The Easter Rising means different things to different people. For those marching or looking on, outside our Cathedral building this morning, the Easter Rising is an event which took place on an Easter Monday in April some 100 years ago and which we will mark in this Cathedral on the actual date 24 April.
Since then there have been remembrances of this event which was part of the nation’s struggle for independence, through on a much smaller scale than in this centenary year.
For us inside this building, and for those worshipping in churches up and down our land, and globally, the Easter Rising is the central event in the Christian calendar, when we celebrate the rising of Jesus Christ from the dead; we think of what is promised us by that Resurrection experience, and the hope it gives us for life in the here and now and in the life to come. As Christian people we could get by without Christmas (even though the commercial world makes more of it than of Easter). Easter and the Risen Christ is the pivotal event in the Christian calendar because without it there would be no Gospel – no good news – and no epistles because these early missionary journeys centred around the fact of the Resurrection. It was that event that turned timid disciples into dauntless apostles. Had the story ended on Good Friday, Jesus would have remained another martyr, remembered for a short time and then forgotten.
It is unlikely that we would have Church as we now know it. In today’s Gospel John 21.1 ‘Mary Magdalene cometh early, while it was still dark, to the tomb and seeth the stone taken away out of the tomb.’The 4th Gospel gives a vivid picture of the events that could only have come from personal memory. Such are the important vivid little details that we can rule out invention or imagination. Mary Magdalene, a forgiven sinner, supremely devoted to her Lord, is first to go, to be near the body she has already twice anointed. It was still dark, the darkness with which the story of the crucifixion ends. Now as dawn breaks she can see that something has happened – the stone guarding the tomb has been removed – and she jumps to two conclusions:
(1) the body is no longer in the tomb.
(2) his enemies have stolen it.
Without further ado she runs first to Peter, who despite his denial is still recognised as a leader, and then to the disciple whom Jesus loves. And she presents her inference as fact. Then there is a vivid description of the two men rushing towards the tomb. The ‘beloved disciple’ is there first but does no more than peep in and sees the funeral linen. The impulsive Peter rushes in and not only sees the linen but observes its lay out. Even so it is the Beloved disciple who grasps the meaning and was the first to believe. Whilst the two men then left for their own houses Mary remained and was the first person to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection.
That is as far as the readings for today’s Gospel goes, but there are subsequent appearances to different groups and individuals as the followers reached belief by gradual stages.
There are a number of things that strike us about this first Resurrection appearance. It was to a woman. It was to a forgiven sinner. The gloom and sorrow of death was broken by the light of realisation that physical death is not the end, but emerges into newer fuller life. As Christians that is our belief and hope.
The events taking place outside and those taking place inside this Cathedral Church come together if and when we ask ourselves what kind of world do we want to create, and what kind of State do we want to live in. Surely we want a State that cherishes all her citizens equally; a State that is moral yet tolerant and inclusive; a State that prioritises support for the marginalised, weak and underprivileged in society; a State with an emphasis on health, homes and jobs, and is supportive of family life.
We all have an obligation to contribute towards such a State, because these aspirations are part of our proclamation and outworking of Christian belief.
So it is with Easter joy and hope and peace and the promise of new life that we leave this holy place and go out in the world to witness to the Risen Lord.
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