“Then go quickly and tell his disciples, he has been raised from the dead. This is my message for you”
We always know something spectacular is about to happen when we hear the story of an angel appearing in our Gospels. And inevitably, when they do appear to people, their first words are “Do not be afraid.” In tonights gospel from Matthew, we hear not only the angel who’s appeared to the two Mary’s at the tomb say this, but also from Jesus, who suddenly meets them as they rush to tell the others what they’ve witnessed. He is alive and no longer in the tomb. I think it’s wonderful also that in tonights Gospel story, it’s the women who go to the tomb, the women who the angel announces his great news to, and that it’s the women whom Jesus first appears to.
One of humanity’s greatest accomplishments and gift I believe, is the concept of story telling. Over the past week we’ve listened to some of these stories, written so long ago, and yet which still had the ability to pull us into reliving them. Immersing ourselves in the joy and hope of Jesus’ powerful riding into Jerusalem……. the shock of his arrest and trial…….. and the horror of his crucifixion and death. And in tonight’s readings, we heard a succession of stories which show us the depth and intimacy of God’s relationship with us. And of Jesus freed from death and the tomb.
In our lives today, its through story that we define ourselves, adding chapter upon chapter as we live our lives out. It’s in story telling that a parent hears the breathless excitement of a young child recapping their latest adventure in the backyard. It’s in story telling that we share our stories of hope and love as we enter and leave relationships with one another. And it’s in story telling that a dying patient shares their fear with the chaplain in a hospital, or with their children now grown, as their life is ending and they seek to make sense of what is happening, hoping in their last moments they can share the essence of who they hoped they were.
At a lecture I recently attended in Cambridge, I heard an excerpt from an article by Jim Hall, the co-founder of a Christian retreat center in Maryland called DaySpring. In this article, entitled “The New Story,” Hall speaks of the power of story telling; how it is by story that we understand who we are, how we came to be and what we are about. We are living in a time when all around us old stories are dying and new stories are struggling to be born. He writes, “We all live by story, and new story emerges in many ways—as we let go of the old story and attend to ancient wisdom, to essence, to Sabbath rest, to dream, to song, to ceremony.” Mostly, he writes, “it emerges as we try to live it out in the midst of the old story still around us, a process often filled with risk and uncertainty. Jesus lived such a new story in the midst of the old. Into an old story about obeying religious rules in order to please God came a new story: that these rules are God’s gift to us, not our obligation to God. That we are invited into God’s rest and order, not required to live up to a standard placed upon us. Jesus in living the story of his life shows us a way that is about passing it on, being loving and compassionate as God has been loving and compassionate to us. Jesus goes beyond structure to essence and reminds us that structures simply exist to serve essence.”
Our parishes today, and we as Christians who follow Christ are examples of these structures of essence. We continue the stories of the past, adding our chapter, our essence, for those who follow us tomorrow. Jesus chose to act out his own authentic story, one about self-giving love and compassion. Living the new story in the midst of a very powerful old story. And this is our call today as we live the ever evolving story of our parishes, our church and our existence. That if we are in pursuit of Jesus, we recognize that we will be always moving from our own self-serving story to a self-giving story. In essence, living a story of love, living a Christ like life. It’s this essence that we see in the gospel story this evening, that if Jesus shows us anything, it isn’t our bodies that are necessarily important. They don’t speak to who we are as a person, its how we live our life and our relationships, its the essence of who we are that define what we are.
It’s in this hopeful understanding that we recognize all that God has done for us, as we recognize that we today are the latest, greatest part of the continual unfolding of God’s story, God’s plan…. God’s dream for the world. What a story we can continue to tell today….. one that can change the world. What we do with these stories defines us as people of faith as we do what we are called to do; to spread the good news that Jesus is no longer in the tomb, that he has been raised from the dead, giving us new hope, new life and a new story to tell for generations to come.
And as we follow Christ, and spread this good news, we enable others to discover their story and begin their next chapter. So as we leave here tonight and after Easter tomorrow and into the weeks and months to come, perhaps our greatest gift to those around us is to rediscover and tell our stories, even if we feel we’ve done it before. Sharing them with others, so that they too can be empowered to do the same. And in doing so…… perhaps then, the very essence of who we are becomes part of who they are….. and who we all are…… part of God’s amazing creation in his kingdom here on earth. What wonderful a story to write for those who will come after us to hear.
To God be the glory, Father, Son and Holy Spirit AMEN, ALLELUIA!