Sub Dean - Revd Canon Michael Rawson
I have to admit that I enjoy looking around cemeteries and burial grounds
Whether they are in the UK or overseas they shine a light on the way people approach death and the afterlife. During the Victorian era there was a huge expansion of burial grounds, especially on the outskirts of cities. The Necropolis Railway Company was built to take bodies from Waterloo to Brockwood Cemetery near Woking where the Cathedral still has a burial ground. At the start of 2020 I went on a tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London. It is the resting place of the great and the good as well as many very ordinary Londoners. There are some magnificent Victorian structures including catacombs, together with very recent substantial graves and chapels, seeking to immortalize their residents.
In this afternoon’s second reading we are also in a graveyard, seeing the resurrection of Jesus through the eyes of St Luke. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and other unnamed women come to the tomb to wash and anoint the body of Jesus following his death. Men should have performed this last act of service for Jesus but they were no where to be seen. They had fled from the foot of the cross in fear of their lives and were now safely behind locked doors. Not so for these women who had followed and loved Jesus during his life and were determined to honour him in death.
When they arrive at the tomb they are startled that the huge stone over the entrance has been rolled away and two figures appear. In a mixture of awe and terror the women bow to the ground. ‘Why look for the living among the dead,’ they are told. ‘He is not here, but has risen.’ Remember all that he taught you.
These women are those who are entrusted with good news – they are apostles to the apostles. But they are seen as unreliable witnesses by the male disciples who pass it off as an idle tale. St Luke has a special place in his gospel for the marginalized and downtrodden and the fact that he makes so much of the women being the first witnesses of the resurrection and the ones who tell others, is significant. Although the male disciples don’t believe the women, something makes Peter run to the tomb. Perhaps he needs to see for himself, like Thomas. Whatever the reason, he sees and believes.
‘Why look for the living among the dead.’ Those majestic Victorian graveyards seldom feel like a place to look for the living. They honour the dead and seek to give them a permanent home, rather like stopping a clock at the point of death. What might those words mean to us today as we gather in the light of the risen Lord? During Holy Week, Paul Gooder gave us an insight into the passion through the eyes of eight women. It’s a story we know so well – perhaps too well for we often fill in the gaps. Paula’s stories allowed us to see and hear the narrative through fresh eyes. We can so easily look to the past, to the familiar, to what things used to be like. For those first female witnesses to the resurrection and for us, Christ rising from the dead challenges our values, our vision and our place in the world. The resurrection calls us to expand our hearts and minds and to see ourselves, one another and our world through the fresh lens of God.
May this Easter season be a time of rebirth, renewal and new hope for each one of us.