Bishop Rachel’s Easter Day Sermon

Easter morning 2016

If you’ve been given an Easter egg this morning I wonder what it was filled with: cream, caramel, chocolate? Easter eggs are filled with many different things these days.

And I wonder if you’ve noticed how we have a propensity to want everything filled in life: We fill our time; we fill our homes; we fill our wardrobes; our fridges…So often, we see ‘empty’ as something to avoid – something which even makes us fearful.

When an airport terminal is emptied because there’s been a terrorist attack and people have fled, that emptiness has become a place of fear. When a country or people is under siege and people flee, villages and homes are left standing empty, and that emptiness is associated with fear.

And often in the face of struggle, grief or pain, people talk of feeling empty’ or of life feeling hollow.

I’ve heard some women expressing feelings like this in my time this week at Eastwood Park women’s prison. Some of the women I met spoke about their lives being full of things they would rather do without: abuse, violence, drug and alcohol addiction. And more often than not their lives have been full of pain and low self-esteem. Prison has often provided security, routine and people who have listened.And although most of the women in the prison long for their day of release, many also spoke of anxiety about returning to life outside prison. There is fear of the unknown and returning to an empty life. 

The story of the first Easter morning also involved some women who were feeling empty.

These women were friends of Jesus and their lives had been full in so many ways. They had been with Jesus amidst some amazing times. There had been miracles, healing, crowds, and strange words of teaching. There had been so much discovery as they had seen this man Jesus reveal to them the heart of God and God’s desire to see lives changed.

And then came the nightmare, although it started more like a dream: The streets of Jerusalem had been full of people shouting hosanna and waving palm branches and proclaiming Jesus as King. Yet it wasn’t long until the mood changed and Jesus was brutally arrested. Now the city was full of people wanting to see Jesus die. Now the crowds were shouting crucify himAnd when Jesus was nailed to the cross and tortured to death, many of his friends fled in fear, but some of the women stayed close byI suspect it left them feeling very empty…

 

And now it’s three days later. 

Early in the morning the women had gone to the tomb where Jesus body had been placed after his cruel death. They had gone with spices to embalm the body whichhad been put in a large stone cave with an enormous stone rolled in front of it. But when the women arrived early on that morning, things were not as they had expected. The stone had been rolled back from the entrance to the tomb.

Those women could have lingered around on the edges in a place of anxiety and uncertainty, but instead they dared to enter the tombAnd when they went in they were confronted by an angel. I’m not really surprised that they were alarmed. But perhaps even more shocking is that the tomb was empty. The body had goneYet it’s far more earthshattering than that: The tomb was empty because Jesus is alive.Jesus had risen from the dead!

We’re told the women ran from the tomb in terror and amazement. But it wasn’t fear associated with the darkness – it was fearful excitement. And yes they were afraid but that’s because they could not imagine how the authorities were going to respond to this. They were afraid because life had been turned on its head. The empty tomb had suddenly opened up new possibility which they could never have imagined. They had dared to go into the heart of the emptiness and the darkness, and it was there that they discovered hope beyond their dreams.

This place of emptiness – the empty tomb – is an invitation for life to be full of new possibility, marked not by despair or fear but full of hope and love.

So, in a strange way Easter is actually a day when we celebrate ‘emptiness’ which leads to a new sort of fullness. We celebrate an empty grave and we proclaim that love and life will never be quenched by fear and death.

I don’t know what you are experiencing in life at the moment. Perhaps you are feeling full of joy; or perhaps you identify very easily with a sense of emptiness and fear. And of course, none of us has to look very far across the world to be aware of emptiness and fear in so many lives.

Today, on Easter day may we dare to confront those places of emptiness, just like those women on the first Easter morning, and may we too discover the overwhelming love and hope of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. 

That’s my prayer today for those women in Eastwood Park prison.

Where we feel empty, anxious or fearful may there be new possibility, new life and hope. That’s the business God is in and that’s the story of Easter day: An empty tomb and life in all its fullness.

 

 

 

 

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