It’s always a challenge trying to decide what to speak about on Easter Sunday – it shines a light into so many dark places. Should we focus on the light or the dark places? I think we have to think about both.
The first reading, from John’s gospel, shows the dark places that fear, hatred and a love of power create when they compromise and collude with each other. Dark places allow evil to go unchallenged, and innocent people are sacrificed for wicked purposes.
Sometimes gullible or vulnerable people are sacrificed too, pulled into the plotting and scheming, used and manipulated by the more dominant voices or forces. Vulnerable does not always mean innocent or weak – it just means that somebody else holds some kind of power over you, and uses it like a lever to push you into a certain position.
What has happened in the cricketing world this week is an example of how people can become so immersed in the values and priorities of the dominant culture in their circle that they can be used by, and add to, that culture. And we have become very aware over the last few years of how the church as a system colluded with the wrong use of power within it.
We hear day after day of the actions that spring from the dark places of manipulation and compromise that bring about financial and emotional loss, cruelty, and the denial of things that are blatantly, obviously true or real. Investors, employees and consumers are sacrificed very often for money. Families, schools, organisations of all kinds can sacrifice the people within them for ‘the honour’ of the group.
Asylum seekers are sacrificed to political positions. Friends,
team-mates and colleagues are all sacrificed for gain, selfishness or the fear of losing an advantage.
All those things are the Friday aspect of Easter, when things look hopeless, cruel and ugly. And sometimes it seems that these things are the end, the last word, and there is no life or hope after them.
Then, thank God, comes Sunday. Sometimes Sunday dawns when we are still weeping and mourning what is lost. Words of hope are spoken to us, but we can’t take them in, we are too wounded and weary. Then they come again a little later, and perhaps in a different way or a different setting, and perhaps begin to get through to us, and we begin to wonder if maybe there will be some light in the future. Sometimes we need to be robustly challenged to put aside our sorrow or weariness and make a space to let hope in so that it can begin to generate its own power within us.
And the power that hope generates is not to lead us back to where we used to be, but onward, to a new place that we have never been in before, and might never have thought of going to, if the cruel and ugly events had not dis-placed us from our earlier position.
Mark’s gospel is not often used for hearing the resurrection events, because it is thought that this last part of Mark was added to the original work some time later. But it’s a succinct and no-frills summary of the events that moved the disciples from the gloom of Friday to the energy that flowed from Jesus being freed from death’s dark places on the Sunday.
And in typical Markan style, it is full of energy and movement. Mark doesn’t give long descriptions of anything. Mark’s Jesus and disciples are always on the move, doing things immediately and at once, going from place to place. And that is the risen Christ’s focus, too, that after the reality of the resurrection has come through to us, we get up and get going, taking the gospel into all aspects of God’s world – all creation, and God will give us signs of proof as we do.
And the despairing, doubting, grieving disciples did just that. ‘They went out and preached everywhere and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his words by the signs that accompanied it.’
The risen Christ has the same message for us today, and signs and wonders still confirm his words. There are still evils that we might call snakes and poison threatening lives today, in our world. We are called to name them, and bring them out of the dark places into the light, so that they can be disempowered by truth and righteousness – in the name of Jesus Christ.
First Reading: JOHN 19:4,6-16
4 Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.”
6 When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.” 7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”
8 Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. 9 He entered his headquarters[a] again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” 12 From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.”
13 When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. 14 Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, “Here is your King!” 15 They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.” 16 Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.
Second reading: Mark 16:9-20 (NRSV)
9 Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 10 She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. 11 But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.
12 After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. 13 And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.
14 Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.[a]15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news[b] to the whole creation. 16 The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes in their hands,[c] and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.