Morning Service for Easter Day 2023

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The writer of the gospel according the St John does not waste words. What he writes he writes for a reason. His Gospel is highly structured, nothing is included just for the sake of it, each miracle or sign he reports he uses to disclose the nature of Jesus and his mission. So what of this curious incident with Mary, what is it intended to convey.

Morning Service for Easter Day 2023

LIGHTING OF THE PASCHAL CANDLE 

Eternal God, who made this most holy morn 

to shine with the brightness of your true light: 

set us aflame with the fire of your love, 

and bring us to the radiance of your heavenly glory; 

through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Christ yesterday and today,

the beginning and the end,

Alpha and Omega,

all time belongs to him and all ages;

to him be glory and power,

through every age and for ever. Amen.

May the light of Christ, rising in glory,

banish all darkness from our hearts and minds.

The light of Christ.

Thanks be to God.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

HYMN Jesus Christ is risen today NEH110 – Easter Hymn

1 Jesus Christ is risen to-day, Alleluya!

Our triumphant holy day, Alleluya!

Who did once, upon the Cross, Alleluya!

Suffer to redeem our loss. Alleluya!

2 Hymns of praise then let us sing, Alleluya!

Unto Christ, our heavenly King, Alleluya!

Who endured the Cross and grave, Alleluya!

Sinners to redeem and save. Alleluya!

3 But the pains that he endured Alleluya!

Our salvation have procured; Alleluya!

Now above the sky he’s King, Alleluya!

Where the angels ever sing. Alleluya!

The COLLECT

Lord of all life and power,

who through the mighty resurrection of your Son

overcame the old order of sin and death

to make all things new in him:

grant that we, being dead to sin

and alive to you in Jesus Christ,

may reign with him in glory;

to whom with you and the Holy Spirit

be praise and honour, glory and might,

now and in all eternity.

FIRST READING – Acts 10.34-43

Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

HYMN The strife is o’er the battle done NEH 119 – Victory

1 The strife is o’er, the battle done;

Now is the Victor’s triumph won;

O let the song of praise be sung.

Alleluya!

2 Death’s mightiest powers have done their worst,

And Jesus hath his foes dispersed;

Let shouts of praise and joy outburst.

Alleluya!

3 On the third morn he rose again

Glorious in majesty to reign;

O let us swell the joyful strain.

Alleluya!

4 *He brake the age-bound chains of hell;

The bars from heaven’s high portals fell;

Let hymns of praise his triumph tell.

Alleluya!

5 *Lord, by the stripes which wounded thee

From death’s dread sting thy servants free,

That we may live, and sing to thee.

Alleluia!

GOSPEL  John 20. 1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

SERMON

The writer of the gospel according the St John does not waste words.  What he writes he writes for a reason.  His Gospel is highly structured, nothing is included just for the sake of it, each miracle or sign he reports he uses to disclose the nature of Jesus and his mission.  So what of this curious incident with Mary, what is it intended to convey.

Let’ s begin with the context – Jesus has been laid in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb, it is now the first day of the week, just, it is early in the morning.  At the very first opportunity Mary, with others (later on she will say ‘we don’t know where they have put him’) goes to the tomb.  John is quite certain that they have not gone to prepare the body, on this point he disagrees with Mark and Luke (Matthew sits on the fence and never mentions spices for preparing the body).  John has already told us that Jesus’ body has been wrapped in strips of linen with a mixture of myrrh and aloes to a weight of 100 pounds (Roman pounds, but that’s still about 75 of our pounds, or 33 kilos if you prefer) – we are left in no doubt that there are no more spices needed!

Back to the story – the women see that the stone has been moved but don’t dare to investigate, probably a wise thing in the graveyard in the pitch black – Mary runs and finds Peter and the disciple Jesus loved (John’s code no-one has ever cracked), and they then run back to the tomb – the only running that occurs in John’s Gospel.  The other disciple gets there first but timidly – or perhaps in awe – waits outside the tomb, Peter arrives and strides right in followed by the other disciple, they see the strips of linen together with the burial cloth all neatly folded – this is no careless grave robbing. We are not told of Peter’s reaction but that the other disciple saw and believed – though John adds ‘they still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.  John then curtly writes ‘Then the disciples (which may include the other women who came with Mary) went away again – pros autous, literally, to themselves, they went home.

