Easter Sunday - Becoming
For Easter Sunday we return to Sharing the Easter Story by Sally Welch
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’
Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
My son was not very well when he was born. During the pregnancy, a defect had been spotted during an ultrasound scan and the radiographer was alarmed. I knew the doctors were worried, because one of them reached out and touched my hand to comfort me before delivering the bad news. The syndrome which presented itself could only be verified after birth, and the final weeks of pregnancy were nerve-racking. The days after giving birth were even worse, as my tiny son was subjected to a battery of tests, some of them extremely invasive. One test, in fact, was so alarming that the doctors would not let mothers stay with their children, only the fathers (this was nearly 20 years ago). The nights were traumatic, too, as we lay awake, conjuring up scenarios each more devastating than the last.
Finally, we went to get the results of the tests. We sat in the consultant’s room, and he looked at the tests, paused and cleared his throat. ‘Well, Mr and Mrs Welch,’ he said, ‘this one’s all clear. Your son is fine.’ ‘All clear’ – two words that put an end to hopeless anxiety, soul wrenching worry and tears wept in the darkness of the night. ‘All clear’. There are other phrases equally powerful, both good and bad – ‘I’m pregnant’, ‘I love you’, ‘We’ve lost him.’ Entire life stories built up around life-changing words. We celebrate today some of the most important words in the Christian language. The first ones are the ones said by the angel in the tomb to Mary: ‘He is not here, but has risen.’
These words, too, are life-changing, and they begin their work immediately. The first ones to hear them are the women, who have crept out of their houses at dawn, anxious and afraid, tiptoeing through the streets of Jerusalem, out to the tombs where the outcasts live among the memorials to the dead. They had come to bury with him their hopes of a new way of living, their dreams of a world which was governed by justice and mercy, a kingdom of righteousness and truth. They came in fear of soldiers and reprisals, of persecution and punishment. But still they came.
To their horror, their beloved Lord and Master was not there. Instead there was an empty tomb, filled only with the cloth wrappings which they had so carefully, so lovingly, wrapped around his body. These wrappings – the things of the world, the cares and worries of earthly preoccupations, everything that binds us and blinds us to the love of God – have been thrown off, and the women are invited to do the same. Suddenly the world looks different – new, exciting and full of wonder. ‘He is not here, but has risen.’
All of us who seek God, who try to live our lives as children of God, children of the promise, and who work for the kingdom are promised that we too will not perish like the grass of the field, but that we will be called into the everlasting presence of our Lord and Saviour.
People who have undergone both the experience of cancer and the joy of those words ‘all clear’, people who have looked death in the face and survived, say that it changes their view of life. It changes their priorities, the things they do and the goals they have. So too must the words that mark the beginning of the Christian church change our lives and redefine our priorities, if we take them at all seriously.
But it is not enough that we hear these words and they transform our lives. On hearing these words, the women remember the rest of Jesus’ words. All the stories, the injunctions, the commands, everything which they had suppressed and buried in their shock and grief, it all comes back to them, for things have happened just as he promised, and now it is their turn. The women head at once to the rest of the disciples: ‘Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.’
We too must hear these words: ‘He is not here, but has risen.’ Hear them properly, take them into our hearts and live by them. And then we must share this wonderful story, because the news is too good to keep to ourselves!
Sally Welch is a parish priest of 20 years’ standing, having ministered in both rural and urban contexts within the Diocese of Oxford. She is currently the diocesan spirituality adviser and co-director of the Centre for Christian Pilgrimage as well as an Diocesan Canon at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. Sally is a committed pilgrim and has walked many pilgrim routes in the UK and Europe, with plans for many more.