Easter Sermon by Revd Nathan Falla preached at Hope Community Methodist Church, Easter Sunday 2023
Sometimes the Bible can surprise us, we can be taken aback by what we read for it challenges what we have always thought. And the reaction of the women to the resurrection recorded in Mark's Gospel may surprise us: "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." (Mark 16:8 NRSV).
This seems to contrast dramatically compared to the reaction recorded in the other Gospels where the women are the first witnesses of the resurrection and they tell the disciples who struggle to believe.
Has Mark got it wrong? Mark, the Gospel writer is so brief with the facts, he just reports the headlines, and doesn't waste his words. The women go to anoint Jesus, not knowing who will roll the stone away they arrive and the huge stone has already been moved, so they go in and encounter an angel, unsurprisingly this fills them with fear but the angel says that Jesus has been raised and they should tell the disciples and go to Galilee.
Is it any wonder that the women couldn't believe what had happened?
Is it any wonder that terror and amazement seized them?
Is it any wonder that they said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid?
Mark's account presents us with a quandary, what happened next? How did the disciples hear if the women were silent? There are many questions.
Hindsight shows that the women must have spoken, other Gospel accounts reminds us of this. So why does Mark write as he does, inviting us to sit with the uncertainty that he speaks of?
Donald English offers a suggestion when he writes: "part of Mark's gospel is the mystery of unbelief."
What is faith if there is no room for uncertainty or for questions? For me this account seems to be a much more real response, as it allows space for questions and doubt. I find this comforting, as it means that we can come with our fear, our questions and our pain, with the fullness of our frailty and humanity.
We know that life can be difficult, that it can be complicated, and I am certainly under no illusion of how complicated my life is. I know that often I tend to focus on the positives; I do this because I am naturally an optimistic person, but I am also aware that sometimes I do this because to focus on the negatives can be too difficult, or too painful.
We do it in Church, there is a tendency to go from the triumph of Palm Sunday to the joy and celebration of Easter Sunday, without the pain and abandonment of Good Friday yet alone embracing the desperation of Holy Saturday; the deepest darkness and the abyss of nothingness.
We need to recognise the pain of Good Friday so that we can rejoice on Easter Sunday in the new life and new hope that Jesus offers. But we also need to recognise our own pain and sometimes we will need to talk to others to make sense and to come to terms with what we have experienced, and to process what we are feeling and fearing. It is all too easy to give a sunny answer to the question "how are you", although I am OK can have levels of meaning.
Easter reminds us that there is no resurrection without death, and even the resurrected Jesus still has scars. We need to recognise that the world is not devoid of pain, and our lives are not without pain either. We all hold scars seen or unseen; caused by the decisions we make, the wrongs that we have done or that have been done to us, or the events that we have lived through. Everything has an impact, and sometimes that impact causes pain, and sometimes it can cause scars.
When Jesus does appear before the disciples most notably to Thomas a week later the scars of crucifixion are still very real, they have not gone away and the scars we bear are real too.
I remember a member from one of my previous churches speaking about the scars from their self-harming, they were a constant reminder of the past but they were also a reminder of the faithfulness of God. Their life had been transformed, yet they still had the scars and they were important, although sometimes they wanted to hide the scars.
We have a God of healing and transformation and we are invited for our lives to be changed and transformed by the resurrection power of Jesus. But this doesn't mean that the scars will go away, in fact even transformation may be a struggle, it may be painful, and it certainly may not happen overnight.
It was explained to me recently that part of the transformation from a caterpillar to a butterfly is the struggle of the cocoon. Having watched some caterpillars change there is the stage when they hang lifeless, before they wriggle and struggle with all their might, they are struggling to break the cocoon that will lead to the eventual unfurling of their wings.
If they are helped by trying to break the cocoon then they won't form effectively, because it is the breaking of the cocoon and the unfurling of their wings that drives blood to their veins and gives life.
Without Jesus going into the cocoon of the grave and then breaking free, there cannot be the victory over sin and death. Sometimes without us going through the struggling, the wrestling, whether seen or unseen we do not come to know the fullness of new life and new hope in Christ. This does not mean that we have to go through struggling and wrestling to encounter the risen Christ, but some do.
We may only see the result of the transformation, but that does not mean that the journey has not been long, sometimes painful and that there are likely to be scars too.
Will we be a place that hears the stories of struggle, where people feel safe to bear their wounds and show their scars? Will we be open to God's transforming, resurrection power even if it may be uncomfortable or painful? Or are we so afraid, that we dare not speak of the transforming love and grace of God? That we dare not be open to God's amazing grace and transforming love?
This Easter, will we embrace the transformation that the resurrection brings; will we embrace the new start, new hope, new life, joy and healing that Jesus brings? Will we be true to ourselves, real with one another, and real before God that we may know the risen Christ in our brokenness making us whole, and in the darkness bringing hope and peace. Amen.
The sermon was followed by the singing of Gareth Hill's hymn " God who knows our darkest moments ."