Rev. Andrew Cunnington
20th April 2014
Following the Way of the Two Mary’s

This year it’s not been a matter of rising early in order to get to the tomb first thing on Easter Day. It’s taken the two women at least a week to get there.

Mary the Mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Thousands of miles of travelling to get to the tomb where their beloved Jesus lies and there to anoint his poor body with oils and spices.

On their way out they were inevitably taken aside for questioning and searching at Tel Aviv airport and asked about the quantities of the fragrances in their hand luggage. That long flight and then the coach bouncing its way through town and desert until finally they came to the place beside the sea.

Unlike the first Easter morning, this was not a quiet place and neither was it a garden.

It was usually, I would think, a beautiful bay, as beautiful as an Easter Garden perhaps. But today there are people everywhere. Anxious and afraid looking people with the lenses and microphones of a great media circus trained on their every move.

No one notices Mary the Mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, as quietly and silently they make their way to the water’s edge. For that’s where the families are gathered. The families who wait for news of lost sons and daughters.

There is a man praying with tears in his eyes. Another man is banging on a drum and looking out to sea. Women console themselves in close knit groups and children trace patterns in the sand with tiny stones.

They are overshadowed by the ambulances and the big white tents which make it hard for them to hold out any hope of life, when everyone is preparing for death.

Mary the Mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene move amongst the families, opening their perfumes and tracing tiny crosses on hands that shake with the fear of it all.

But out of the corner of their eyes, everyone is looking out to sea to the place where the ferry sank, taken down beneath the waves, like a sealed tomb from which surely no life can survive.

The two Mary’s are finding all this too close for comfort when they think about the first Easter Day. When they stood in the place of these poor people, with no hope at all.

For them though, there was a miracle. The Son appeared before them risen. Although it took them weeks to understand what this new life really meant.

So if his rising sets the world free and our Alleluias ring true, the two Mary’s need to go before us with their wealth of grace and compassion and show us how we might bring Easter hope to this terrible underwater tomb in South Korea, and those other places in our lives, more personal places, where the ways of God do not bring easy comfort.

Our two holy women moving amongst families. That’s all I see them doing. Tracing the cross on their hands with a fragrance of two thousand years vintage. They wipe tears and hold hands and they say very few words, although inside they never stop praying to their Son, who is out there somewhere amidst the brave rescuers, out there somewhere inside the hold of that ship where so much loving has been lost.

I am not that fond of Matthew’s account of the resurrection because things don’t look very hopeful. The women are filled with fear, and when they meet Jesus they hold on to his feet as if to say “we will not let you go from us again”, and if you read the next verses you will find that the authorities are already trying to hush up his rising from the dead, by throwing money at the problem.

It’s as if there is a magnetic force at work in Matthew 28 which wants to stop the resurrection taking hold and making a difference. In our day, it’s not just on the coast of South Korea but upon the flight of the Malaysian airline and in Ukraine and Syria, not to mention the Holy Land, that we find too many sealed tombs and too many loved ones weeping in front of them.

Easter Day suggests there has to be something more to say, something else we can do, and I’m looking to Mary the Mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene as they bless people with the sign of Our Lord’s passion, to show us what to do next. There has to be a 29th Chapter to Matthew’s Gospel somewhere, where the magnet loses its pull back towards death and people can be liberated to new life.

In our day, in our land, churches are being asked to look afresh at themselves, and although that might be partly driven by diminishing resources, by how we keep our structures working, and all that, such considerations must be overtaken by our yearning to share the Gospel in ways that can do most to help.

We don’t need lots of wise words, we don’t need to stand on street corners and pound away at people,we don’t need, necessarily, to focus on getting more people into services. We need to say, how is it that we here, can follow Mary the Mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene to the place where people are weeping today and have faith that somewhere within the sealed tombs that abound, the Son who rose again on Easter Day is doing his work.

They call it Mission Action Planning, but I call it writing the 29th Chapter of Matthew’s Gospel.

In this Spirit, you have each received an Easter Card which tells you about how we might write these new verses. It invites each one of us to take into our time of prayer between now and Pentecost, 40 days, a time when we can reflect upon the life we share and simply ask God to show us how, from where we are now, we can glorify his name.

We are a busy church but we also have the capacity for quiet reflection, something which struck Bishop Christopher as he worshipped with us on Thursday. There are some prayers you might like to use and on the back the 5 marks of mission are printed out for you.

After Pentecost, I will be inviting you to a meeting to share what you think about the life we share and where this time of reflection has led us. The whole process was mapped out in the March magazine and I will talk more about it at our APCM on 30 April.

This is not a time though to stop what we’re doing because it is my belief that the things we do together as a church here are spirit driven. They must be because none of them were my idea. We’ve been building gradually and slowly an identity and a character which I pray is a reflection of what God does want from us. So this is not to change things, but to ask God how do we go from here, how we can write that chapter.

So think about the joy of the empty tomb, for it is a glorious joy.

Think about the tombs that seem as if they remain sealed in our day, and how that feels for people.

Reflect on the tombs within ourselves that only we know about.

Think about the life we share here, where every day has about it the flavour of an Easter morning, because we dare to go with the two Mary’s to the places that seem most difficult and where belief is hardest to articulate.

This is resurrection talk:

Where can I go from your spirit or where can I flee from your presence?

If I climb up to heaven you are there, if I make my bed in the grave, you are there also.

If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

Even there your right hand will lead me and your right hand hold me fast

That’s the flavour of the Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 29, that we might just be being called to write.