So Mary is left, all alone – and here we have the first emotion expressed in the whole of John’s passion, except for Pilate’s fear of the Jews – because, he says, she is weeping.  Here at last there is weeping, not since the scene outside the tomb of Lazarus has there been such weeping.  At last there is grief.  Through her tears she sees two angels inside the tomb – she doesn’t appear surprised by their presence, and when asked tells them that she is crying because her Lord has been taken away, and she doesn’t know where they’ve put him.  She then hears another voice from behind asking virtually the same question, she replies more or less as before, without bothering to turn round.  Then she hears “Mary”.  She turns and recognises Jesus.

In the speaking of the name the Shepherd is known, he calls and his own hear him.  All we know of Mary Magdalene from each of the gospel writers, is that she was one of the followers of Jesus who provided for him out of their own resources.  And that she was at the tomb on Easter day.  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all agree that she was there.  And there she was – stuck – only the calling of her name turned her away.  Only Christ himself drew her away from the tomb, took her from death to life, took her eyes from the place of the dead to the place of life.  And in turning, she sees her Lord.  And she doesn’t just seek to touch Jesus – she clings to him – Jesus literally says ‘Stop clinging to me’.  She doesn’t want to let him go – but the moment cannot be held, Jesus’ journey to the Father has not yet been completed, instead she is told to “go and tell”.

So what is the point of this little vignette.  Do we have a warning here – is John telling us, ‘don’t get stuck at the tomb – even an empty tomb.’  So where do we go?

We go where Mary was told to go – to the brethren, to the community of faith. It is in this context that Jesus is to be revealed to the world.  It is to the brethren that the gift of the Spirit is made.  It is in the coming together of those who love Jesus that his work will proceed, that he will be proclaimed and mediated to the world.

If Jesus was the sacrament of the Father then the Church is to be the sacrament of the Son. In the giving of the power to forgive, a central part of our Lord’s ministry of reconciliation, those endowed with the Spirit, now, as a body are to represent him in the world.  These poor confused, and frightened people are more than a symbol of their crucified leader, they are in very fact – sacrament.

The difference between a symbol and a sacrament, in a Christian understanding is important.  A symbol evokes and represents that which is spiritual and divine; whereas a sacrament actually conveys, through the material elements involved, the spiritual and divine.  

That is the high call to those who claim the name of Christ, to convey him to the world.  Just as Jesus was not merely a picture of God dwelling with his people, not only a symbol of the presence of God, but God really and decisively present – the Word made flesh, the intersection between Spirit and matter.  This is the truth we now inhabit.  We now lie at that intersection, by the gift of the Spirit and our love for Christ, we give substance to his existence still in the world.  Just as a candle does more than simply represent light, by gives light also, so we do not simply symbolise Christ’s resurrection, we give it substance and form, we make it real, we are the resurrection for this day, for our day.

This is difficult to take, like Mary we find an empty tomb a more comfortable place, but we are called away, called by name, called not to cling to the comfortable but to be bearers of the Spirit, triumphant in resurrection glory – if still not a little afraid and doubtful.

AFFIRMATION OF FAITH 

Let us declare our faith in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ:

Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures;

he was buried; he was raised to life on the third day

in accordance with the scriptures;

afterwards he appeared to his followers,

and to all the apostles: this we have received,

and this we believe.  Amen.

1 Corinthians 15.3-7

Almighty God, we thank you for our fellowship in the household of faith with all those who have been baptised in your name. Keep us faithful to our baptism, and so make us ready for that day when the whole creation shall be made perfect in your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

HYMN The day of resurrection NEH 117 – Ellacombe

1 The Day of Resurrection!

Earth, tell it out abroad;

The Passover of gladness,

The Passover of God!

