Call to worship: Wilderness
I used to know the wilderness only as pain;
A land without food, a land without water.
But you rained down manna
And even water flows in your desert.
I used to think the wilderness was total isolation—
But the Israelites had each other,
And you had the stars in the sky.
So then I thought the wilderness must be time wasted—
Forty years of circles.
Forty years of wondering.
But then I realized, each step is a step,
And maybe there’s growth in that.
So then I concluded that the wilderness must be lonely spaces—
The woman and her well,
The blind man and his gate,
Martha and her kitchen,
Peter and his fire.
But then you showed up in each of those places,
To each of those faces.
So now I wonder—by Sarah Are – A sanctified Art
What if the wilderness is the birthplace of creation?
What if the wilderness is where call begins?
What if the wilderness is where joy is birthed?
What if, between the dirt and the sky
And that wide orange horizon,
The wilderness is where we find you?
Welcome, brothers and sisters in Christ, to the dim hours of dawn as the sun slowly climbs into the sky, bringing light and warmth upon the land.
How we have travelled these weeks,
through the wilderness of scarcity and isolation,
loss and loneliness, uncertainty, ill health, and strange time which passes now too quickly, now too slowly,
to the praises of Palm Sunday and the horrors of the cross and the silent hours of waiting …
to this moment.
We begin with two questions for you to consider:
1. Why is this day special to you?
2. And, what emotions are you feeling today?
Gospel reading: John 20:1-18
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved,and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.New International Version
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
no tomb can keep You,
no door is closed to You,
no life is shut off from You.
Come lead us out of darkness into light,
out of doubt into faith,
out of death into life eternal.
Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord.
Interesting that the day starts and ends at the tomb, a morning like any morning. No earthquake. No flash of light. No bright star to announce his arrival. No chorus of angel song to testify to the Good News of resurrection. Simply the awareness that what has been is gone.
So we pause for a moment to be still, to be quiet, in the pale light of morning and we hold before God that which is gone in our own lives.
Mary Magdalene, in the dark, notes that the stone has been moved. And her despair is doubled – for her mind does not go to the promises and prophecies of resurrection but to her broken experiences of a world in which a crowd one day utters “Hosanna” and the next “Crucify,” where the beloveds become betrayers, where those in authority wash hands of their responsibility, where an innocent man is crucified between thieves. In such a world, it makes sense that the very same enemies who have orchestrated all of that, will have taken the body and hidden it so that the name of Jesus did not become mightier in his martyrdom.
We pause for a moment to be still, to be quiet, in the cold air of morning and we hold before God that which is broken in our own world.
She goes to get help. Or at least, some company in her grief – but Peter and John run off ahead of her.
The one who was at the cross and entrusted with the care of Jesus’s mother cannot bear to go, at first, beyond the door but notes that the body is gone and the wrappings have been left behind. The one who denied any association with the Lord, goes straight into the burial place and pronounces it empty of the Christ. They see and believe – not in the resurrection – but that the body is gone. And they go back to where they are staying – leaving Mary outside the tomb, crying and alone.
We pause for a moment to be still, to be quiet, in the wake of bad news and we hold before God those who we have left alone in their frailty or sickness or grief.
As she weeps, Mary bends over again to look into the place that has been declared empty. She knows that the one she is looking for is not there so I wonder why she does so. Why she alone stays in the dark, cold place of death when the others have returned to a safe place. What instinct drives her to look again. What she expected to find. Certainly not two angels who she doesn’t even recognise as angels through her tears. Nor Jesus, himself, standing behind her.
We pause for a moment to be still, to be quiet, in the blur of tears and we ask God to hold those times and places in our lives which it feels like God is not present with us.
“Mary,” Jesus names her. “Rabboni!” she cries out. And the whole reality shifts. He was dead. Now he is risen. His body was gone. Now he is here. She wants to reach out and hold on to him in her relief- but Jesus gently stops her. Nothing will ever be the same and he is to leave his disciples in order to be with all people. His Father has become our Father. His God is our God.
We pause for a moment to be still, to be quiet, in the truth that changes everything and we ask God to hold the realities that need to named and challenged and transformed.
Again, Mary returns to where the disciples have sought sanctuary. Her news is radically different from what it was. The misery and uncertainty of “they have taken the Lord and we don’t know where they have put him” is now the joy-filed eye-witness testimony “I have seen the Lord” and the careful retelling of what he said to her.
We are not actually told how her news was received; whether they believed her or wrote her good news off as the imaginings of an overwrought woman. Certainly, it did not seem to change their fearfulness for when Jesus next appears to them, they are still behind locked doors. Yet, that does not really matter. Easter Sunday reminds us that we all have a testimony to offer of the personal touch, the power, and the presence of Jesus.
So we pause for a final moment to be still, to be quiet, in the brightening light and we ask God to hold our lives as living signs of God’s love for the world.
Prayer for the world
Lord, like Mary, we weep.
We weep with all who suffer,
with all who are persecuted,
with all creatures who endure our cruelty.
Lord, we weep with those who are lonely,
with those who have buried a beloved,
with those for whom life is harder than death.
Lord, we weep with all who are oppressed,
with all who are bound by their addiction,
with all who are wrapped up in suspicion and hate.
Lord, we weep where disease is spreading,
where war has erupted,
where tempers run high.
Lord, we weep with children abused by the people they trust,
with young people bullied, and silenced, and shamed,
with homes where the anxiety of this time is made worse by violence.
Together Lord, we weep. We weep.
May we all, at the end of this Lent,
though many of our lives still feel like the wilderness place,
receive again with the rising of the light each day,
the knowledge that You are with us,
that You call us by name,
and that You have left us – like the empty tomb and and the folded wrappings – as signs for all the communities of earth
of Your power and Your purpose:
to heal all who are hurting
and bring us back to life.
Hymn: Christ the Lord is risen today
Christ the Lord is risen today:
Let the whole creation say:
Raise your joys and triumphs high:
Sing now, heaven, and earth reply:
Love’s redeeming work is done;
fought the fight, the battle won;
vain the stone, the watch, the seal:
Christ has burst the gates of hell.
Lives again our glorious king;
where, O death, is now your sting?
Once he died our souls to save;
where your victory, O grave?
Soar we now where Christ has led,Together in Song
Following our exalted Head;
made like him, like him we rise:
ours the cross, the grave, the skies.