“We do not know there they have laid him”. If the stories of Jesus’ appearances after his resurrection have anything in common, then one of the major common factors has to be that they are all surprises. Mary is surprised by the gardener. The eleven disciples are surprised to find Jesus inside a locked room. The two walking to Emmaus are surprised by a biblical interpreted walking with them. The eleven are again surprised as they go fishing in Galilee. And St Paul is surprised (to say the least) by Jesus appearing on the road to Damascus. Jesus turns up where he is not expected, and that seems to be common to all of the stories of his appearances.
When Jesus turns up all kinds of things happen. There is healing of people and relationships; forgiveness and the rebuilding of community; there are lives transformed by love; and hope and confidence is rekindled. In the Gospel this morning, Mary is met. Her sorrow is transformed into joy and then she is sent to tell the disciples that Jesus is alive. This sending is common to all the resurrection stories as well – the disciples encounter the risen Jesus and are then sent to proclaim him to the world.
This surprising and transforming encounter with Jesus cannot be predicted or controlled. Jesus meets his disciples in a locked room, but were the disciples to gather and lock the doors it would not make Jesus appear. Jesus meets Mary at the tomb, but Peter and John have been to the tomb as well and Jesus does not appear to them. However we have encountered Jesus, we cannot assume that Jesus will encounter us in that way again. Did we encounter Jesus in silence and stillness? – then we may find that he is waiting for us in noise and business. Have we encountered Jesus in beauty and order? Then mess and chaos might be where he waits for us next. All of the resurrection stories witness to the way that Jesus comes and goes as he pleases. If you like, that’s the preacher’s argument for the unpredictable timing of Easter – it points to the unpredictable, surprising and uncontrollable Lord whose resurrection we celebrate on Easter day. We can neither predict nor control the ways that he shows up.
And there are always new ways of encountering Jesus. There are new people who come with stories of their encounter with Jesus. Importantly, Jesus is not controlled or predicted by the human divides that we hold so dear. In the Gospel, Jesus appears to Mary, whose testimony as a woman would not have been valued. Yet she is, at least for St John, the first witness to the resurrection and the apostle to the apostles. In our first reading, Luke tells us how Peter is surprised to find that God is at work among the Gentiles. The argument that this produced would occupy the church for most of its first generation, as even the first Christians struggled to deal with the sheer surprising newness of the risen Christ’s encounters with more and more people. “God shows no partiality” is how Peter rather beautifully puts it. We Christians are still struggling to understand that.
Encounters with the risen Jesus are surprising and transforming; they cannot be predicted or controlled; they cross boundaries and leave us struggling to keep up. Just what is going on?
Well it is no accident that Jesus meets Mary in the garden on the first day of the week. What is happening is that the new creation is at last breaking through, God is at last bringing all of creation back to the way it was made to be. But he is not doing this by force. Rather, in the cross of Jesus he is redeeming the creation through its sufferings. By raising from the dead the one who was crucified, God is making the world new just at the point and in the places that human beings are abandoning it and leaving death. The resurrection affects all of creation, not just human beings. It makes everything new, by going through death and bringing new life.
The good news of Easter is that Jesus is alive. That the one who was crucified has been shown to have been right and given new life. The good news is that the whole of creation is being restored through God going through death and breaking its power. The good news is that this transforms everything. And the good news is that we are invited to be part of this transformation.
The resurrection of Jesus has transformed my life. It has enabled me to find life in the places where I am most broken, and to share that life with others. It has brought me to places where I am restored, and where I am to help to restore others. It is because of the resurrection of Jesus that I resist evil done to others, around me, in this city, in this country and in this world.
And, it will be plainly obvious, my transformation is not yet finished. The risen Jesus continues to surprise me, continues to avoid my attempts to control or predict him. The risen Jesus continues to challenge me with those who are part of his transforming purpose. The risen Jesus continues to transform me.
We are all invited to share in the surprising and unpredictable boundary-crossing transformation of the risen Jesus. And then, but only then, we are sent to share the good news that the whole world is being transformed. The risen Jesus goes ahead of us and alongside us. He is always with us, but constantly surprising us with how he is with us. He transforms us, but will not let us rest with incomplete transformation. He is the good news that we are invited to share with the whole world.
Alleluia! Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
First given at the Chapel of St Mary on the Bridge, Derby. 27.3.16.