey the instructions to tell the disciples what had happened.
As Christians in those very early days may well have been wrestling with the conflict between their responsibility to tell others about Christ and their fear for their lives if they did so. It is much the same for Christians in parts of the world today where they continue to be persecuted for their faith. Even in this country, it is hard to admit publicly that you are a Christian.
Just over 10 years ago, the comedian Frank Skinner joined Archbishop Rowan Williams in conversation at Canterbury Cathedral. We had manged to get tickets to hear what they said. Since then, I have continued to have a soft spot for Frank Skinner. To my surprise, he featured in our newspaper just last weekend ahead of the publication of his latest book, ‘A Comedian’s Prayer Book’. He had let it be known for years that he was a Christian, but his faith had never made it into print. His return to faith coincided with his decision to stop drinking. For him it was far easier to confess to the world that he was a recovering alcoholic than it was to confess that he is a Christian.
We can sympathise with Frank Skinner as he awaits the responses on social media. We can sympathise with those women who ‘went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid’.
What we hold on to, though, are those words of the young man, who may well have been an angel, who told them, ‘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.’
Someone must have told the other disciples what happened, or we would not be here today. I wonder then, what is your response? To say nothing to anyone or to greet people with that wonderful Easter greeting, ‘Christ is risen!’?