Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Pentecost Sunday, May 20, 2018

What is the meaning of Pentecost Sunday?

The Christian holiday of Pentecost, which is celebrated on the seventh Sunday (49 days) after Easter, commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus Christ while they were in Jerusalem celebrating the Feast of Weeks, as described in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:1–31).

Please wear red Sunday to celebrate Pentecost.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Father Riley's sermon from May 13, 2018

Breaking News:  We will have Morning Prayer next Sunday (May 20th) and Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist May 27 and June 3,  2018.  Services at 10am as usual.

EASTER VII - B - 18               JOHN 17. 6-19

Did you notice the absence of the Paschal Candle? It is lighted on Easter Day and remains lit until the Feast of the Ascension, which occurred on Thursday. How many of you were here for that? It is a major feast day of the church and always but always falls on a weekday. Even in large churches like Grace, it was poorly attended.

Yet it remains a major event in the life of the church. As Jesus descended from heaven, he ascended back into heaven signaling the completion of his earthly ministry. He did so with the promise of sending the Holy Spirit to lead the church into all Truth.

If it is that important, why do not more people come to church to celebrate it? Good question. In today’s gospel, Jesus is preparing his disciples for that very day when he will be taken up from them. The scene is the upper room; the first Eucharist has just been celebrated to the astonishment of the disciples.

Now Jesus is praying for them in what is become known as the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus. It is called the High Priestly Prayer for it contains the basic elements of a prayer a priest offers to God when a sacrifice is about to be made: glorification, remembrance of God’s works and intercession on behalf of others.

Jesus is praying for his disciples who will be left to continue his mission after he has ascended to the father. Jesus knows that the cross awaits him and that all kinds of trials and temptations await them. After the prayer, he and his disciples will leave the safety of the upper room, cross over the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives, and descend to the garden below where he will pray again.

This time, his prayer will be that the cup the father has given him might pass him by. Then he will be arrested, and the rest we know all too well.

Did the disciples understand what Jesus meant when he said he was going to the father and what that would mean for them and the future of the church? I doubt it. They all scattered when Jesus was arrested. None of them were present for the crucifixion save John. No, it was not until Jesus appeared to them post resurrection in that same upper room bearing the marks of the crucifixion that they had any hope of a future.

Moreover, it was not until the Holy Spirit descended upon them, ten days after the Ascension on the Feast of Pentecost that they had the courage to step out into the world and begin to proclaim Him risen from the dead. With their baptism by the Holy Spirit, they were empowered to begin fulfilling their mission of representing Christ to the world.

Speaking of the word world, Jesus uses it some 13 times in today’s passage. The term “world” is used in several distinct ways in scripture. In some cases, it refers to all that glorious, beautiful, and redeemable in God’s creation.  Other times it refers to that which is finite in contrast to that which is eternal. In still other instances, it indicates all that is in rebellion against God.

The rebellion against God reveals several things: (1) union with Christ brings love, truth, and peace; (2) it also brings persecution because the world hates love and truth. (3) The world hates Christ; therefore, it will hate all who try to live Christ like lives.

He prays knowing that his followers will have to deal with evil. He prays for their unity, that they may have joy, and that they will be sanctified in the truth (God’s word is truth). To sanctify is to make holy, to separate, and set apart from the world for the purposes of God.

For the disciples that purpose is to be sent into the world to testify to the Truth, that is, Jesus Christ, and to manifest the Love of God. I doubt any of this was on the minds of the disciple when Judas appeared in the garden with the Temple guards and arrested Jesus. No, I am certain their only thought was survival. It was everyman for himself.

The unity Jesus prayed for has suffered, and continues to suffer many strains and temptations, schisms and apostasies that continue to be repeated in every generation. Our generation is no exception.

The oneness Jesus prays for has to do with Truth, meaning doctrine, that is, what the Church teaches as Truth. The Body of Christ has been splintered in so many different directions over the centuries that the unity Jesus prayed for in the upper room and continues to pray for at the right hand of the father sadly does not exist.

I, for one, do not believe that God ever intended for there to be denominations. For the first thousand years of the life of the Church, there was only one church. For the next six hundred years, there were two. However, the result of the Protestant Reformation in the 1600s has been a continual splintering of the Body of Christ into literally thousands of Christian denominations each claiming to be the true Church and claiming to possess the Truth.

