Ambrose Seminary Chapel, Calgary

Lord of life and power, through the mighty resurrection of your Son, you have overcome the old order of sin and death and have made all things new in him. May we, being dead to sin and alive to you in Jesus Christ, reign with him in glory, who with you and the Holy Spirit is alive, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.

May the words of my lips, and the thoughts and meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Introduction

Alelluia, Christ is risen!

That traditional Easter acclamation is a shout of joy to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. We heard that joyful celebration throughout our songs and readings today, but before I get deeply into that, I want to reflect on our journey to the resurrection.

Many of you know I attend a Eucharist service on Wednesday mornings. On the first Wednesday after Ash Wednesday, the weekday reading was from the prophet Jonah, chapter 3. Jonah has accepted God’s command to go to Nineveh and proclaim what he commands. “Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.”[1]

That Wednesday morning, my mind wandered to the idea of the 40 days of Lent. Many of the astute among you might note that there are 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, but that has to do with the fact that Sundays are not counted, and Lent itself ends with the Triduum, not on Easter Sunday.

At that point, though we were a week into Lent, so the 40 days of Lent had already begun, but then it struck me that if you do the math, the 40th day after the Wednesday in the first week of Lent is Easter Sunday. The connection becomes clear then. Jonah warned that in 40 days Nineveh would be overthrown but placing that reading 40 days before Easter was a reminder that in 40 days the world would be overthrown!

His tongue firmly in cheek, Fr Sam Keyes recently enumerated 15 ways to stay bored in church, one of which was to refuse to entertain belief in anything you hear. Actual belief is the most difficult obstacle to casual Christianity.

I think he’s letting people off lightly there. CS Lewis tackles that same challenge putting it this way: “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”[2]

If we believe in Christianity, then we are to believe that the world was going to be overthrown and fundamentally changed.

And now in Eastertide we celebrate the fact that it has. Alleluia!

An Easter Sermon

The gospel reading we just heard proclaims the most revolutionary, most important and most fundamental truth of creation: the resurrection of Christ. This begs the question, then, of how we communicate that truth. How do we preach so weighty a topic?

This year we mourned the passing of Dr Billy Graham, that great evangelist of our age. Yet with all due respect to Dr Graham, there is a sermon which I find far better than any he ever preached on the resurrection. A sermon which predates any of his crusades and which will echo throughout all eternity.

I know I’ve had conversations with more than one seminarian about how I’ve never really been moved by a sermon before. Many of you might have the experience of having heard a sermon preached that truly moved you. To repentance, to renewed discipleship, to a recommitment of your life to Christ. I’ve never experienced a sermon that moved me to that. I’ve technically never heard this sermon preached, though… It was originally preached years before I was born, but I’ve heard it read and read it myself many times. Even just reading it moves me.

It is a sermon that is punchy and to the point, clear and concise. More importantly, it is a sermon that you know with absolute certainty comes from Christ in the way that anyone who approaches the pulpit hopes and prays that their message will be from Christ and not themselves. It’s also short, and let’s not kid ourselves, that really helps.

It will forever be the most powerful sermon, for it proclaims a truth that shatters the world. Not changes the world, but shatters it.

It’s a sermon I know you’re all familiar with, but I want to preach it to you now.

“I have seen the Lord.”[3]

This is the first and greatest Easter sermon. Preached to the Apostles of Christ by St Mary Magdalene herself at Christ’s command. Mirroring the Prophet Jonah, she proclaims the overthrow of the world. Unlike Jonah, what she proclaims is what she is witness to, what God has accomplished.

In five words, the apostle to the Apostles turns the world on its head by joyfully proclaiming the truth of the Resurrection.

Overcoming the World

To quote the Orthodox Paschal Troparion, “Christ is risen from the dead, tramping down death by death. And upon those in the tombs bestowing life!”

When the Prophet Jonah spoke of God overthrowing Nineveh, the people of Nineveh rightly perceived that it would be to their detriment. When St Mary Magdalen proclaims that God has overthrown the world, though, it is to our benefit. When I say the world has been overthrown I mean it in the sense of St Paul who speaks of sin and death and the devil in the present age.

CS Lewis, in Mere Christianity, describes humanity as being in enemy occupied territory. “Christianity,” Lewis says, “is the story of how the rightful king has landed…”[4] The war is not over, but the decisive victory has been won and it is now just a matter of time before it is over.

