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17.04.2022

Sermon of the Archbishop of Dublin on Easter Day 2022

The sermon preached at the Cathedral Festal Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, on Easter Day 2022 by the Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Revd Dr Michael Jackson.
Sermon of the Archbishop of Dublin on Easter Day 2022 - The sermon preached at the Cathedral Festal Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, on Easter Day 2022 by the Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Revd Dr Michael Jackson.
Photo: Bruno Van Der Kraan/Unsplash

Easter Day Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

St John 20.1: … early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark …

 

The story of resurrection unfolds while it is still dark. The hours of the night can be restless, they can be frightening, or indeed they can be both calm and peaceful. The time before the first real light of day gives a sense of forward movement and of something that has not happened before in this particular way: a new day is dawning. Each night differs from the one before and the one after. Before the new light of day comes, we stand at the hinge point of a single experience that is passing away and at the same time is flooding in to form something entirely new. For all of us, it is a time of transition, and yet it passes many of us by in our well–deserved sleep. But there are those who do not get such sleep. There are those who sleep badly. There are those on whom we rely for almost everything we take for granted who know this time very well – because it is their time, if any time is their time. Their senses – their eyes and ears – along with their commitments to duty and service are attuned to what is special to these few minutes of transition and how they experience them. This is not a photo album for them where light plays with darkness; this is real life and real work and real anxiety. Mary Magdalene is one such person in the story of resurrection. It is to St John, in today’s Gospel, that we owe her precious early–morning insights on the resurrection. It is a story like no other; and for millions of Christians worldwide it is a reality beyond compare:

Christ is risen

He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

This paean of praise hinges on this moment of insight of Mary Magdalene.

The story of resurrection brings together human and divine characters who intermingle without any seeming contradiction. In this way it mirrors, but rather differently, the story of Christmas and the birth of Jesus. It is another and a different Mary who shows a consistent spiritual intelligence. And it is her sense of going to tell the others and to share this incomplete and incomprehensible good news and her returning once again that are rewarded by The Risen Lord. For this she receives compassion and recognition: Woman, why are you weeping? and she hears her own name called out: Mary! Jesus has been crucified and is dead but the person who now addresses her clearly is Jesus in some form. Mary’s spiritual intelligence continues to gather pace. She holds her nerve; she begins to assimilate the distinction between resurrection and ascension of which Jesus speaks and she goes boldly and joyfully to the disciples to tell them straight out: I have seen the Lord.

The scene, therefore, is set for The Season of Easter, for the great festival of fifty days during which time the church sets out on the risen life with Jesus in the present time. Time as we know it changes by virtue of what Mary Magdalene sees in the early morning while it is still dark. Through the Scriptures we will be taken back into the life of Jesus as it is told in the Gospels and, from time to time, we will be somewhat confused because we will have heard some of this story before and in a range of different contexts. This is part of the dynamic of Scripture. But my suggestion is that, even when it is familiar to us, we read it and hear it through the lens of the life of resurrection which we live with Jesus Christ and the whole Christian world. The next stage of the resurrection is also, of course, to be found in The Acts of The Apostles. But before we leave St John chapter 20, let us see if it offers us some insights into ourselves and our own life as members of the church and society to whom we belong.

The first thing that might strike us in relation to all three of those who go to the tomb on Easter morning is a very specific type of grief and trauma. All three of them had to deal with loss but now they had to deal with absence. They knew that Jesus had died but now they find that Jesus has disappeared. This is indeed a lot to take in. And yet this is the experience of hundreds of thousands of people across the world throughout history and in our own day. We see it in the grief and searching of Ukrainian people as war plays out in their county and in their society and in their lives. We stand with them, and we welcome tens of thousands of them to our own country. Their grief and their devastation is beyond our experience, yet we reach out to them, as indeed we must. Secondly, a new community is formed out of experiences such as this, however traumatic. The two disciples rather unpromisingly simply go home, not quite sure what they should do next. Mary, however, it is who forms the new community of resurrection. She is able, as a result of her patience and her openness to new experiences, to tell the disciples that she has seen the Lord. New communities of believers are formed daily in response to the same resurrection in our world of today.

Most obvious of all, perhaps, is the learned technique of letting go simply because there is no holding on to a way of being that has run its course and completed its work. The time of incarnation has done its work. The markers have been put down. The teaching has been offered. The examples of pastoral and miraculous practice have been offered time and time again. Jesus points all the disciples now, as then, in this direction when he responds to the entirely human advance of Mary: Do not cling to me … In a wider sense Jesus is saying: This time has passed. Everything I was sent to do has been accomplished. I must return to the Father but you will be well and all will be well. And, as so often, a negative rebuff is in fact a powerful encouragement to positive action. There is not harshness in it, but there is the creating of a proper sense of distance.

How can we use and how can we live resurrection in our own lives? How are we to bring this spirit of hope and of the future to the people of Ukraine as their trauma and terror escalate? By keeping the faith and by sharing the fruits of faith.

Two things are happening at once. The question is, in part, what can the Scriptures of Easter give us; it is also, in part, what we give to others from the same Scriptures. For us, Easter is primarily a call to discipleship. In many ways discipleship is not as spectacular as resurrection; but it is fundamental; and it is shot through with resurrection values and insights. In many ways it is not, nor will it ever be, an easy path; but it is essential. In many ways we have been here before; but we need to be here again, year by year – if we are to take on the mantle of our own majesty. And it is this taking on the mantle of our own majesty that is needed for the true exercise of a full discipleship. It is not so much that resurrection is over and done with. It is more that its dividends are with us and among us day after day to live in new ways as our lives change and as the lives of others change. It is for us to share these dividends. And today we have no option but to look for shafts of resurrection light in the ways those who are oppressed in Ukraine respond to devastation and speak of hope. But we are not spectators of this arena of life that is working itself out in the arena of war. We are participants and we are asked to follow the example particularly of Mary Magdalene who is the true saint of Easter. Why? It is because Mary moves with assurance from sitting at the foot of the cross to running to tell the disciples that she has seen The Lord. Hers are the first footsteps of the church in the world.

St John 20.1: Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb.

 

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