Sermon. 2nd Easter Evensong. St Mary Magdalene. Sunday 15 April.
May what we think and feel and say be acceptable to you oh Lord.
Psalm 143 v 1-11
Isaiah 26 v1-9, 19
Luke 24 v 1-12
‘And they were perplexed’ …..
On Friday one of my younger colleagues burst into my office at about 2pm. My office door had been closed, which signifies to people that I am not supposed to be disturbed, and for good measure I had also put up my big red ‘do not disturb’ sign too as I really needed to get something done which demanded my full attention.
Michael -as I will call him- a very quiet and rather taciturn young man when ‘management’ is around – burst in to tell me that the mother of his best friend had just died.
He pulled himself up a chair and out tumbled his story of a lonely only child with a father in the Army which he detested, as he had to live on an army base, and so spent most of his youth from the age of 12 in the house of his best friend, whose mum was bringing him up alone after a messy divorce…and she had just died of a cancer that he knew nothing about.
Michael is one of the young lads I frequently pretend isn’t wearing earphones to hear music whilst working, or I turn a blind eye to the lack of smart business dress in the office, and he is one of the young staff from whom I gently retrieve wine glasses at the end of a staff party, as too much has been consumed…..he lives a batchelor lifestyle a long way from his home town.
As he sat there telling me all of this, I could see he was really troubled, upset and also perplexed. This had been unexpected. He had had to tell someone straight away- and as he sat there he also had to get his head round it.
And so it was in the story of from our Gospel tonight. The women in our Gospel reading had gone to the tomb expecting to find a body. They had seen with their own eyes the terrible death of Jesus, the hasty transfer of his broken body to an empty tomb, and they were going to the tomb to anoint and properly prepare Jesus’ body.
Instead they faced the unexpected; the stone rolled away and no dead body. They were perplexed. When they then saw two young men in startlingly white clothes telling them that Jesus had gone as he said he would…. they were still perplexed, and afraid. They ran to tell others.
As we ponder this tonight, we need to remember that although we all shout ‘Christ is Risen’ and Alleluiah in our Easter season , actually it is only with the benefit of our Scriptures, our traditions and the gift of the Holy Spirit in our own lives, that we can say with such confidence Christ is Risen. At the time of this story in Luke, the disciples including these women, did not know that Jesus had become Christ resurrected; they only knew that his body was not there.
They had to deal with the unexpected. It perplexed them.
We have had some appalling examples in the news recently of how people deal with the unexpected. The riots last summer when a young Malaysian student, disorientated and hurt, thought he was being helped when in fact the young people purporting to assist him were actually stealing from him. Only last week , as a Tsunami threat was suddenly published for Thailand and other coastal areas in the Southern hemisphere, following a massive earthquake in Indonesia, the fast food company KFC, known for its ‘finger licking’ chicken, issued the following advice
‘People should hurry home this evening to monitor the earthquake situation and don’t forget to order the KFC menu that will be delivered direct to your hands’. A swift apology followed.
And if we think that dealing with the unexpected in ways which yield a personal or commercial advantage is new, we must remember that the soldiers at the foot of the broken Jesus on the Cross drew lots to see who would have his clothes as he hung there in agony: the soldiers knew that this was a different death and there might be something ‘in it’ for them later on.
Whereas sometimes dealing with the unexpected brings out the worst in human opportunistic behaviour, more often it is met with disbelief; we simply cannot get our heads round it.
For the women at the tomb in the early hours what they saw did not make sense, they did not understand. They ran to tell the other disciples what they had seen …..and were generally not believed. Then Peter decides to look for himself and is left ‘wondering to himself’ at the end of this passage.
In Luke’s Gospel, there are 50 days between Easter and the full expression of the Holy Spirit, and in our church seasons, we have 50 days between Easter and Pentecost, following the Luke pattern. These 50 days represent the period of time between the resurrection and the Gift of the Holy Spirit being received, accepted and recognised.
So in Luke, this time is represented through a succession of Jesus’ appearances during the rest of Chapter 24 in the Gospel; appearances to baffled, perplexed and gradually- over time- believing, transforming, Disciples. It took a while for Jesus’ disciples to be convinced that Jesus had indeed become the risen Christ. During this time they moved from fear, doubt and confusion to become the fearless, determined missionaries of the new faith we see in the book of Acts.
Being forced to confront the unexpected, a new reality, different to everything that had gone before, moved them on.
They had to be open to move on.
And so it is with us. We need to allow time, to be perplexed, even afraid, of what the changes in our own lives will bring as our own faith emerges and changes over time too. We need to be open to receive, to accept, to recognise, God in our lives …..and that enables us to continue to move on.
Returning to my young colleague Michael on Friday, as he stared at me with incredulity, gradually things began to make more sense to him: the absence of the mother from local reunions, the sadness of the fact she hadn’t been at her son’s wedding. He had been too busy with his friends to notice. He was now gradually absorbing the unexpected news, making connections that had been there all along but he hadn’t seen.
During the period between this new dawn in the Gospels witnessed by the women and the full recognition of the risen Christ, we know that the earliest disciples went on to see connections that had been there all along, not only in Jesus’ life and in his teaching ,
… even in the words of the young men in dazzling clothes on that first morning
‘Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and be raised again. …Then they remembered his words.’
We too need to be prepared to give ourselves time to absorb the full impact of a risen Christ in our own lives and world today, to be open to change, to see connections….and to be prepared to face the unexpected knowing that we have the Risen Lord to help us and sustain us.