No wonder the mission Christ gave to the Apostles has suffered. In some cases, whole countries once predominately Christian are no longer so. Even our own nation has seen a decline in maintaining the principals of the Christian faith. Christianity can be easily attacked here but hands off to any other religion for fear their followers might be offended.

Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus, but I have no doubt that He weeps yet for the state of the Church.

The Ascension is important, then, for two reasons. At the Ascension Jesus took our humanity into heaven. He sits at the right hand of the father and intercedes on our behalf. He has lived the earthly life. He knows how weak we are and how easily we can be deterred in the mission He has given us as Church.

He knows the temptations by which we are plagued. He knows the fears we face. He knows, because He lived and died as one of us. He is one of us and at the same time, the great High Priest that has passed into the heavens, having made the sacrifice that was required for our salvation and the salvation of the world.

Secondly, the prayer he prayed for his disciples in the upper room on the night in which he was betrayed, he continues to pray - for us, his present day followers. Christ intercedes on our behalf for God’s preservation in the revelation that has come through Him, so that our unity in Truth may be that of the Father and the Son.

Himself God’s missionary, he has made us his missionaries. The mission has not changed. As he was sent, so he sends us. “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” remember? His consecration of himself is in view of our consecration to his mission.

Since we have been reborn in Christ through the waters of Holy Baptism we have our citizenship in the Kingdom of God, yet our vocation is in this world that is in rebellion against God; a world that prefers darkness to light.

However, knowing that Christ continues to pray for our protection amid the evil of this world should encourage us to carry out the mission of representing Christ to the world by sharing the love of God in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Christ also prays that our joy might be full; to be filled with joy is to live with the hope that one day we will be exalted to that place where He has gone before and now sits at the right hand of the Father; where with the Father and the Holy Spirit, He reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. AMEN+

Monday, May 7, 2018

Father Riley's sermon from 6 May 2018

EASTER VI - B - 18                JOHN 15. 9-17

Today’s gospel begins with love and ends with love. Jesus is telling his disciples that he is loved by the father and the love the father has for him he has for us.

John’s gospel is often referred to as the “love gospel” for obvious reasons. The author uses the word frequently on the lips of Jesus, more often than not when he is addressing his followers. It is not just any “love” Jesus is referring to but “divine” love - love that comes from God that usurps our human love.

God’s love stands in mark contrast to our human love as our love for one another is often based on conditions, whereas God’s love is unconditional. It is a love we cannot have apart from Him, and it is a love we cannot know nor can we share without our obedience to God’s commandments.

Jesus tells us plainly “if we keep his commandments, we will abide in his love.” Moreover, we shall know true joy. Sounds simple enough does it not. All we have to do is to love God and share God’s love with each other. However, we all know it is not that simple.

As fallen human beings, we have a tendency to give our love to those who love us in equal measure and refrain from loving those that differ from us, or those that have in some way offended us. Thankfully, God does not give us his love based on our response to it. Thankfully, Jesus did not withhold his love from the world because of those who rejected him, betrayed him, and eventually turned him over to be crucified.

We think of loving another human being in terms of relationship. However, relationships get broken and we fall out of love with that person. In essence, we take our love back and keep it until we find another to give it to based on their giving us theirs. Again, it is not that simple this loving one another as Christ loves us is it.

We want to love the way we want to love and that’s it. Perhaps that is why the medieval writers changed the scripture to read that God is friendship and the one who abides in friendship abides in God. The idea of friendship is a lot easier to get a handle on that loving one another as God loves us. Don’t you think?

In today’s gospel, Jesus elevates his followers from servants to friends. Friendship is higher than servant hood. Servants obey their masters out of fear or a sense of duty; friends obey out of love and an internal desire to do what is good and right.

Jesus’ point is clear; one cannot love God and disobey His commandments. To love God is to obey Him. Jesus shows his friendship of us in his sacrifice; we in our obedience. What does it mean to be a friend of God? The Quakers got it right hundreds of years ago when they began to refer to themselves as “A Society of Friends.”

That is what the Church is - a society of friends. Such friendship in Christ makes us companions at the Lord’s Table. It brings us into a communion of people banded together because God chose us and loved us first. As always the invitation in this friendship is not ours but his.

As friends of God, we express our friendship in our greeting one another when we gather to worship God, when we exchange the Peace, and when we kneel next to each other before God’s altar as equals. We are not members of Christ based on hierarchies or status.