From death to life eternal,

From earth unto the sky,

Our Christ hath brought us over

With hymns of victory.

2 Our hearts be pure from evil,

That we may see aright

The Lord in rays eternal

Of resurrection-light;

And, listening to his accents,

May hear so calm and plain

His own ‘All hail,’ and, hearing,

May raise the victor strain.

3 Now let the heavens be joyful,

And earth her song begin,

The round world keep high triumph,

And all that is therein;

Let all things seen and unseen

Their notes in gladness blend,

For Christ the Lord hath risen,

Our joy that hath no end.

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION – Claire Cooper

Living Lord, as we listen to today’s message of hope, help us to put aside our doubts and fears. Fill us with hope and joy and give us a glimpse of the risen Jesus in our midst.

We pray for Christians around the world at this joyous time, remembering especially those who don’t have the freedom to celebrate your resurrection.

We pray for those yet to hear your good news, whether that is because they live in far-flung places, or because they haven’t heard your message. May we be always willing to share the good news of hope, restoration and freedom to all those we meet – neighbours, friends and strangers alike.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord we pray for William and his family at this busy time and all those who minister in our Benefice.  And we also remember those who give up their time to support our church community in whatever way. Grant that all who come into our churches this Easter may be inspired to renew their relationship with you.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Loving Lord, we pray for peace around the world. We remember those countries where there is war or conflict, especially in Ukraine. We pray that you will look mercifully upon the sufferings of the people involved and all those seeking refuge and those offering it. 

We pray for King Charles and the UK Government, and leaders around the world.  Sharpen their consciences and give them courage to make wise decisions, making wrongs right and meeting the needs of all who suffer.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

During this Bank holiday weekend may we remember all those who are lonely, in hospital or are housebound without family close by. Comfort all those who suffer in body, mind or spirit, give them courage and hope in their troubles; and bring them the joy of your salvation. We remember particularly those who are ill in our benefice… and ask that you support and protect them and their family, friends and carers.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We remember those who have died recently, or whose anniversaries fall at this time, commending them to your safekeeping.  We thank you for their inspiration and love and for our treasured memories. We pray also for the bereaved, that they may feel your love and presence.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord, may we go from this Easter Day service rejoicing, determined to show the world that we are your disciples. We want to take our response into our everyday. Wherever you call us, whatever you ask us to do, we trust you, Lord.

Merciful Father, 

accept these prayers, for the sake of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen

As our Saviour taught us, so we pray:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 

your kingdom come, your will be done, 

on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours

now and for ever. Amen.

BLESSING

May Christ, who out of defeat 

brings new hope and a new future,
fill you with his new life.
And the blessing of God Almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always. Amen

HYMN Thine be the glory NEH 120 – Maccabaeus

1 Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son,

Endless is the victory thou o’er death hast won;

Angels in bright raiment rolled the stone away,

Kept the folded grave-clothes where thy body lay.

Refrain:

Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son,

Endless is the vict’ry thou o’er death hast won.

2 Lo, Jesus meets us, risen from the tomb;

Lovingly he greets us, scatters fear and gloom;

Let the Church with gladness hymns of triumph sing,

For her Lord now liveth, death hath lost its sting: [Refrain]

3 No more we doubt thee, glorious Prince of Life;

Life is nought without thee: aid us in our strife,

Make us more than conquerors through thy deathless love;

Bring us safe through Jordan to thy home above: [Refrain]

Father, we have celebrated our Saviour’s death and resurrection. 

Help us, for whom he died, 

to live his life that has no end.

We have offered the Church’s sacrifice of praise.

Help us, who have received the bread of life, 

to be thankful for your gift.

We have greeted the new dawn of hope. 

Help us, who light these candles, 

never to forsake the light of Christ.

We bless one another in your name.

Help us, who now go in peace, 

to shine with your light in the world.

Thanks be to God! Amen.

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