Easter Sunday 4th April 2021 Service

Service for Easter Sunday based on contributions from Revd. Dr. Susan Durber and Mrs. Margaret Dexter-Brown

CALL TO WORSHIP:

Lord Jesus Christ, speak to us of the new life you have made possible through your stupendous sacrifice, your willingness to surrender all. Unfold to us the true nature of discipleship – what it means to love and follow you – and help us, by your grace, to respond, dying to self and rising to new life with you, so that all we do and are may be by your power, in your service and to your glory. Amen

HYMN: Christ the Lord is risen today
Charles Wesley (1707-88) – selected verses

Christ, the Lord, is risen today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth, reply, Alleluia!

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Lo! the Sun’s eclipse is over, Alleluia!
Lo! He sets in blood no more, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!

Hail, the Lord of earth and heaven, Alleluia!
Praise to Thee by both be given, Alleluia!
Thee we greet triumphant now, Alleluia!
Hail, the resurrection day, Alleluia!

Hymns of praise then let us sing, Alleluia!
Unto Christ, our heavenly King, Alleluia!
Who endured the cross and grave, Alleluia!
Sinners to redeem and save. Alleluia!

But the pains that He endured, Alleluia!
Our salvation have procured, Alleluia!
Now above the sky He’s King, Alleluia!
Where the angels ever sing. Alleluia!

Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!
Our triumphant holy day, Alleluia!
Who did once upon the cross, Alleluia!
Suffer to redeem our loss. Alleluia!

PRAYERS: Adoration and Confession

Today, in this place, we want to see Jesus, who knew what it was to be human. Jesus, draw us in and open us up; open our eyes to see you, our hearts to share with you; open our mouths to share with one another all that we know of you.
God of mercy and compassion, we look to you to forgive our frailty and our weakness. Like your disciples who went before us, we have not always understood what you strive to teach us, we have not always been as bold in our witness as we could have been, we have not always stood by the faith we hold so dear, and there have been times when we have betrayed your love. Have mercy on us, and forgive us, for we are weak and frail. Strengthen us for your service, for we ask this in the name of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen

READING: John 20: 1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’
Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But 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’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

REFLECTION:

Last year, when we were living through the first lockdown, a friend of mine said, ‘I don’t want last year’s Easter’. She was then living with someone shielding, and it was a time when the churches were all closed.
On the television she found some recordings of Easter services from what seemed like a former world, with people crowded into decorated churches, wearing bright colours, smiling happily and singing lustily. Such a recorded Easter, an Easter from another lifetime, seemed to her so jarring and inappropriate. If Easter means anything, if resurrection is true, then it has to make sense in the times we are living in right now.
Now, another year on, I think this seems even more true. Our celebrations of Easter this year have somehow to be different. The great numbers of the dead, the many who are grieving, those who are fearful for the future, and those who despite everything are full of hope, need and deserve to hear something for today. There can be no taking out last year’s sermon and changing the odd illustration. We need to hear and proclaim together an Easter message for this time. We need this year’s Easter.

But then every year when I read this marvellous text from John’s Gospel, I notice something new. And this year, straightaway, I noticed, perhaps as you did, Jesus telling Mary ‘Do not touch me’. ‘Noli me tangere’ in Latin – evoking memories of the Tango – in which the dancers touch one another with almost every part of their bodies getting involved. Jesus tells Mary not to touch him, not to hold on to him. These two do not tango. In one very famous and beloved painting of this Gospel reading (by Titian) Jesus is shown pulling away from Mary. Sadly, it’s a gesture that seems all too familiar to us now. All those walks where people cross the road to avoid getting too close. All those moments when we are doing our best always to stay two metres apart. The queues in the supermarket, spaced out in lines. Even those most painful moments when we can only wave at those we love or speak to them from the doorstep – those times when we have to hold back from touch and embrace. This kind of social distancing has been the reality of our lives for many months. We have understood in a way that we never expected or imagined, what it means not to be able to touch one another. In this story from John’s Gospel we see how the Word has become flesh, but not at this point, flesh that can be touched or held. ‘Do not touch me’, he says.

It may be that some of us here are longing to be able to touch someone else; someone who we haven’t seen for months, or perhaps someone who has now died and whose body is no longer there for us to hold, though we so long to. Not to be able to touch and hold is part of the almost physical and profound pain of bereavement. So, we find ourselves identifying today with the longing and the loss and desire for touch and comfort – for something we cannot have. And it is good to see echoed in the holy pages of the Gospels this intense longing, this loss that we now know so deeply, as we long for those who have died or as we try to keep distance from each other in order to keep one another safe.

