This is my sermon for Easter Day on Sunday, 4th April 2021 for my curacy churches, both online and in-the-garden. A link to the digital service containing this sermon is at the bottom of the page.
“They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”
Christ is risen, He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Now don’t tell anyone about it. Does that sound strange or familiar to you?
Up until this point in Christ’s story, Jesus had instructed people not to tell anyone of His miracles. They had done the opposite. Finally, at the empty tomb, people are told to tell of a miracle, Jesus resurrected, and they again do the opposite! Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James, and Salome fled and were silent.
This Easter we could be forgiven for remaining in the shock, silence and isolation of the pandemic. We could be excused for finding ourselves rooted to the pain of Good Friday. We could be excused for remaining in the numbness, comfortable or not, of Easter Eve — remaining in our grief for who and what we have lost. But this year we need the realised hope of Easter, the hope that fills the silence, the hope of our resurrected life that Christ gave and gives us. Hope.
It was hope that emerged as I prayed with the scripture readings for today, but not hope alone. What emerged was hope in the silence, because it in the breaking of the women’s silence that there is some much needed hope for us today. For indeed Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James, and Salome did get over their shock. They did tell of what they had seen and, importantly, did not see.
There is of course hope for the suffering in Christ’s resurrection. Jesus didn’t just die for us. Nor did He simply atone for all that separates us from God so that we could be with God. Jesus died so that He could defeat death, so that death would not be the end but a stepping stone to eternal freedom, a stepping stone to live without suffering, a stepping stone to everlasting life in the presence of God.
There is hope too for the enduring. Jesus’s death and resurrection does not prevent suffering in this life, nor does it nullify the pain we and our loved ones go through. Instead it connects us and our suffering with Christ — not only can he empathise with us because of His experience of suffering and separation, but He absorbs it into the Trinity and returns it with the Comforter, the Holy Spirit sent to all people on Pentecost to guide, comfort and connect us with God.
And there is hope in the silence that followed the sight of the empty tomb, because it was a silence that was broken.
Jesus’s method of working, his modus operandi, was to be counter-cultural and reach out to those at the bottom instead of those at the top, to spend time with the devalued or the despised, to speak with those marginalised or forgotten by society. So, in the fiercely patriarchal society that Jesus walked amidst, it is no wonder that He would choose to first meet with a Mary Magdalene after His resurrection because she was a marginalised person within a marginalised group. Women held little status and power; they were marginalised. But Mary Magdalene was not just a woman, she had had seven demons; seven demons that Jesus had exorcised; seven reasons to be even further marginalised.
It was Mary Magdalen’s gratitude and love for Christ kept her by His side whilst He died, whilst He was buried. It was her love brought her back to the tomb with Mary and Salome to anoint Christ’s body with spices before it was too late. Christ believed in her, even if the disciples did not, at least at first.
That the angel’s conversation with Mary, Mary and Salome broke the silence after Good Friday does more than testify to God’s love for all of humanity continuing beyond the Cross. Both the conversation and Mary Magdalene’s subsequent encounter with Jesus were pivotal moments in Christ’s redeeming work. Indeed, they were so pivotal that they were not only recorded in all four Gospels but the male dominated and controlled church that grew up from this point continued to speak of and teach it. Many besmirched her reputation and portrayed her as a prostitute, something never even lauded to in scripture, but they could not silence her encounter with Jesus.
Breaking the silence with voices we rarely hear amplifies not only their voice but the voices that remain silent, the voices that are missing from our lives, the voices that Jesus encourages us to hear — to truly hear, the sort of hearing that not only listens, but that is prepared to be transformed by what is heard and to then act.
We’ve seen this recently through the horrific murder of Sarah Everard. From the silence of her disappearance and death came the voices of countless women who have been subject to abuse, intimidation and fear simply from their presence in public spaces. Hope came from the airing of their pain and suffering that had been ignored or devalued by too many for too long.
But the broken silence also amplified the voices that were missing: voices of minorities whose pain and suffering remained unheard. Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry were two such people. They are two sisters whose disappearance, murder and investigation was not taken seriously, nor were their silenced voices heard by many until after Sarah Everard’s murder broke the silence. Why? Those better placed than me to say, uncomfortable as it is, suggest that Nicole’s and Bibaa’s voices were not heard because they were black*.
Hope comes not only from breaking the silence, but from the voices we notice remain silent.
Hope out of silence, suffering and death is but one of the things the resurrection of Christ teaches us. But it is not enough for us to be alert to injustice, to be woke as some might say.
The resurrection teaches us that all are heard, that all are noticed, that all are loved, that all were worth dying for.
We are children of the resurrection. We are children of hope. We are not yet free from suffering in the present, but we are freed from death to be able to live life now and beyond. And with that freedom comes release, release from the blinkers and shackles that prevent us from noticing and loving all that Jesus loves and notices.
The hope is that we not only use that freedom to enjoy the fulness of life that God has created, but that we help those whose voice is missing to enjoy that freedom too.
Christ is risen, He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Now go break the silence and tell everyone about it!
* Source: Dawn Butler MP, Byline Times