The Rector writes …
“Nil by mouth” – “Do not resuscitate”. It sounds like an episode from “Holby City” or “Casualty” … but it could as well have been part of the drama of Good Friday – a notice pinned to the cross – Pontius Pilate using his authority to ensure that there was no way back from this judicial execution. Weakened by torture and abuse, the body of Jesus collapses into death. It is removed hurriedly so as not to defile the Sabbath and placed in a rock tomb. Those who have assisted at the burial scatter: shocked, frightened and bereaved.
One of those who had been a witness to the events of Good Friday was Mary Magdalen. Some traditions identify her as the sister of Lazarus, the one whom Jesus had raised from the dead. The Easter Gospel shows us Mary coming to the tomb in the early morning: it is dark and she must have been rehearsing in her mind all the terrible happenings of the previous hours. There would have been the nagging thought that he who had restored life to Lazarus had not escaped death himself. The jeers of the crowds would have been ringing in her ears: “he saved others, he cannot save himself”.
But Mary is greeted by an empty tomb – there is no body. In her confusion she runs to call Peter and John. Peter is the first to go into the burial chamber: he too is confused and uncomprehending. It is John the youngest, the great disciple of love, who looks on the scene through the eyes of faith: “he saw and he believed”. Suddenly everything falls into place: all that Jesus has implied and hinted at – all those times he had spoken to them specifically about what was to be – at last, it all makes sense. The final piece of the jigsaw is in its place and John can see it: there it is the divine plan in all its coherence and in all its beauty.
Later in the day when the others have gone to spread the news and proclaim the Easter Gospel, The Magdalen will be left alone and will become the first to witness the Risen Lord at first hand. He will call her by name and she will reach out her hand to touch him. What stands in front of her on the first Easter Day is something significantly different from the resuscitated corpse she had been hoping for – this is no second raising of Lazarus. Her brother had returned from the grave to complete his life-span in the knowledge that he must face the inevitability of human death once more.
The life that now pounds through Jesus’ veins is eternal life. This is a body which has been transformed, transfigured. It retains the same characteristics: it is instantly recognisable, but it has about it something that is qualitatively different. And so with us. At the end of our journey through this life our hope is not for resuscitation and the continuation of what has been, but rather to begin to live in the eternity of God, to take possession fully of Saint Paul’s promise to the Colossians: “you too will be revealed in all your glory with him”.
Pope Francis has written about the danger of a world in which: “God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of is love is no longer felt and the desire to do good fades”, going on to add: “this is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up angry, resentful and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life: it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life of the Spirit, which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ”. The Pope goes on to offer one of his pithier remarks: “there are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter” and he concludes: “the joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus”. It is a sentiment which Mary Magdalen, Peter and John would have understood so well.