That is how we express it here in this sacred space. Our friendship with God, however, is not meant to be hoarded among ourselves. How do we express our being a friend of God out there in the marketplace of life?

Each week at the conclusion of our worship, we are dismissed with these words, “now go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” The friendship we share here is one we have been commissioned/appointed to bring to others. It is meant to be a mission of joy, a mission of love.

It is the way we fulfill our having been chosen by him and loved by him first. It is the way we bear fruit that will last, by loving one another as he loves us.

Love is the badge, the outward sign, if you will, that identifies us as belonging to him.

The sign of the cross that was traced on our foreheads at baptism that identifies us as Christians in the eyes of God is not visible to the world or to one another for that matter. Thus, Jesus has given us a sign that is visible.

When we express our love of God outwardly in word or deed, we are announcing to the world that we are Christians and that we belong to Him.

Keeping God’s commandments keeps us abiding in His love and enables us to love one another with the love God has for each of us even when we would otherwise chose not to love.

Fellowship with Jesus, fruit bearing, and prayer, are all dependent on obeying His command to love. Those who have this spirit of loving obedience are open to receive and understand the revelations of the Father and to become more fully human.

That is why Jesus came - to elevate us from being merely human to being fully human; to give us freedom and joy, to bear fruit that will last. Whether it be in terms of a single life changed because we have loved someone as Jesus loves us, or in turn of a single decision that we had to make that changed us or someone else for the better.

Perhaps it was a single task we had to perform, through which, though we couldn’t see it at the time, the world became a different place. All of which have made both the lover and the beloved more truly human.

The test of our loyalty to Christ and our loving obedience to God remains the simple, profound, dangerous and difficult command Jesus gives to his friends in today’s gospel: “love one another.” AMEN+

Saturday, April 28, 2018

National Day of Prayer Noon Thursday, May 3rd 2018

The National Day of Prayer service will be held at noon Thursday, May 3rd in the Court House Square.  Everyone is encouraged to join in the service.  Bring a lawn chair if you may need to sit during the service.  If weather is uninviting in the Square, we will move to our Parish Hall.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Father Riley's homily from April 22, 2018

Services Schedule:  Sunday, April 29th will be Morning Prayer at 10am; Sunday, May 6th will be Holy Eucharist at 10am

EASTER IV - B - 18          JOHN 10. 11-18

Throughout the Church, the fourth Sunday of Easter is known as “Good Shepherd Sunday.

Today’s collect, Psalm, and gospel all refer to the theme of the good shepherd. God’s people are often referred to as sheep throughout scripture, for their proneness to go astray, thus their need of a shepherd to guide and lead them.

It is the habit of the shepherd in the East to walk before the flock leading by his voice. The custom to giving names to the members of the flock is still in use; the flock recognizing the shepherd’s voice and answering to their names. A good shepherd will expose himself to the dangers of life in the protection of his flock whether it is against wild beasts or robbers.

Jesus says he is the good shepherd in contrast to the bad shepherds God’s people Israel have been laboring under prior to his coming. Not to lay it entirely on Israel’s leaders of Jesus’ day, the Old Testament is filled with images of both good and bad shepherds.

In Ezekiel 34, for example, things have gotten so bad as far as the leadership in Israel is concerned, that God prophesied that the day would come when he himself would shepherd Israel. He would no longer rely on those who called themselves shepherds who were in it for what they could get out of it for themselves.

St. John would say, that the prophesy has come true in Jesus. Today’s passage from the tenth chapter of John, wherein Jesus refers to himself as the “good shepherd,” is a continuation of his conversation with the Pharisees in Jerusalem.

In God’s eyes, these so-called shepherds of Israel have failed in their “pasturing of God’s people. Pastor is the Latin word for shepherd. Their leadership has been marked by deceit and pride and has lacked compassion. Christ, on the other hand, fulfills all virtue.

The very definition of a good shepherd is that he is not in it for himself or his own profit. In fact, the supreme test of what he is in it for will come when he is faced with a choice. The example Jesus uses is that of a wolf threatening the flock.

When the hireling, the bad shepherd, sees the wolf he runs away and leaves the sheep unprotected. Not so with the good shepherd. He is willing to lay down his life for his sheep. Jesus is making his own prediction here that will come true for him soon enough. The cross is always looming in the distance.