Death has been overcome. This is foolishness to those who do not believe, as Scripture tells us,[5] but Christ now offers life everlasting.

Overcoming Estrangement

St Mary’s sermon is about more than that, though. You see, the recording of her sermon isn’t entirely complete. St John’s Gospel says that she also relayed to the apostles everything Jesus had told her.[6] The immediate inclination is to view that as being a reference to Christ’s instructions to her to tell the Apostles that Jesus had said, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ But this statement really just speaks to a profound truth that Christ had demonstrated before he spoke these words.

When St Mary arrives at the tomb, she arrives under death. Now the resurrection had already taken place, so maybe it’s better to say that she arrived under a cloud of death. She and the disciples and Apostles didn’t understand what had happened and she arrived thinking that the Lord was dead. She arrived under the oppression of the world. She arrived and in the text is described using the Greek version of her name, Μαρία.

In St Mark’s account of the resurrection, it makes specific reference to how when St Mary and the other women arrived, they wondered how they would deal with the stone door which had been used to block the entrance to the tomb. She is then arriving under the oppression of what we might even think of as the gates of Hades. The power of sin and death made manifest.

But in the victory of Christ, in the power of Christ, in the world shattering resurrection of Christ, the power of hell will not overcome us. The stone had been removed.

In St Luke’s account of the encounter with Christ on the road to Emmaus they know him in the breaking of bread. Here though, St Mary’s eyes are opened by one word. Μαριάμ. Jesus uses the Aramaic form of her name. This isn’t necessarily the name she would most commonly have been known by. Many of her interactions would have likely involved the use of Greek which was the common language brought in by the foreign powers.  She herself may have been speaking Greek before this as the text emphasizes that at this point she responds in Aramaic “Rabboni!” whereas it had previously made no such comments. Christ names her in her first language, the language her parents had taught her, the language she had grown up with.

Christ is using a name of intimacy, a name that conveys a familial relationship with her. One of comfort and care, one of love.

Now in the way that God is Christ’s Father, God is Mary’s Father. He is our Father. Now as he is Christ’s God, he is Mary’s God. He is our God.[7]

In the Old Testament, the relationship between God and Israel is frequently stated by God as “I will be your God, and you will be my people.”[8] Christ tells us that because of his resurrection, this has been overthrown. Now God will be our God and we will be not just his people, but his children!

When you were young, did you have someone in your life who loved you and expressed that love for you with some kind of pet name? A name for you only they used? Are you married, and do you have a special name for your spouse to express your love for them? Maybe you never have and it’s something you’ve always longed for. St Mary Magdalene here proclaims that the creator and sustainer of the universe, Almighty God, calls you by name. Not just the name you were given at birth, but a name that he has given you to express his love and intimacy for you.

Think about that for a second. God loves you. He didn’t need to sacrifice his son for you. He didn’t need to overturn the world for you. He did it because he loves you. That is radical. That is profound. That is world shattering.

Conclusion

NT Wright argues that the heart of the Gospel is contained within this chapter of St John’s gospel.[9] I certainly wouldn’t seek to challenge him.

That heart is not limited to the world shattering love I have been describing, though, I think it finds itself also in telling others.

The first commandment of Christ after his resurrection is for St Mary to tell the apostles that he is risen. He has done the work of conquering death. All he has left us with is the responsibility and joy of sharing that wonderful news with others.

So, dear friends, are we to live as if Christianity is of moderate importance? Surely not! God’s love is for us, but it is also for those who do not yet know it. It takes nine words to ask, “Would you like to come to Church with me?” It took St Mary five words to proclaim the most important truth of our existence. And it should take no words at all to proclaim through our lives that Christ Jesus, resurrected and ascended, conqueror of sin and death, makes the most profound difference in our lives.

May we always have the joy and conviction of St Mary to proclaim the world changing truth of the risen Lord with our lips and in our lives.

The Lord is risen, indeed. Alleluia!

Amen.

[1] Jonah iii. 4-5

[2] CS Lewis, “Christian Apologetics,” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics

[3] St John xx. 18

[4] CS Lewis, Mere Christianity 2.7.11

[5] I Corinthians I. 18

[6] St John xx. 18

[7] St Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 7.7; St Ambrose of Milan, On the Christian Faith 3.7.50

[8] Exodus vi. 7, etc.

[9] NT Wright, “Becoming People of Hope,” Surprised by Scripture, 12.2 (207f)

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