Thursday, 5 April 2007

All change John 20 1-18

Whatever we may say to the contrary I suspect that most of us don’t like change: familiarity does not so much breed contempt as content: when we return from holiday we like to find the house as we left it; when we prepare to meet again with a loved one after a long absence we can only remember her as she was and are often disconcerted to find that not only she but we also have changed over the intervening years. As parents we often find it difficult to adapt to the changes that take place in our children: when they become toddlers we try to cling to their babyhood, then, when they enter those terrible teens, we find it dreadfully difficult to come to terms with their growing maturity. Many of the battles fought in so many households arise out of this failure of parents to keep pace with the change that occurs in their children. And sometimes, alas, they seem to grow out of our love altogether: that is a change no parent can take.

But of all changes the most difficult to come to terms with is surely death. It is a common occurrence in bereavement to talk to an empty chair as if the loved one were still there, to go to the gate and look for him coming home from work at his normal time, to imagine every heavy footstep on the path as his.

But what if one day the step were his? How would we react then?

Mary had seen Jesus die: she had stood at the foot of the cross and seen every detail of that awful death: and she had heard his cry of triumph: it is completed. So she came to the tomb as soon as she could - it was all finished now - at least he was safe there. The pain, the humiliation was over: there she would find her Lord in peace - beyond harm, beyond danger, preserved in spices; she could bring flowers on his birthday, sit there in the tranquil shade of the garden alone with her memories, cherishing the man of love too good to die - but all the same dead. She came. But the body was gone. The huge stone that should have protected him for ever had been rolled away - the embalmings were there - but there was no Jesus. She dashed back to tell Peter. He confirmed the story: but as if she couldn’t believe her own eyes or his she was drawn irresistibly back to the tomb again; she quizzed the angels barely registering who they were, her eyes filled with tears, “They’ve taken my Lord away and don’t know where they’ve put him” Then, with anger and bitterness welling up inside her she sees someone in the shade of the trees - almost without thinking she comes close to accusing him of stealing the body:

“Tell me where you’ve put him then I can go and take his body away.” Then no—one would ever separate her from her Lord again.

Then the man called her name and in an instant she knew who it was. She clutched him round the legs, perhaps not even aware that he was alive —determined only never to let him go again. As far as she was concerned - if he was alive he was the same old Jesus come back to life: they would go back to Galilee and live as if nothing had happened. But Jesus told her to let go. “Do not cling to me”.

We like to take hold on Christ - to cling to him - to possess him: and in so doing we frequently limit him to our way of thinking, imprison him in our flesh, entomb him in our feelings, confine him to the limits of our experience and our understanding. Like Mary we clasp him round the legs to keep him where we are. There is always an inner conflict between our comfortable preferences and our calling: it is all a question of control. We want to control Christ and his work: we try to restrict his resurrection life to our own limited vision. Like Mary, we would drag him back to the safety of the past and live with him there.

But the risen Jesus breaks out of her grasp: for his journey is not yet over. He had broken through the veil of the flesh and had embarked on a journey that eventually was to be Mary’s journey and ours too. Just as he led the way to the cross so the risen Christ leads out beyond death to the father.

But Jesus did not end his word to Mary with a rebuke: he gave her an order:

go and tell: and when she does tell my Lord becomes the Lord. For the first lesson that Mary had to learn was that the risen Jesus was not for her alone. He was not only to be her own personal saviour - for this is another way in which we cling on to him. The glimpses of the risen Christ are always momentary: he does not linger - he would always go further. And when he does linger it is usually to explain mission: go and tell for Jesus lives in the telling; and the church born of the spirit and living in the spirit is Christ to the world: this good news is not to be kept bottled up. So what is the message? ‘I am going up to my father and your father, my God and your God.” Mary wanted to pull Jesus back through death, to keep him human, personal, the old Jesus she felt safe with - but he was en route for glory. Not just for him but for her too, and if for her, for us also. As we sing:

Soar we now where Christ hath led

Following our exalted head

Made like him with him like him we rise

Ours the cross the grave the skies. Alleluia!

What a message to pass on: death is but a stage on the journey we make in Christ: we have a picture of death in baptism: just as in baptism we rise up out of the waters, born anew in his spirit, so death is but a door we pass through in our journey to the Father, God. Thus that message comes to us fresh again this Easter day, passed us through millions of lips it has reached our ears, I go up to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.

It comes to us still hankering after the old times, it comes to us with our narrow perspectives and our wavering faith, it comes to with our limited expectations of God’s salvation. But it comes to us with the same urgent challenge as it came to Mary: for the Jesus who goes to the father is still the way, and he who is the way is the truth and he who is the truth is life itself. Do not cling to me but go and tell that I am going on

Let us do that and then go forward ourselves in the strength of his spirit.

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