notre dame montreal

Easter Sunday Sermon

The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman

Mary can’t believe her eyes…   …until she really sees Jesus

We sometimes can forget how confusing it must have been for Mary and the disciples when they first went to the tomb. 

We’re not quite sure why Mary went in the first place.  Unlike the other gospel accounts she does not appear to have any spices or oil for anointing the body but early in the morning she goes to the tomb.

Even before she gets there she can see that the stone is no longer blocking the entrance.  It would have been like a large thin millstone which perhaps ran in a roughly cut groove.  Extremely heavy and from what we are told in other gospels, guarded by Roman guards.

She can’t believe her eyes.  She and the disciples have just come through the most traumatic three days of their lives and now this, the grave has been opened and there is no one there.

Unable to believe her eyes she runs back to Simon Peter and John and says that Jesus is gone.  Perhaps not believing her, they run back and take a look for themselves.

They too look in and see that the body has gone and they then believe her.  ‘Yep, you’re right the body’s gone’.  And then perhaps somewhat amazingly they just go home!

Mary stays, crying her eyes out and looks in the tomb again and this time sees two angels, which apparently the disciples had missed.  She then turns round and sees Jesus but does not recognise Him, assuming Him to be the gardener.

He then calls out her name and finally the confusion begins to clear.  She recognises Him and He tells her simply to go back to the others and tell them He is returning to the Father.

Not surprisingly she runs back and proclaims, ‘I have seen the Lord’.

And in that small cameo we have all the earth shattering truth of the gospel and the different attitudes and responses we can have to Jesus and the Easter story.

Firstly we have Mary and the disciples seeing from a distance what is going on.  Like the people watching the Boat Race yesterday they are seeing events as spectators.  People who like to express an opinion on what is going on, what the loosing eight did wrong, what the winning eight did right but for whom the reality of winning or losing makes no difference, they go home again once they’ve seen the race.

And we all know people who are spectators to the Christian faith.  They can point their finger at what’s going wrong, what we need to get right, but they are looking on from the outside and feel that God has nothing to do with them.  They leave Him alone and He should leave them alone.  If only it worked like that!

And even in our own Christian lives we sometimes decide not to get involved in things, step back and observe rather than get stuck in.  Be more of observers than participants.

Secondly we see the disciples and Mary making assumptions about Jesus and His mission.  Assuming Jesus is something He is not.  Mary Assumed Jesus was the gardener, how wrong could she be.  Yet today many people make assumptions about who Jesus is and what He is about without understanding the full reality of who He is.  Fail to recognise Him when they see Him.

They assume Jesus is merely an historical character, perhaps some kind of prophet, perhaps one of many, but not someone who is unique, the Son of God and bodily rose from the dead.

Think of the many times the disciples too failed to recognise who Jesus truly was when He was with them.  They found it hard enough to grasp who He was when He was with them and giving them direct instruction and teaching so it’s perhaps not surprising that Mary found the resurrected Christ difficult to recognise.

Sometimes we too equally make assumptions about who Jesus is and about what He is doing in the world and jump to the wrong conclusions as we fail to recognise His power and control over all the universe.  We assume He is someone He is not.

Without thinking we can minimise who Jesus is and what He has done for us and the world and begin to restrict His omniscient and omnipresent power.

But finally when Jesus speaks to Mary she sees Him for who He is and the reality of the resurrection breaks on her.  She sees who Jesus is, but this time when she races to tell the disciples she has seen the Lord, this is no seeing as an observer, as a spectator, this is seeing as something she has experienced.  The joy power of the resurrected Christ has come upon her, just as it will on all who believe in the Easter victory we celebrate today.  He is alive!

The reality of and the joy Easter breaks upon her.  God has been vindicated; He has the victory over sin and death.  It was on Good Friday that Jesus died for our sins, on Easter Sunday He proclaims His victory.  Jesus has risen from the dead, and through His death and resurrection we all can have a relationship with our Father in heaven and a new start as we become part of His new created world order.  And that’s a real cause for celebration.

Mary and all the disciples are transformed by this resurrection power.  No more are they following Jesus and observing Him doing miracles and teaching about the Kingdom of the Father, they are doing it themselves.  The reality of the resurrection impacts every facet of their lives as they experience that same life giving power.  You can imagine them not being able to keep the smile off their faces.  Not a smile of triumphant victory of ‘we were right’ but a smile of undimmed joy as their lives are transformed.

Today, and each Easter, God invites us too to experience more of His resurrection power.  Invites us to be less of a spectator and more of a participant in His Kingdom, to join in the joy and liberation of His resurrection. 

Invites us not to make anymore assumptions about who He is or what He may or may not do, but open ourselves to the resurrected Christ, who can do all things.  To be more and more part of His resurrection and new creation.

Invites us to that resurrection joy, so that we too can’t keep the smile off our faces in the light of the reality of what God has done through Jesus.