Liz Shaw, our Minister's, Easter Message 2018
Who is for Resurrection?
When Jesus appears to Mary she does not recognise him. In her grief she holds powerful assumptions about what the future will hold and she continues to grasp onto an image of her beloved friend which no longer matches the reality of her new situation.
This is our first regular Sunday service here in this place and on this Easter Sunday we are beginning our journey to discover more about what is at the heart of our church in this new setting and to work out how we can best make resurrection real to the community around us.
Like Mary, we find ourselves in a new situation. And like Mary we have a whole new future ahead of us. Some of us might be feeling a bit disorientated, fragile even. And so, it is good to remember that Mary’s Easter morning encounter turned out very differently to how she expected. Today is a day when we are gifted great hope. The story we are here to rejoice in and celebrate is one of total surprise and a complete reversal of expectation.
Mary and two of the other disciples go very early to the tomb only to discover Jesus' body is missing. They are confused and deep in grief. No doubt they are also carrying feelings of bewilderment that the body of Jesus has been removed from their care. Like all pivotal moments of our lives, they are experiencing a powerful mix of emotions. But that was all about to change and their lives were turned upside down. Where they had expected to find death they suddenly discover evidence of new life. Where they had expected to discover the broken body in the tomb they encounter transformation, even though they couldn't recognise it right away. Mary’s encounter with Jesus on Easter Sunday is her moment of new calling. Jesus calls her to a resurrected life and then sends her to witness to the disciples, so that together they might go out and change lives.
Mary, a woman and the least expected, is the first witness to the resurrection. And she finds herself being ushered out by Jesus to begin a new road on their pilgrimage together. The rest of Mary’s life is altered by this moment of encounter.
So how appropriate that this is also the day of our own new beginning. On a day when the church is called to proclaim the greatest life-giving message ever, we come to allow our future to be directed and driven by this wonderful affirming, encouraging, faith filled message of new life and new possibility.
Often the paths pointing to us new directions arrive in our lives unbidden. Something happens which we did not expect and we are forced to shift our perspective in order to open our eyes to new possibilities. Sometimes it is an unwelcome event like death or illness. Other times we are given the opportunity to seek out a new adventure in our lives. Either way, these journeys leave us between different spaces... places of comfort and discomfort; risk and security and knowing and unknowing.
As we begin on our new adventure this morning we are beginning to let go of what we thought we knew and of our desire to control what is to come. This is a new landscape for us all. For every one of us this is a new future with the chance to make this place a Christian presence for many years to come. It is an exciting but awesome responsibility.
We have much to talk about and much to plan but this is a moment to pause, draw breath and gain strength from the story that guides and shapes us. And then having allowed resurrection to seep into our life together we will journey even further into this new opportunity.
We are at a new place in more ways than one. And in some significant way we have been changed by this experience. The physical journey we have made from Eastcote to Northwood Hills is very small but the potential that mileage has given us is huge and potentially life changing. And that is why I see us not so much as an established church but an emerging church which is full of the excitement of new possibilities.
Jesus tells Mary, "Do not hold onto me." Jesus is asking her to take all that has been in the past and to allow that to be informed by this new revelation and to go forward not with clenched fist but open palms which enable her to take hold of the opportunities God is offering.
Now we must do the same. We have a very bright future ahead of us. We have done change and it doesn’t frighten us anymore! We are in a place emotionally where we are ready and willing to receive the gifts being offered. We are ready to build a new future and to accept, welcome even, that our lives including the life of our church might take us to places that we do not expect or indeed, to places we might not have necessarily chosen for ourselves.
Today is also our 5th anniversary. Five years in which our sense of community has deepened and our friendships have strengthened. This is a time of celebration as we seek out the future God is now calling us to.
Resurrection is about being prepared to say yes to the things that arrive unbidden into life. The call of Easter is and invitation to step forth across the threshold; to release all we thought we knew, in order to find the space to say yes to what might be. We have done that!
So, on this very special day we don’t need to hold too tightly to what we think the outcome should or will be. Instead we can let ourselves be surprised by what the future might hold for us. We can now let go of our own expectations and allow God to turn us inside out. For we have discovered that it is in the places of profound unknowing that we let ourselves enter into the Mystery that is God.
This is our moment. Our moment when we welcome the start of a process that is leading us on a journey of discovery together. And together we will find the courage to embrace adventure and to trustfully enter the joy of the journey. We know we do not travel this way alone. We know that right besides us we have the man who became vulnerable for our sake. The man, Jesus, who will share the road map with us and who will rejoice with us each time we take a step that gives a greater assurance that his story will continued to be told in this place.
In Jesus we have a story that changes lives and reverses expectations. On Easter Sunday we see Jesus’ friends make their own tentative steps in taking on the responsibility of becoming Jesus’ hands and his feet, in the world. And today we take ours too.
When Jesus tells Mary not to physically hold on to him, he is inaugurating a new relationship that cannot be anchored in the past, nor can it remain between just two people. It is a relationship for now and is shared within community. Jesus tells Mary not to weep for what has gone, nor to try to hold onto the past, but to release her grip on all that holds her back and begin the work he needs her to do. And Mary loves Jesus enough to trust him. Her past has gone. Her present is something quite new.
And as a result of Mary's encounter in a garden, a small Christian community is born and she joins with others to work out the implications of Christ's resurrection for them. And just like those first disciples we have also been commissioned to find ways to tell and to show the world about the uniqueness of Christ.
As a community of his people we are here to reflect his morality, acceptance, fairness, openness, hospitality and most of all compassion as we reach out to others. We now look forward as we begin to name and live out our dreams for the future.
We are community who have shown that we are prepared to be changed by our encounter with one another and we will continue to nurture, value and inspire each other. And as we enjoy this sense of accomplishment we will look out for the joy of fresh inspiration and the excitement of new discoveries.
With Christ beside us the story of this new future is ours to write and we are responsible for the words that will be written. And today we have pledged to do that with grace, tolerance and love. But most importantly of all we will do it together.
And we will do it in the name of the God who is within and around us; in the name of the God who loves and holds us and who has shaped us and made us who we are and in the name of the God, who with our co-operation will shape us into all that we have the potential to become.
Revd. Liz Shaw 1st April 2018