As this passage comes up every year, the same two images come to mind. Several years ago, I traveled to my homeland - Ireland. I was primarily in the South West portion of the island, which contains the highest mountain, Mount Brendan located near the Irish Sea.

There is a pass near the top of the mountain that takes you from the top to the sea below and offers an incredible photo opt. We naturally stopped there. As I looked up at the mountainside I could see that it was dotted with sheep grazing unmolested from top to bottom. There were literally hundreds of them.

I noticed on their flanks that they wore different colors. Some were marked with red paint, some blue, and others, of course, were green. There was local man parked there standing outside his truck. He was looking at the mountainside through a pair of binoculars. I asked if he was looking at anything particular. He replied, “I am looking at my sheep.”

I did not need binoculars to see that they were sheep, so I asked him “how do you know which ones are yours?” “By the color on their flanks,” he said.  “Mine are marked with red paint.” That is a different kind of shepherding I thought to myself, a long distance one at best.

Jesus tells us that he is the “good shepherd” who knows his own and they know him. There is an intimacy implied in his words that was absent as I watched and listened to the local shepherd standing next to me. I got the impression that for him, the sheep he was looking at through his binoculars were merely for profit.

An intimacy and caring that was absent in the so-called shepherds of Israel Jesus is addressing in today’s gospel who lacked compassion for those whom God had entrusted in their care. They had become corrupted by the authority God had given them to “pastor” his people and were in it for their own status and glory.

You and I may not be marked, as those sheep on the Irish mountainside were marked, but we are marked with the sign of the cross, an indelible mark that the world may not see, but one, which God always sees. God knows his own and they know him.

The second image that always comes to my mind when I read or hear this passage is a particular stain glass window in the South transept of Grace Church, Monroe.  As I used to stand addressing the people, I often found myself glancing over at it. It was both a visual inspiration and a vivid reminder that “there is salvation in no one else.”

It is a life size depiction of Jesus as the “good shepherd” with a flock of sheep following him. He has his pastoral staff in hand and a lamb over his shoulder, one that had been lost but is now found. An image is worth a thousand words as they say.

That image has always evoked two thoughts for me personally. I try to see myself and present myself as a shepherd, following his example. One who knows his people and are known by them. One who is willing, come what may, to protect them from “wolves” that would destroy their faith and scatter the flock. However, more often than not I relate to the lamb over the “good shepherd’s shoulder.

For as much as we may strive to live our lives following in His most blessed footsteps, we all go astray, and wander from the path of righteousness. It is the “good shepherd” who seeks us out and finds us, who leads us back to green pastures and restores our soul. As the Psalmist says, “For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. (Ps 95.7)

What image does today’s passage evoke in you? How do you see Jesus? Do you see Him as the shepherd and guardian of your soul? We should, as the author of Acts reminds us, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

NEWS for Sunday April 15th and Father Riley's 'Low Sunday' homily

Sunday Service time change!!!   Evening Prayer service at 5pm, Sunday, April 15, 2018
Mrs.  Jane Barnett has offered to lead Evening Prayer at 5pm this Sunday.  Morning Prayer will be cancelled for Sunday morning April 15.  Please join Jane and others in our church for Evening Prayer at 5pm Sunday, April 15th.  10am services will continue Sunday April 22, 2018.  More news as soon as I have it.

EASTER II - B - 18   JOHN 20. 19-31


Today, being the Sunday that follows Easter Day is often referred to as “low Sunday” for obvious reasons. In many churches, there are more absent than present on this day. It is as if having attended Church on Easter Sunday and heard the acclamation “He is risen!” one can now return to one’s normal routine without giving it a second thought.

Unfortunately many do, for the Church only sees them on Easter - and maybe Christmas! We have become so accustomed to attending Church on Easter Day that we forget that we are to live the Easter faith day by day.

Today’s gospel reading follows the Easter story from John. The scene is the upper room. It is the evening of the day of resurrection. Peter and the other disciple who had accompanied him early that morning to the empty tomb to check out Mary Magdalene’ report have returned. They are in hiding along with the other disciples because they were afraid that the Jews might seek them out and do to them what they had done to Jesus.

One can only imagine what they were discussing. The scene is proof that they did not understand about the resurrection. They were not yet Easter Christians. They were on the other side of the cross. Likewise, it was a “low Sunday” for them as they were not all present. Thomas was absent.