But this is hardly, itself, good news – not an answer to a pandemic or to death or grief. Where can we hear the Gospel that will transform our pain and loss today? Well, the most profound hope is there in this passage. It’s in Mary’s journey from grief and bereavement to confident proclamation. Have you noticed that several times in the text Mary talks about Jesus being ‘taken away’. At the beginning she runs to Simon Peter and to the other disciples and tells them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb’. Later, the angels ask why she is weeping and she says, ‘They have taken away my Lord…’. And then when she sees the gardener she says, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away.’ and she even says that once she knows where the body is, ‘I will take him away’.
But once Jesus speaks she hears that Jesus is not to be taken anywhere at all, but is going home to God. And she tells the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’. Mary cannot touch, as she longs to, but she can hear and see. And she learns that Jesus has not been taken away, and indeed that he cannot be taken away. He is going to the Father, the very one with whom Jesus has already told the disciples he is at one and the disciples too (all there in chapter 17). Jesus is reminding the disciples, Mary and us too – dear readers – that he is one with God, and we are one with him. We are closer than physical touching could bring anyone. We are ‘one’. The unity we long for is his and ours. The separation that death creates and that a pandemic compels us to observe is – at a deep level – absolutely overcome.
In a time of pandemic we have not even been able to reach out – in the way we used to do – and hold the bread that becomes for us the body of Christ. Even that most sacramental of touching is compromised. But, just as no-one did take away the body of Jesus then, so no-one can take away the presence of Jesus with us right now. Even if we can only watch and take part ‘in spirit’, or even if we take our own bread at home rather than in church, we are being made one with God and life in us is being renewed. We may well long for how things were, we may grieve for what is taken away, but nothing, nothing, no power on earth or in heaven, can ever take Jesus away from us. He is with God, and he is with us – more powerfully even than human touch can imagine. No-one has taken him away and no-one will. As Mary said, ‘We have seen the Lord’.

This Easter may be different from other ones – in ways that we all understand. But at the same time it is like all other Easters. In just the same way we can know that no-one has taken Jesus away – the truth is that he is drawing us close in order to lift us into the very presence of God with him. The God revealed in the risen Christ keeps no distance from us, but is at one with us, sharing our grief and sorrow and lifting us with him into the joy of God’s presence and the hope of new life. May it be so, for you and for all for whom you long. Amen.

PRAYERS: Intercessions and Lord’s Prayer

Jesus said that unless a seed falls to the earth and dies, it cannot bear fruit. We pray for our church, thanking God for those things that are flourishing.
We ask God to show us what needs to die in order for new things to grow. We pray for our community, thanking God for those places where people are thriving.
We pray for those in need, the unemployed, the housebound, the lonely, those who are ill… We ask God to bring them hope.
We pray for our nation, thanking God for the abundance of food, water health and wealth we enjoy.
We pray for those parts of the world that are at war, and especially for refugees and for prisoners… We ask God to bring them peace.
We pray for ourselves, thanking God for those who love us, and those we love.
We ask that this week God will help us to act truthfully and with kindness. We pray through Jesus Christ our Saviour and friend and join together now in saying the words he taught us…

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever. Amen

HYMN: Thine be the Glory
Edmond Louis Budry. (1854-1932) tr. Richard Birch Hoyle
(1875-1939)
Thine be the glory,
Risen, conquering Son,
Endless is the victory
Thou o’er death hast won;
Angels in bright raiment
Rolled the stone away,
Kept the folded grave-clothes
Where thy body lay.
Thine be the glory,
Risen, conquering Son;
Endless is the victory
Thou o’er death hast won!

Lo, Jesus meets us,
Risen from the tomb;
Lovingly he greets us,
Scatters fear and gloom;
Let the Church with gladness
Hymns of triumph sing,
For her Lord now liveth,
Death hath lost its sting.
Thine be the glory,
Risen, conquering Son;
Endless is the victory
Thou o’er death hast won!

No more we doubt thee,
Glorious Prince of life;
Life is naught without thee:
Aid us in our strife;
Make us more than conquerors
Through thy deathless love;
Bring us safe through Jordan
To thy home above:
Thine be the glory,
Risen, conquering Son;
Endless is the victory
Thou o’er death hast won!

BLESSING:

We go in the name of Christ. In times of joy and sorrow, when all is well with us, and when nothing goes right, we will follow the cross and proclaim the resurrection. We go in the name of Christ. Amen