… while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb … (John 20:1 NRSV)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
After the Palm Sunday bomb attacks last week against Egyptian Christians, one of the Coptic bishops in Australia wrote to me, ‘I just feel numb right now, we are in deep pain and suffering. There is a clear attempt at ethnic cleansing against the Copts in Egypt … My community is heartbroken and distressed and several members in Melbourne have lost family members in Egypt yesterday. Very difficult to celebrate Easter under such circumstances, but we are a resilient community and we trust in our suffering Christ who promised us that the gates of Hades shall not prevail against his Church’.
This weekend, as we follow Christ through his suffering and death to his glorious resurrection, we will remember those who still suffer for this faith. Here we celebrate in freedom, but there are still many who celebrate in the face of persecution.
Christ’s death on Calvary, a once-for-all event for the salvation of the world, still echoes around the globe as his people continue to suffer and he suffers with them. Sometimes we can feel as though the darkness lives on and has not yet been overcome. We still cry out to God for salvation, just like Hebrews in the Old Testament.
Yet we are not alone. When we fear for the present, or the future, Christ is there, ready and waiting to receive us. There is no suffering or rejection which he cannot reach and no human pain in which does not share. This is what we discover in the darkness we paradoxically call ‘Good Friday’.
John’s Gospel records that on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to Jesus’ tomb while it was still dark. She was in grief, her eyes clouded over. She expected things to be as they had left them two days previously. But when she arrived the stone was gone and she suspected a grave robbery. The disciples went in and saw that the tomb was empty, so Mary did not know what to expect. When she bent over to look in, she saw angels and she told them why she was weeping. Then she turned, but did not recognise the person standing there, thinking he was the gardener.
We should not be surprised at Mary. We naturally expect things to continue the way they were. We are slow to recognise how much they changed that morning. It takes time, sometimes a lifetime, to really believe the Scripture that he must rise from the dead, and take in all that this means for us now and in eternity.
The light came on for Mary, and she really saw the Lord, when he called her by name. As you worship this weekend, wherever you are and whatever group of Christians you are with, may you join Mary in hearing Jesus speak your name, just as he has already done on the day of your baptism. Let him into your heart again to dispel your fears, comfort you in your grief and guide you in your life.
Nothing was the same after that Easter morning. Everything has changed, forever. God has the whole world in his hands. He has you in his hands. We can certainly thank and praise him with grateful hearts, praising him for his wonderful work for us which is so much greater than anything we might have hoped for.
Immanuel, God is with us,
- Christians in Egypt and elsewhere as they suffer persecution and are attacked for their faith
- Christians in Australia as we worship the living God this Easter
- People who are trapped by military conflict, revolution or oppressive regimes
- People of goodwill who want to break through human boundaries of prejudice and vilification to live together in peace
- People who are trapped in lifestyles of greed and selfishness
- People who live in fear of others or who are victims of a cycle of violence
- People who are trapped by addiction and all that goes with it
- People who are thinking of self-harm
- Parents, children and families
- Governments and all who wield power over the lives of others
- Corporations and businesses for which profit is the bottom line
- Earth, nature and the environment which sustains our physical life
- God’s church on earth, that we may boldly share the good news of Jesus Christ without fear or favour
Pastor John Henderson
Bishop, Lutheran Church of Australia
12 April 2017