Was he not afraid of being arrested? On the other hand, was he so despondent that he did not care what might happen to him now that his lord had been crucified? Regardless of why, he was absent. That is when the surprise of Easter confronted those who were hiding in the upper room. The risen Christ appeared in their midst. “Peace be with you.”

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Christ’ peace dispelled their fear. It was the marks of the crucifixion, the wounds of love that convinced them that it was indeed the risen Lord who was speaking to them and was now in their presence.

Christ gives them a second “peace” before he commissions them to go out and complete his work in the world by continuing the ministry of reconciliation. To do so he empowers them with the gift of the Holy Spirit and the authority to forgive sins.

We do not have their response. What we have is a change of scene. Thomas returns and is told what has happened. However, Thomas did not believe them. Perhaps he thought they had seen a vision or else they were hallucinating. If they had seen him, as they said, and had received his gifts of power, joy, and the commission to continue his work, why were they still there? Why were they not out on the streets of Jerusalem proclaiming his resurrection?

Thomas’ doubt represents that of all who came after him. “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails… and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.” The gathered disciple’s report of the risen Lord’s appearance to them in Thomas’ absence did not convince him. The doubt of Thomas was not a doubt of resistance to truth, but one that desperately desired a truthful answer - a doubt which gave birth to faith when the answer was revealed eight days later.

This time they are all together, including Thomas. The risen Lord came and stood among them bringing his peace yet a third time. Jesus signals Thomas out. “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.” St. John does not report whether or not Thomas complied with the Lord’s request.

In my heart, I have always felt that he did not, although he was bold to say that he not only wanted to see for himself, but touch Jesus. Seeing the risen Christ bearing the marks of the crucifixion face to face was enough to convince him that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead.

Whether he touched Jesus or not the conversion of Thomas’ doubt into faith led him to the clearest confession of Christ’ divinity, addressing Jesus as my Lord and my God. Thomas’ faith is resurrected by his personal encounter with the risen lord.

Unlike Thomas and the other disciples, we have not seen Him as they did. What are our credentials for declaring, “He is risen”?  Should we believe because the Church says so?  Although we have never seen Him, as the disciples saw him, we can see him in the face of friend or stranger who manifests the natural love of Christ in their relationship to another human being.

We can see him in the person who kneels next to us at the altar to receive the sacrament of His Body and Blood as one redeemed as our self. In the sacrament, we can touch him. We are blessed because we have not seen him, as they did, and yet we believe in Him.

He continues to give us his peace, which passes all of our human understanding at the very times when we need it most, in times of hopelessness and despair, in times of doubt and fear. Though His Peace He makes His presence known in the gift of new life He gives to those who believe.

The Resurrection of Jesus brings into being the Church as the Body of Christ. It’s unity, its commission, its endowment. All that Jesus has won is now given to his disciples and through them to all who have come after them. There is, however, a difference between something being achieved and something being implemented.

How do we, as individuals and as Church respond to a doubting world? How do we spread the “good news” to other cultures and people who are not thinking about God’s kingdom, who are not waiting for a messiah, who do not look at the world through the lens of the cross and see that salvation has come through the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth? That is the Easter challenge.

Today’s gospel builds up into a dramatic climax from the immaterial evidence of the empty tomb to the risen Christ alive and in the presence of those who believed in him. Our faith rests not in an empty tomb or for that matter on an empty cross. Nor did theirs. Thankfully our faith and belief in the risen Lord is not confined to a yearly acclamation.

The disciples learned to live the Easter faith day by day and to tell the Easter story from a personal experience. That is what convinced other people to believe without having seen Him. That is how the disciples met the Easter challenge.

This is how we meet it today by living the Easter faith as a people blessed for having not seen and yet believing. And by telling our story of how the risen Lord has made and continues to make himself known to us by giving us His Peace and the gift of new life in Him.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! AMEN+ 

Monday, April 2, 2018

Father Riley's Easter homily 2018

EASTER - YEAR B - 2018           JOHN 20. 1-18

Easter is meant to be a surprise and the surprise of Easter confronts us in John’s account of that first Easter morning. Mary Magdalene, it would appear, went to the tomb alone while it was still dark. She was on a mission. Her mission was simply to anoint the dead body of Jesus and to pack it with spices, in essence to complete the traditional burial practice of the Jews of her day that was made impossible by Jesus’ hasty burial on Good Friday.

