14 March 2015
"He is not here."
What a surprising thing to say. Two thousand years or so ago, some people went to a graveyard in Jerusalem. They were going to one of the tombs, just one among countless other similar tombs there: carved out of rock like little caves. According to their culture and tradition, they were going to anoint the body of their friend who had died and had been buried there a couple of days previously. But as they approached the place, they saw that the huge stone that had been put across the mouth of the tomb had been moved, by persons unknown. And, even more surprising, they were met by someone who said this odd thing: "Why are you looking for your friend? He is not here."
He is not here? But he must be here. We saw him laid here with our own eyes two days ago, surely?
And so the most baffling, extraordinary and sensational story of all time began in earnest.
As you pass St Mary's, your parish church, this Easter time, look up at the little hill on which it stands. You will notice on its shining green slopes the splashes of colour from spring flowers - a sign of new life, new growth, new hope. And among the flowers you will see the three empty crosses. Immediately beneath them will be a garden - lovingly and painstakingly created by the church families. Set in that garden will be our version of the tomb in Jerusalem. The empty tomb. A tomb that looks like someone's mouth is open in a great capital O of surprise.
It is surprising, the Easter story, the arrest, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Christian Church was born out of a surprise and continues (to some, surprisingly) to this very day. It will continue surprising everyone long after you and I have gone. If, after looking at the tomb, you look at the church itself, you will see the doors of the building are like another mouth - open in surprise. Inside, on Easter day, however, you will not find it empty. You will find it full of joy and of colour and of hope and of love. That is perhaps the most surprising thing about Easter. From the empty tomb comes a full building. Join us, if you can. You will be pleasantly surprised. Not least because nowadays, we no longer say 'he is not here'. We are able to say with complete confidence:
"He is here; his spirit is with us. Alleluia!"
May God bless you and those you love this Easter and always.