God's closing word
John 20:1-18

We come to worship at this hour on an Easter morning with a singular sense of readiness to celebrate with Easter joy!  We may still be a bit ‘dopey’ in the early and the dark, but we are here because we recognize and confess that the Easter proclamation of the risen Jesus is so significant that you want to hear that news early; you want to make the beginning of the celebration early; you want a long day on this day which commemorates the most important day of all, the most important rising of all, the most important life of all.

In our anticipation we sometimes fail to appreciate that those who were early and first to the tomb on that first Easter came entirely with a sense of grieving, an experience of loss and being lost, and a deep and overwhelming sadness.  All of their preparations were for a funeral.

Was Mary crying because she had lost all hope?  Had lost all faith?  Perhaps—though we should be careful about speculating beyond what she says:  that she did not know where they had taken her Lord. 

Certainly it is fair to surmise a little further with others whom Jesus met that day.  The disciples with whom he walked, unrecognized, to Emmaus said “we had hoped!” with a clear sense that their hope was fading fast.  The disciples, who had for three years walked the roads of Galilee and Judea and the streets of Jerusalem learning and marvelling at the power and wisdom and compassion of Jesus, were now locked in a room filled with fear.  Thomas, with a wonderful honesty that serves most of us pretty graciously, confessed that he could not believe what he couldn’t see. 

I am always aware of the fact that many of those, including some of you, who rise early for Easter worship will, at some point during the day, go to a cemetery—actually physically, or certainly in the quiet of thinking and remembering—to a cemetery, to a funeral past, to a remembering that “in the midst of life we are in death” and a recalling of loved ones whose dying has brought home more clearly than anything else how much we need the miracle of God’s resurrection, and the certainty of life in eternity.

Perhaps we are best prepared to hear the Easter Gospel if we, like they, come prepared for a funeral.  Perhaps then we have prepared the place in our own hearts most effectively for the message of the angels that reminds us that our God is God of the living, not of the dead; and that, as the Scriptures have always said, and as God has always demonstrated in his repeated faithfulness, he will not leave us, forsake us, abandon us to sin and dying and death.  “I am the resurrection.  I am the life.  I am the one who raises the dead to life!  Everyone who has faith in me will live, even if they die.  And everyone who lives because of faith in me will never really die.”  Perhaps then, as Jesus calls Mary by name, we remember that in our baptism he did the same for each of us and all of his children.  As the Emmaus disciples recognized him in the breaking of the bread we rejoice that here, today, now we break the fast when he comes to us, is present with us, when he feeds us.  As he breathed the Spirit, and spoke his Word of forgiveness to the disciples, and then drew from Thomas a bold confession so his Spirit fills us with not only the Good News of the resurrection, of Jesus alive, but also with the peace, and hope, and courage and compassion that that Spirit gives, that the Easter message gives, to run back to town, and back home, and back to work to live the Easter message that “in the midst of death we are in life”!

Easter is God’s closing Word to any Christian funeral, to any Christian grieving, to any Christian tears.  Our Jesus has shown that there is nothing in all creation that can separate us from God’s eternal love for us.

The last couple of days have been quiet, sombre days for us.  In our worship, in our waiting, we have remembered, we have been conscious of the realities of sin, sickness, destruction, dying.  Our local community is now at that rather precarious point of realizing that rebuilding after fire is a long and frustrating process; that rebuilding confidence in our economy at a time when jobs will be lost (and a sense of security; and dreams of the future) is slow and painful despite all good will and all good plans.  That God, in Christ Jesus, identifies with us in our suffering is affirming not only of his love but also of the reality of our suffering.

But our worship tone today turns us from darkness and emptiness and confusion to the dawning light—to the God who, in the beginning, said let there be light; to the God who not only created a planet, but created a people holy to him, and rescued and recreated that people whenever required to ensure that his will will be done and that his plan will succeed, and that his life will endure!  Our celebration today reminds us that our hope encourages and enables us to bring healing and help and hope to those who suffer, and particularly to those who have not yet learned to know and trust the victorious power of God’s love over any human weakness or failing.

Mary went, and told the others, “I have seen the Lord!”  Among those she told was John; and perhaps by his own words we can be encouraged—we who have gathered first in the darkness—to take the light of the Easter Gospel with us throughout this day and every day.

1 John 1:1-4
The Word that gives life was from the beginning, and this is the one our message is about.  Our ears have heard, our own eyes have seen, and our hands touched this Word.   The one who gives life appeared! We saw it happen, and we are witnesses to what we have seen. Now we are telling you about this eternal life that was with the Father and appeared to us.  We are telling you what we have seen and heard, so that you may share in this life with us. And we share in it with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.  We ... tell you these things, because this makes us truly happy.