Church of England Diocese of Canterbury Acrise St. Martin and Swingfield, St. Peter

Were You There (when they crucified my Lord?)

1 Apr 2021, 5 p.m.
Easter

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?

Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

Were you there when God raised him from the tomb?
Were you there when God raised him from the tomb?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when God raised him from the tomb?

Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. The refrain from the African-American spiritual, that evocative Easter song.

And on Easter morning, I find myself having a slight involuntary tremble when I hear the opening words of John’s Gospel ’Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdala went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance’ And, in my imagination, I am there, a witness to this extraordinary moment. I am there when God raised him from the tomb.

But it seems to me that I have no right to be there on that still morning if I had not also been there when our Lord was crucified, when he was nailed to a tree, and indeed when they laid him in a tomb. I have no right, and I have no understanding of the world-changing significance of the empty tomb unless I have followed his journey from Good Friday to that early morning of Easter Day.

What if the tomb had not been empty on that morning? What if Mary had arrived to find the stone unmoved and an odour of decay mingling with the herbs and spices? Then as the apostle Paul wrote, ‘our preaching is useless, and our faith is in vain’. The brief ‘Jesus movement’ would have become an obscure Jewish sect that disappeared and was lost in history.

This was no ‘conjuring trick with bones’, this was nothing less than the pivotal moment for the whole of creation. Was he really raised from the dead? Did he really appear in a physical, tangible form to Mary, to the disciples in the upper room, on the beach, and on the road to Emmaus? The factual basis of these accounts in the gospels can be discussed and disputed to the end of time. The Truth is deeper that the factual circumstances. And that truth is that Jesus underwent resurrection from death. This is no restoration but a complete re-creation. The empty tomb becomes the basis of our hope.

We were there when he died our death. But we are there when he rose out of the tomb, being resurrected for us. This is our resurrection. We participate in his resurrection through the transformation of life which begins now, as God’s love penetrates the depth of our human plight and which culminates in God’s new creation of all things. In this new creation, all wrongs are righted and all hurts are healed, because he has overcome death, our last enemy. Because Jesus died our death, God’s love reaches even the dead and takes them to new life. Because Jesus died our death, death is no longer the fate it otherwise would be. The light of Jesus’ resurrection dispels the shadow that death casts over life. Nothing, not even death, can now separate us from the love of God. Thus, through his grace, we can be there when God raised him from the tomb. It makes me tremble, tremble, tremble!

Alleluia, He is risen indeed!

Peter le Feuvre