Preacher: The Dean
‘The rising of the sun had made everything look so different - all colours and shadows were changed that for a moment they didn't see the important thing. Then they did. The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end; and there was no Aslan. [The children] looked round. There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.’
You may recognise that as being part of the wonderful book ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ by C S Lewis. An allegory on the Christian faith, the great lion Aslan, is killed on the stone table, the altar, by the witch but in the first light of the dawn rises from the dead to the delight of the children. It’s a wonderful story and well worth rereading if you haven’t read it for a long time.
In the half light of dawn, as the world was waking to a new day, Mary enters the garden. She has risked the dark streets of the city, the prying eyes of those who would wonder why a woman was wandering alone in the streets in the early hours, she risked waking her companions as she lowered the latch on the door and made her exit from the locked room. Her feet trod the dew laden grass as she entered the garden, the trees looking strange in the distorting dawn, the world, fresh washed, newly lit.
She was searching for the one she loved.
‘I will rise now and go about the city,
in the streets and in the squares;
I will seek him whom my soul loves.’
I sought him, but found him not.’
The Song of Songs is not about Mary Magdalene, though as we read it now it seems to be. Instead it is about Mary and it is about us, it is about all of us who have yearning hearts for the divine, who are seeking, searching for the one we love.
Mary arrives at the tomb, ready to weep again as she’d wept as she witnessed the men placing the dead body of Jesus in the tomb and sealing it with a stone. She was ready to weep again. But she was not prepared for what she found – no body, no Jesus. The tomb wide open, the stone rolled away.
‘I sought him, but found him not.’
The children in the new dawn seek out Aslan, who with glorious majesty has captured their hearts and devotion. But the stone table is broken and empty, where he’d been tied down and executed and tormented by the witch and her goblins. But then they hear his voice behind them and thy turn and see him.
Mary runs back and returns with Peter and John, but when they too find nothing she’s once more left on her own, the sun now stronger, and she sees a man who she does not recognise, who speaks to her.
‘Scarcely had I passed them,
when I found him whom my soul loves.
I held him, and would not let him go.’
But Jesus would not let her hold him, hang on to him. ‘Noli me tangere’ he says to her. ‘Touch me not’. Agony for the lover who only wants to cling. This resurrected Jesus is not to be contained, he must go ahead of them, they must follow. She has found him, yet she loses him again. But differently.
With Aslan goodness and truth were victorious in the face of evil; with Jesus it is as the Song of Songs says
‘Love is strong as death,
passion fierce as the grave.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.’
The questing love that Mary has for Jesus and that we remember each Easter Day is the love that each of us has for the one who is the
‘first and the last … alive for ever and ever’
as St John writes in his Book of Revelation. Easter is the supreme victory of love - of love over hate, the supreme victory of life over death, of hope over despair, of light over dark, of good over evil. And that is what we need to hold on to this week and every week.
Humanity spends so much of its life searching in the half-light for truth and meaning. In a world where ‘The Mother of all Bombs’ is dropped as a flexing of muscles, in which a leader would gas his own people, in which a maniacal regime develops weapons to threaten its neighbours; in a society in which political expediency threatens national livelihood and status, in which the needs of the poor are constantly forgotten; in lives in which I is more important than you, in which the ephemeral is most highly prized, in which having is more important than giving, we need to seek out love. We need to tread with Mary the threatening streets to find where love is, and to know that it can never be defeated. We need to seek Jesus, the first and the last and know that he is always going ahead of us.
We began this Holy Week hosting the funeral of PC Palmer. I had to give a lot of interviews during that day but one of the things that all the interviewers wanted to know was what my message was. It was simple; the message was hope, it always is, it always has to be. That is what Easter is about and that is what Mary found.
The risen Jesus is the hope of all people, the hope of the whole world.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.
They tried to kill it, tried to quench it by nailing it to the cross, tried to rid the world of it by burying it behind a stone, but love and hope and life and goodness and truth and the past and the present and the future rose victorious and as the sun rose Mary saw Jesus, Rabbouni.
As George Herbert so beautifully describes it in his poem Easter
Can there be any day but this,
Though many sunnes to shine endeavour?
We count three hundred, but we misse:
There is but one, and that one ever.