Easter Day Sermon

Sermon: Easter Day, 31 March 2013, All Saints’ South Lynn,

Fr Adrian Ling

The children from year 5 at Whitefriars School led the end of term Easter Service at the Minster on Wednesday. They retold the Easter story as it might be reported now on BBC news. ‘Reports are coming in that Jesus has entered Jerusalem on a donkey,’ they began; as they relaid news of the crucifixion the newsreader warned that ‘some viewers may find the following scenes upsetting’. And after describing the resurrection of Jesus, the reporter concluded ‘in all my years of reporting I’ve never seen anything like this.’

Were it to have happened today, the empty tomb would be treated as a crime scene, cordoned off while forensic investigators searched for evidence. The police would treat the empty tomb as a place where a robbery had occurred, a body had been stolen; the theft of a body would even today make the news. Indeed that was the first thought of Mary Magdalene. She sees that the stone had been rolled away and jumps to the conclusion that the body had been stolen, as she reports to Peter and the beloved disciple. But she does not go in, she is so alarmed.

Neither does the beloved disciple dare to go in, instead he peers in from the outside and sees the strips of linen lying there. Audacious Peter does not hang back, but goes straight in. The reaction of matter of fact Peter is not described, there is just a description of the cloths. Luke says he went away amazed, wondering what had happened. Peter’s example spurs the beloved disciple to go in, and John reports that it was seeing the cloths that made the beloved disciple believe.

That the burial cloths lay there was proof that Jesus’ body had not been stolen, for any thief would work in a hurry, and would not want to reveal the identity of the corpse he was stealing, he would take it still wrapped.

John is particular as to how he reports the strips of linen, rather similar to those wrapped around an Egyptian mummy, lying on the floor, and the burial cloth, the sudarion, lay folded separately. John’s account is full of eye-witness detail, told with the excitement of someone with great news to share.

Are we to picture Jesus rising up, shaking loose the linen cloths, and removing the cloth from his head and folding it neatly and laying it down, then pushing aside the tomb blocking the entrance, and emerging into the darkness? The actual moment of the resurrection could not be reported because no one was there to witness it. Perhaps a beetle or a centipede might have seen the moment, but certainly no human eye.

That the cloths were lying there, showed that Jesus would not be needing them any more, he was to die only once. Lazarus however when he emerged from his tomb, did so still wrapped in strips of linen and with a cloth around his face. Lazarus would need them again, but Jesus would not.

This is where the resurrection of Jesus begins for us, with a tomb, with the stone rolled away and linen cloths lying on the ground inside. That is the initial evidence presented to us.  Later Jesus appeared in a small number of reported appearances to his disciples, appearances so real that their lives were transformed. We will hear of these accounts in our Masses through the week and on subsequent Sundays.

We are blessed because we have come to faith in the light of those experiences. How blessed are we Jesus tells Thomas who have not seen and yet believe.

What do we need to believe? Do we need exhibit A, exhibit B and scientific proof? Bishop King of Lincoln said that someone who seeks evidence for everything for belief is like a man for ever studying Bradshaw (the book of railway timetables) but who never gets on a train. The proof of Christ’s resurrection, is not to be found in the cloths, the stone and the empty tomb, for they are just signs of it, but it is to be found in the powerful effects of the risen Lord.

There is a great revivalist hymn which  affirms:

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me
Along life's narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives:
He lives within my heart.

It is in us that the evidence lies, when we display how the sheer energy of the risen Christ powers us. The grave clothes of the dead Jesus are left behind, the Christ of life, lives on in us.

Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed alleluia!