Holy Saturday 2012

"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."

It's a pity that the compilers of the Lectionary omitted that final verse of the 16th Chapter of St Mark from tonight's Gospelreading, ending with those extraordinary and totally unexpected words, "for they were afraid." How strange that the three women, who had been so brave until now and had even entered the tomb on seeing that the stone, which was very big, had been rolled away, should be filled with amazement and fear at hearing the message of the Easter angel, "There is no need for alarm. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He is risen, he is not here. See, here is the place where they laid him."

Although the women eventually did go to tell the disciples and Peter what "the young man in the white robe seated on the right-hand side" had told them, their initial reaction was one of fear and they fled for their lives. You might well ask why that was. But just imagine if you saw a dead person on your way home tonight, alive and sitting on a tombstone. You'd be gone in a flash, frightened out of your wits. How often had Jesus said to his disciples, "Do not be afraid"? Even so, they were still afraid, especially after the events of Good Friday.

Why? There is only one thing more frightening than death and that is life, Life after death, I mean. Life would be so much simpler if this were it. We could romp through doing what we liked, taking care of number one, making a god of ourselves, not caring about anyone else. We could give into temptation, really enjoy our sins instead of feeling guilty about them and break every commandment in the book. If death were the end of it all, then we could get away with anything: what an easy way out. But the Resurrection warns us that there is life after death and that means we will have to account for everything. The Resurrection demands accountability and responsibility before God and before our neighbour, and that's a very frightening thought.

Now I'm not saying that the women were frightened for that reason. They were good souls, with nothing to fear. They were followers of Jesus and, unlike the apostles, had been faithful to him even when he was taken prisoner, condemned to death and crucified. They had stood nearby, looking on as he died on the cross and was buried in the tomb. It had been a rushed affair, that burial, so "when the Sabbath was over, Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, brought spices with which to anoint him." And so it was that "very early in the morning on the first day of the week they went to the tomb, just as the sun was rising." There they became the very first to learn of the Resurrection and they were amazed and frightened out of their wits. Without thinking, they fled.

But we, we have had time to think and we have the great advantage of knowing fully what happened next. In fact the Church, this hotchpotch of a community of believers, is still here 2000 years on, because of what happened that first Easter sometime after sunset on the Sabbath and before sunrise of the first day of the week. The Angel of the Resurrection tells us tonight, "He is risen; he is not here." "He is risen" rather than "He has risen" because it gives us a better sense of the present reality of the Resurrection. Jesus lives, and is with us today, risen from the dead.

Brethren, what does the Resurrection of Jesus mean to you? Has it really changed your life and taken away your fears? In baptism you died with Christ in order to live with him. Can you recognise the living Christ within you, in everything you think, do or say? Can you recognise the living Christ in your neighbour? And is it possible for you to say with St Paul, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me"? St Gregory of Nazianzus wrote these powerful words: "Yesterday I was crucified with Christ; today I am glorified with him. Yesterday I was dead with Christ; today I am sharing in his Resurrection. Yesterday I was buried with Christ; today I am waking with him from the sleep of death."

On behalf of Fr Prior and the Monastic Community, I wish you all a very happy and holy Easter. May the risen Christ fill your hearts with joy and your homes with rejoicing.

Christ is risen, alleluia, alleluia.