Unlike Jesus whose resurrection body moved through the walls of his tomb, we are slowly emerging from over a year of lockdown and restrictions. This time last year we were not allowed to worship in our building and I had never heard of zoom.
I am full of mixed emotions; excited about seeing members of our community who we haven’t seen for a long time but still anxious.
Like Mary Magdalene who longed to hug and hold onto Jesus when she recognised him as risen from the dead, we long to hug each other. A handshake and conversation would help. Will we ever be able to express our love for each other the way we once did?
Our fear is heightened by the restrictions we still have to observe, social distancing, sanitizing our hands frequently, keeping our face masks on and not being allowed to sing. COVID 19 has not gone away. People we know are still dying.
Life in our schools is returning to normal. Children have to be patient with us adults as we seek to keep everyone safe and move towards greater freedoms ourselves.
Most of us have lost friends and loved ones during the pandemic including many in our church community. Some are unable to return because their health has deteriorated. We have got out of the habit of travelling to church on Sundays. Joining a worshipping community online or watching a service on television is easier than being part of a community in which we are expected to serve and give.
During lockdown our local community has become needier than it was before. The referrals I am making to New Starts for food each week are increasing and we are likely to experience economic uncertainty for many years to come.
Our pattern of services will be different. Our Thursday evening zoom service will continue as long as there is a need for it and we will have a discussion about whether we want the services we used to attend on Sunday evenings and Wednesday mornings to continue.
Life this year has been tough for churches. Leaders have had to learn new technological wizardry and our community has been divided between those who have been able to access zoom and those who haven’t. Some Christians have enjoyed a greater variety of worship styles and preachers whilst for others it must have seemed as if their church had deserted them.
When Jesus died on the cross the hopes of those who loved him were crushed.
The women visiting his tomb probably suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. Unlike most of the men who had fled, locking themselves away, the women disciples stayed by the cross, watching Jesus suffer and die. Even though their grief must have been overwhelming and their lives were in danger, they stayed until the end and watched where Jesus was buried. They may have seen Nicodemus wrap the body in a white sheet, anointing Jesus with very expensive perfume.
Like so many watching their loved ones die from COVID 19, they haven’t been able to touch Jesus or get close to him while he was dying. They haven’t been able to prepare his body or give Jesus the dignity of a proper family burial.
Mary Magdalene came as soon as she could early on the Sunday morning when the Sabbath was over because she loved Jesus. He had set her free by casting seven devils out of her. She was not a respectable woman who kept proper boundaries and had been forgiven much. With her were Mary and Salome. They came with spices to anoint the body. Bodies matter. Most of us when saying farewell to loved ones need to hold them and look on their faces.
The women were not avoiding the ugliness and stench of death. They were ready to face what they had seen.
They had observed the Jewish Sabbath and waited until the law said they could come. They came even though it was dangerous and guards had been put in front of the tomb in case someone stole the body. They came unaccompanied by men, even though as women they were likely to be subjected to violence and disgrace like so many women across the world.
They came expecting to fail because the stone in its groove in front of the tomb was immense. It had been sealed to stop the body being stolen and they had no idea who would roll it away. These women were prepared to risk all with little hope of success. How many of us would be prepared to do that? We tend to weigh up the likelihood of succeeding before trying.
When the woman arrived they discovered the stone was rolled away and when they looked in the tomb they didn’t see an angel as described in the other gospels, but a young man dressed in white. The women were alarmed when they discovered the tomb was empty. John’s gospel says Mary wept because she did not know who had taken away her Lord.
Because the tomb was empty, the women were unable to do what they had come to do. They experienced helplessness, fear, confusion and failure yet again.
The young man attempted to quell their fears by explaining that Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified had been raised. They were to go and tell his disciples and Peter who denied Jesus that Jesus was going ahead of them to Galilee where they would see him. Jesus had returned to the place where his ministry was most effective. He was getting on with the job he was given to do and his followers needed to do the same. Not surprisingly, the women succumb to even more fear and amazement.
They knew that as women, their testimony was unlikely to be believed. Luke tells us that when they did eventually tell, their story seemed like an idle tale. The women also knew that once the disciples knew Jesus was risen their lives would never be the same again so Mark ends with them not telling anyone because they were afraid. Like us today, the women had mixed feelings. They behaviour was typical of those who have experienced trauma, failure and uncertainty. They had not yet experienced the risen Lord.
The women brought spices. Some bring beautiful flowers to worship. Others bring writing skills, musicianship or skills in gardening. Many show love for Jesus through showing love for others.
Like the women, most Christians find it is difficult to tell others that Jesus is alive. The resurrection sounds even more unbelievable today than when it happened.
Like the women we are sometimes frightened because our families and friends know our lives are not perfect. Sometimes just mentioning Jesus causes anger and division.
We speak of the resurrection because it really happened and it makes a difference to our lives. Jesus, according to 1 Corinthians, appeared to well over 500 witnesses and has appeared to many more since.
This is good news. Jesus died for us. He was buried and rose again and everyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
Despite the obstacles, the risk of failure and shame, we are called to make ourselves vulnerable and tell the story of Jesus. His living presence moving among us will take away our fear of what might be coming. As we rely on him, he will lead us.
God’s mighty power demonstrated in the resurrection brings joy out of grief and life out of death. Like Jesus, we will one day burst from the tomb with resurrection life no longer restricted by the death and decay of our earthbound bodies.
The living presence of Jesus gives joy and hope. Happy Easter!