This month we celebrate the Queen of Festivals – Easter.  This month I have put some thoughts down to help us as we move along our pilgrimage this Lent, and come to the life changing events of Holy Week and the joy of Resurrection life at Easter.  May I wish you all a Holy and Disciplined Lent and a Blessed and Joyous Easter.

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. [2] And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. [3] They had been saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?" [4] When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. [5] As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. [6] But he said to them, "Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. [7] But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you." [8] So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

I once took a funeral service after which a member of the congregation told me a story he'd never told anyone else before. Many years earlier when he'd been very young, he'd had a motorbike accident in which he had nearly died. After the accident he'd found himself spiralling down a long, dark tunnel, emerging at the end into a brilliant, radiant light where there were people waiting to welcome him and gather him in. But someone had told him it was too soon for him, that it wasn't his time yet. And the next time he'd come to, he found himself seriously injured, lying in a hospital bed.

It was an amazing story, and I was amazed he'd never told anyone, for by this time he must have been in his late seventies. The experience had clearly meant a great deal to him, for he still remembered every detail as clearly as if it was yesterday and he was very emotionally moved when he told the tale.

So I asked him why he'd never told anyone. He looked a little sheepish, and said he'd thought nobody would believe him and so he'd kept it to himself all those years.

That was a very understandable reaction, for in our society, anything which smacks of the paranormal or the supernatural is frequently handled by ridicule. Either that, or it's blown out all proportion and twisted and distorted and used simply for sensationalism. That was especially so in the latter decades of the last century, when society became very science-orientated and few people dared to admit to believing in anything that couldn't be felt or seen or heard.

Perhaps that incredulous reaction has always been so, even in past centuries when witches and wizards and all kinds of supernatural beings were accepted as normal. Even in the days of the first century, two thousand years ago, when miracle makers and healers abounded and were accepted without a second thought, the idea of someone rising from the grave was too bizarre for most people to stomach.

No wonder the women who visited the tomb on that first Easter Sunday didn't speak of their experience. They expected to see a body wrapped in a shroud inside the tomb, but instead saw a young man in white calmly sitting there, issuing instructions to them. So the women shut up about it and didn't tell a soul.

After all, it's not every day you meet an angel, and when that angel tells you some ridiculous tale about a dead person going ahead and meeting you and your friends back home, you probably think you're out of your mind with grief and have gone mad.

And that's the point at which Mark finishes his gospel. The women come to the tomb to embalm the body, find the stone has been rolled away, and meet an angel who instructs them to tell all their friends that Jesus is alive. But the women chicken out. They flee, and don't say a word to anyone.

That's the point where Mark finished his gospel in the original version. He ended at this very abrupt point with the women being told about the resurrection of Jesus but not seeing it for themselves, and then being too afraid to tell anyone else about it.

It was an ending which clearly proved an embarrassment to the early church, for a later editor added the ending we have now of verses nine to twenty, which are a kind of summary of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus from the gospels of Luke and Matthew.

But in a way Mark's original ending makes the whole story more credible, for the response of the women is a very human response, and perhaps exactly the response many people would have today on being told that a dead person was alive and well.

Interestingly, the women were expected to believe in the resurrection without seeing anything for themselves, just as we're expected to believe in the resurrection without seeing anything for ourselves. It was afterwards that they actually experienced the risen Christ for themselves, and then they knew for sure that they hadn't been deluded.

It's also interesting that in nearly every account of the post resurrection appearances of Jesus, he wasn't recognised. To start with, even people who thought they knew him well failed to recognise him until something happened which made the penny drop.

And our lives so often follow the same pattern today. First we may not be certain just what we do believe, then comes an actual experience which we may not necessarily recognise as being anything at all to do with God, but finally the penny drops and we know the risen Christ for ourselves.

It's often been said that the trouble with Christianity is that you're expected to believe so many unbelievable things; things which are especially unbelievable in the light of the 21st century.

But that's not true, for God can work very well with unbelief. All that's required is an open and inquiring mind which admits the possibility that there might be more things in heaven and earth than this world can imagine, and then the desire for some personal experience of God. And once that happens and you meet the risen Christ for yourself, the penny soon drops and you either accept him or you don't.

But for those that do accept him, he's the way to an astounding quality of life which is vibrant and new and exciting and challenging.

If you'd like that for yourself, then you have only to ask him into your life and wait. He will do the rest. But before you take that step, make sure you know what you're doing, for following Jesus is a tough option. If you're ready for that challenge, go ahead. Ask him into your life today, and see what happens.

A Prayer

Gloriously alive God,

If only I could see you! That would make all the difference - then I'd believe everything without hesitation. But I suppose that would take away my freedom of choice, for I'd have to believe if I saw with my own eyes.

Lord, receive and redeem my unbelief. Come to me as you came to those women on that first Easter Day, and then open my eyes - enable me to recognise you. And Lord, give me the strength and the courage to follow you wherever you may lead.

I ask this through him who rose from the grave and defeated even death, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Rev’d Stuart Ansell

 

Easter, Queen of Festivals

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