Sermon 16th April 2017 – Easter Sunday

ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET

EASTER SUNDAY, 16th April 2017

Listen here:   https://youtu.be/hw7eZ0nPSxA

 

Jesus said to Mary: “Go to my brothers and say to them,

“I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples,

“I have seen the Lord.” John 20:17-18

 

A week ago, in the “Cathedral of the People”,

the parish church of Govan Old, in Glasgow,

I attended the Memorial Service of a Church of Scotland minister.

Over the years his corners of the vineyard had been rural Argyll,

Army Chaplaincy and inner city Glasgow.

Larger than life, full of exclamation and laughter, regularly eccentric;

coincidentally, great grandson of the first minister of St Columba’s.

He knew this place well.

 

At the service, in his former parish, affectionate reminiscences were offered;

friends and families paying tribute to his many enthusiasms,

wryly acknowledging a common theme –

that often, we didn’t always understand what he was saying –

though we had great fun in his company.

 

On one thing he was very clear.

When my brother and I visited our cousin in the Ayrshire Hospice,

a month before his death,

we asked him what scripture or theme should be chosen for his Memorial Service.

His answer: Ascensionsomething on the Lordship of Christ in all the world.
Ascension is usually the theme in forty days’ time;

Christ’s post-resurrection departure from his disciples.

Strange, visionary, dramatic;

a sorrow and a celebration,

a leave-taking and home-going,

a confirmation and a commissioning.

For followers of Christ, a new way to experience God.

No longer restricted to one place, present in all places.

The Lordship of Christ in all the world.

 

But in John’s Gospel (read by Sheena this morning)

it is already there on Easter morning:

Go to my brothers and say to them,

“I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

 

Now the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us,

is returning to the Father.

Resurrected and ascended, means that this new life of Christ

is not simply life reheated, a future death postponed

resurrected and ascended, means the risen Jesus/resurrected life,

is located now and forever, in the heart of God.

 

That is the message Mary was asked to carry –

received, amid grief in the garden,

delivered, to friends frozen with fear, in a locked room.

 

Mary Magdalene went on to proclaim her living Lord,

in palaces and villages throughout the pagan world,

until around 72 AD she died in Gaul.

According to legend, Mary once brought an egg, symbolizing new life,

to the Roman emperor, Tiberius and told him about Jesus.

“A person can no more rise from the dead,” said the emperor, impatiently,

“than that egg can turn red.”

The egg turned red in Mary’s hand.

Christ is risen,” she said.

 

Resurrected and ascending – that is the message we are asked to carry;

the direction and destination of our own lives –

whether marking a formal moment of commitment –

like George, Duncan, Ellasaid or Natalia –

or some other point along the pilgrim way.

 

In his Hospice room,

delighting in the birds at the feeder outside his window,

that Church of Scotland minister’s talk of Ascension

was resonant with the proximity of death

and the unknowable mystery of what lies beyond.

He spoke of other loved ones who have travelled the road before.

He spoke of reunion.

Our lives and the lives of our loved ones –

now and forever, in the heart of God.

“What a great party it will be.”

 

Something of that anticipated communion will shortly be enacted in the gospel meal –

bread broken and wine poured out.

I hope this Easter morning all will feel comfortable to receive,

whether it is your usual custom or not.

There is a wondrous inclusivity to the Easter words:

I am ascending to my Father and your Father,

to my God and your God.”

In that sharing of simple things, may we glimpse heavenly things;

echoing, owning, Mary’s words: “I have seen the Lord.”.

 

Then strengthened for the road ahead,

let us embody the resurrecting, ascending life.

Hope and courage, amid uncertainty and fear;

beauty and generosity, in mean or ugly times;

openness and the way of peace,

when anger and extremism rage.

Deep in our hearts;

Christ is risen; Hallelujah!