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Sunday, 5 April 2015

Jesus is Risen - the Rest is Details

When we come to Church, is it about the community? The people with whom we meet, we worship, we rather badly, normally, try to love. Until they knew the truth, Peter, John and Mary Magdalene were a confused, broken trio - two of them went back off to bed, while Mary stayed at the tomb and wept. But since Jesus is alive, the community is meant to be on fire with the Holy Spirit. The whole Church is the body of Christ. Each person around us is Jesus to us - just as Mary thinks it is a gardener, in that tender and tragic moment in the garden, before she recognises who it really is. Jesus is risen - the rest is details.

And when we come to Church, is it so we can process the things that have happened to us? To reflect on the week? To try to lift up our hearts? To light a tea light to put prayer into a difficult situation? To have space and time to grieve or rejoice or pray? Mary went to the tomb to complete something. She was going to carry out the only remaining thing she could do for her dead Lord, her Rabbi. The adventure was over. No more hoping for a new state of Israel. No hanging out with Jesus, when the crowds had gone home after their fish and bread suppers, in the cool of the air round the lake, listening as he told his tales of the mysterious "kingdom" he was bringing in. No more puzzling over parables, waiting to find out what his deep meaning was. And yet, in the dark of the garden on the first day of the week, she discovers a whole new life, and a story of unimaginable joy, is actually ahead of her. The future is now open. Jesus is risen - the rest is possible.

And when you come to Church, is it to remember the dead? The dead so often surround us - if not physically beneath our feet, or in the graveyard, then on inscriptions on the walls and in the lights we light and the the thoughts we hold. Or there's the clinging onto a dead past - wanting nothing ever to change now, because the dead past is safe and cosy whereas the present is uncomfortable and the future is scary. Mary Magdelene went to the tomb, early on the Sunday morning.  She was marking the death of a prophet - the death of a friend. And, I guess, the death of a dream. After a whirlwind tour round Judea and Galilee, the fun was over. But the tomb is empty. The dead one has risen. She is filled, not with fear or gloom, but with joy. Jesus is risen - the rest is hope.

And when we come to Church, is it to hide ourselves away? It would be cool there at the tomb. The spices are aromatic. It's peaceful, here in the cemetery garden. Just Mary and the other women and their lost dreams, shut away from a world where the Romans have once again proved who's in charge. Where the money-sellers will be back at their stalls in the temple, like they'd not been thrown from the place a week ago. Doves will be sold and killed, the priests will get their share, the Pharisees will take the most respected seats at dinner parties, and the people will render unto Caesar what is Caesar's. But though the world has not changed on the surface, at its fundamentals everything has changed. Jesus is alive. The power of Rome and the Jewish state and the oppression of religion have been shown for the short-term shells that they are. Everyone who dies for Jesus will know that Jesus has conquered death. Every believer's tomb is a short-term stop, not a final resting place. And Jesus tells her - don't cling on here. Get out - tell my brothers. Tell them I'm on the move, and they need to be too. Church is not for hiding in buidlings and tombs - or at least, not as a long-term strategy. Jesus is risen - the rest is open before us.

And when we come to Church, is it in the belief that everything declines, nothing ever grows? Mary's there in the knowledge that today she can dress Jesus with spices. But in a few days she won't want to go in the tomb. And in a few years, according to Jewish custom, someone will return to take his bones, put them in an ossuary - a bone-box - recycle the space in the tomb for someone else and one more stage in Jesus's removal from the land of the living will be complete. But in that cool garden in the morning, when the sun is rising and the birds are starting to sing and creation is remade - at this time of year, when the Earth casts off the death of winter and is starting to glow with the colour of green and yellow, of leaves and buds and new life - Jesus stands before her and restores her hope. There's a story unfolding with the new leaves. It's the story of new life. For her, for the disciples, for Israel, for the people of the whole earth. For you, and me, and the places we live and the whole of creation. Because if Jesus is alive, and we are with him - then we will be made alive with him. We will be made in his image, as God took on ours. As he ascends to heaven, we will rise with him. And with us, the whole of the Creation which Jesus made, and for which he died. Jesus is risen - the world will rise with him.

So as you go about your Church life, your home life, your work life, things may often look as they always were. Illness is still illness. Arguments with your family or colleagues are still stress. The Government is still useless - at least, that's the best we can hope for. The cycles of life still go on. But the underlying nature of things is changed. The reasons we go to Church may be manifold - community, stillness, a hiding place, stability. But none of these really matter unless we realise that Jesus is alive among us. He is alive in the liturgy, the prayer, the bread and wine, the fellowship. Jesus is in each of you, and oddly enough also in me. He is alive, in the world. He is alive in our neighbours. He is alive today as he was on the Sea of Galilee, in the fields of Judea, in the Garden Cemetery. He is more alive than you or I. And he wants each of us to know his new life, poured out into every heart and overflowing in every life. Jesus is risen - the rest is joy.

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