Unlike the women in Mark’s account, Mary seemed to be totally unconcerned with the issue of the stone that had been rolled in place to secure the tomb. When she arrived, however, the stone was no longer an issue. Somehow, it had been removed from the tomb. Seeing that the stone had been rolled away, and without looking in, Mary assumed the grave had been robbed of the body of her Lord she had come to anoint.

With that idea dominating her thoughts, she ran away from the tomb as fast as she could and sought Peter who was in hiding with the beloved disciple. She reported to them what she assumed had taken place, “they have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

Casting caution to the wind, Peter and the other disciple made their way to the tomb picking up speed as they went until the younger disciple out ran Peter and got there first. However, he waited to go in until Peter arrived. He only peered inside and saw the linen wrappings laying there. In contrast, upon his arrival, Peter did not hesitate to enter the tomb. The linens were lying there neatly folded and the cloth that had covered Jesus’ face rolled up by itself.

Who would go to the trouble of neatly folding the linens that had wrapped his body if they intended to steal it?

The other disciple also stepped inside. John reports that he saw and believed. However, it was not that he believed Jesus had risen from the dead, for that was the furthers thing from his mind. He simply believed what Mary had said was true. The tomb was empty.

The body of Jesus was not there. The witness of Peter and the other disciple confirmed Mary’s report. Having done so, they returned to their homes. Neither the disciples nor Mary went to the tomb expecting resurrection.

The disciples would not have even gone there had it not been for Mary’s suspicion that the tomb had been robbed.  They were in hiding. They left the tomb knowing that Jesus had indeed died on Friday, saddened, and a bit mystified that his body was missing and nothing more.

Mary, on the other hand, could not bring herself to leave. As she wept, she looked into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting where the body had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. Where did they come from? They were not there moments before, when Peter and John were inside, or were they?

Maybe sometimes you can only see angels through tears. When people are afraid angels tend to tell them not to be. And when people are in tears, angels ask them why, as they did Mary.

Obviously unafraid of their appearance, Mary said to them “they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” And when she tuned around she saw Jesus standing at the entrance to the tomb. She was standing in the darkness of the empty tomb and did not recognize him through her tears of grief.

He, on the other hand, was standing in the light of his resurrected body, in the light of a new day. Jesus said to her, “Woman why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for? “She supposed him to be the gardener, and said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

Jesus called her by name and it was then that she recognized him and reached out to touch him. He stopped her and gave her a new mission. “Go to my brothers and say to them I am ascending to my Father, and your father, to my God and your God.”

And Mary, as I have always imagined her was still clutching the spices she had come to the tomb to anoint the dead body of her Lord, went as the Lord had commanded her and announced to the disciples that she had seen the risen Christ. What a surprise!

In John’s account of the Passion, Mary Magdalene stood at the foot of the cross. She witnessed the death of Jesus along with his mother and the beloved disciple. On Easter morning, she is the first to visit the tomb and to bring the news that the tomb is empty. More importantly, she is the first to see, to meet, to speak to the risen Lord. Easter is full of surprises.

Mary is surprised that the stone had been rolled away. She is surprised that the tomb is empty, surprised at the angel’s appearance. The biggest surprise of all comes in the appearance of the risen Lord who makes himself known to her by calling her name. He recognizes her in the darkness of her grief, and sends the light of his resurrection upon her that turns her despair into joy.

In addition, the disciples are surprised, first, by the fact of the empty tomb, then, by the linens being neatly folded where the body had been. Finally, they were surprised by Mary’s report that she had seen the risen Lord and he had spoken to her.

Easter is meant to be a surprise. It is not a happy ending after the horror of the cross, though some treat it as such. No, Easter reads like a shocking new beginning. The story does not end with Easter - Easter begins a new story, the story which is now possible because Jesus has risen from the dead.

It is a story of grief being turned into joy. Despair into hope. Doubt into belief. Death into resurrection. In the resurrected Jesus all of our grief, doubts, despair and dying come to new life.

Because of Easter a new way of living has been opened to us, a new way of being human - a way that people thought impossible then and think impossible still today, but a way that has caught up millions and transformed their lives beyond recognition.

Easter is all about new beginnings that continue to surprise. Because He is risen, the Light of the Resurrection has penetrated the darkness of sin and death and opened the way to eternal life to all who believe in Him. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! AMEN+