Today we gather in a place of hope. Christ is risen from the dead. But we have only got here because on Friday we were at the foot of the cross.
On Thursday evening church and cathedral bells rang out in a plaintive toll in solidarity with Paris and France mourning the devastation of the Cathedral of Notre Dame – a significant historic building and a living place of Christian worship.
Today Christian places of worship have been devastated in Sri Lanka – Christians deliberately targeted and there has been huge loss of life and many injured.
And how I long for church and cathedral bells to toll for so many scenes of devastation and pain in our world – situations which perhaps we are not always so quick to lament – so many places in our world for which Christ’s heart of love was broken, as we recalled at the foot of the cross on Friday.
I long that we might see differently – that I might see differently. And my own reflections on the response to the Notre Dame disaster is that when something is close to home and involves something we identify with, our hearts are more easily stirred.
And amid the tears and the shock at the devastation I believe there is something even deeper going on. I think we are perturbed because suddenly the truth that life is not always quite as we expect is brought into sharp focus. Life is not quite as we had expected or planned, and I believe it touches on our mortality – a recognition of our frailty and the fragility of life even in those places where we have assumed no change. And suddenly life looks different.
Perhaps we have drowned out those words with which many of us began Lent on Ash Wednesday as ash crosses were placed on foreheads: ‘Remember you are but dust and to dust you shall return’.
This year I lived that Ash Wednesday liturgy in a cemetery just outside Srebrenica in Bosnia, surrounded by over 6,000 graves of men and boys massacred in an act of genocide in 1995.
I was with a small group of women – all followers of Christ – and that place of burial was a place in which I felt deep sadness and lament and was acutely aware not only of the fragility of human life but also the frailty of the human heart and the devastation we are capable of.
Yet that place among the graves was also a very special place as we met with survivors and a mother who had lost her son – and they spoke of hope and a commitment to love.
And now on Easter morning we focus on a different group of women gathered in a different place of burial many hundreds of years ago. Women who also loved Jesus, and indeed who had been alongside him and had supported him in his earthly ministry.
There had been plans and expectations. Remember the celebration as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. Great expectation that Jesus was going to finally sort things out.
But then it all began to go horribly wrong. Plans were dashed and expectations were shattered. Jesus is arrested, tortured and nailed to a cross. Dead and buried.
And so it is that three days later there is a gathering of women at a burial site.
Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and some other women come to the tomb and when they get there that sense of ‘nothing being as they had expected’ becomes even more acute. Yet again it looks as if their plans have been thwarted. Someone has tampered with the tomb and the stone is no longer over the entrance – and worse still Jesus’ body has gone missing. The tomb is empty.
And just as the women are trying to make sense of it, angels appear.
Whenever there are angels be sure that they will be heralding the unexpected. Remember the Angel Gabriel suddenly appearing to Mary and telling her she was going to give birth to the son of God? And then there were those shepherds minding their business in a field one night and angels appeared to them and terrified them.
Once more here are angels now not at Christ’s birth but after his death – coming with tales of the unexpected and upsetting people’s plans and expectations whilst saying that it’s good news. And like those shepherds many years earlier, the women are terrified. And then the angels tell them they are looking in the wrong place – looking in the wrong way: ‘Why are you looking for the living among the dead?’ say the angels.
Why are you looking in the wrong place and seeing everything in the wrong way? Because of course the way we look and the way we interpret what we see does deeply affect how we live our lives.
The women are told that Jesus has risen from the dead. And for some of us perhaps those words have become a little too familiar. Week after week we proclaim that Christ is risen – we say it in the creed; we proclaim it in the Eucharistic prayer – But do we let the words soak in and affect how and where we look, and how we live?
Christ has risen – amazing words. And for the first followers of Jesus those life-changing words were going to take time to sink in. Those words of the angels to the women are saying that Jesus Christ Son of God who died out of love for the world is now alive.
And this is where Hope bursts onto the scene. Larger than life Hope. And life looks different.
Death has been completely defeated. God’s eternal love and life have broken into the present. And this is not some wish of fantasy – This is hope – sure and certain.
And hope is so different from wishful thinking.
I think we are seeing quite a lot of wishing in our country at the moment regarding our relation to the future with the European Union. Amid uncertainty and weariness there is lots of wishing about what might be and what could be.
But Hope is something much more certain and life-giving than wishing.
The hope of Christ’s love and life and light is present even amid pain and struggle. Hope is there if only we could see beyond our limited human expectations and assumptions, which so often are shaped by our failure to look in the right place.
I don’t know if you have seen that amazing image of Notre Dame after the fire. A picture of rubble and smoke and yet in the centre is a large gleaming cross which has caught a shaft of light. Someone has looked in the right direction and captured a picture of hope pointing to resurrection.
Nothing can undo the resurrection of Jesus Christ and so nothing can change the end of the story. God has promised us that one day it will all be sorted. And that death will not have the final word. God will one day make all things new.
And it’s good news even now in the present.
Of course, don’t trust me I’m a woman – I might just be telling you an idle tale – just as Peter and the other men thought when the women told them the truth that first Easter!
Although Peter discovered that it was (and is) true, as we heard in our first reading from the Book of Acts some time later after Jesus has ascended to be back with God the Father; and God the Holy Spirit has come upon Christ’s followers.
Peter discovered that life looks different through the lens of hope: A lens which is empty-tomb shaped; life-stronger-than-death shaped; light-stronger-than-darkness shaped.
And hope is yours for the taking today whether you are in a place of joy or a place of pain. Christ’s resurrection in the past can never be undone, so when you stretch out your hands to be fed by Christ in bread and wine, or bow your head for a blessing – receive it as tangible and visible hope in the present, and hope for a future yet to come when God’s Kingdom will be fully here. Look and see.
Alleluia Christ is risen. He is risen indeed Alleluia