Kilmorack and Erchless Church

Easter Sunday



Wonderful are you, beyond our imagining, God of Easter!  Wonderful are your complex purposes, beyond our understanding, and wonderful are your saving ways.

 “Let all things seen and unseen their notes in gladness blend,
For Christ the Lord hath risen, our joy that hath no end.”

We rejoice with Mary Magdalene in the garden, we run with Peter and John to find the tomb empty, we walk beside two disciples on a dusty road to Emmaus, and we too recognise the living Lord in so many different ways.   By the power that raised up your Holy Son you offer us indestructible joy, and we ask your help to know that and to express that in all our songs and prayers, in all our thoughts and actions.

It is because Christ has overcome the worst that the world can do, that we can dare to be honest about our participation in the evil of the world.  We confess to you and each other that our Easter faith is stained with flaws and doubts, our hope is corrupted by the wants and lusts that still dominate us, and our love for others has been contaminated by selfishness that is endemic in our culture.

We have tried to do our best as the disciples of the living Christ, and we have at times done better than we expected.  Yet also we have failed, often and repeatedly.  So we rejoice that Easter is about new life bursting free from the most deadly restrictions.  May our lives be so renewed and may we be led to live as Easter people, full of faith and hope and abundant generosity.  Amen.

Introductory Talk

The minister goes into the local school and he’s talking to the children about Easter, he’s keen to know how much they understand of what Easter is really all about.  The first boy to put his hand up looks very keen, which is a positive start.   He says that he loves Easter because that is when Santa Calus comes with lots of presents.  Maybe not so positive after all, and the minister says that he thinks the boy may be confusing it with Christmas, so he tries one of the girls who also looks like she has an answer ready.  She calmy and correctly says that Easter has nothing to do with Santa Claus.  Then she goes on to say that Easter is when we all wear fancy dress and go round our neighbours’ houses hoping that they might give us sweets.  Oh dear.  The minister is starting to despair, and he suggests she might be thinking of Halloween.

Then another hand goes up, and he decides to risk it one more time.  This child says that Easter is when we remember how Jesus was killed on a cross, and the minister breathes a quiet sigh of relief.  Indeed he is so encouraged that he asks the child if they know what happened after Jesus was killed, and to his delight, the child says that they put his body in a tomb, and that they guarded it, and it remained there for three days.  This is fantastic, and so the minister pushes on to ask them if they know what happened after the tree days.  Yes, they said confidently, Jesus came back to life, and left the tomb, and went round the garden hiding chocolate eggs for the children to hunt for.  So near and yet so far!

How well did they understand what Easter was all about?  Some were closer than others, but none of them really understood.  Or here is a different question – how well do we understand what Easter is all about?  Some of us might be closer than others, but in truth, none of us can really understand.  We might get something of the power of the story, or grasp something of the significance of the story, but there is clearly more going on here than we can readily understand.  Indeed I would say that is part of what we celebrate at Easter.  It is the hope that there is indeed more to life than our minds can make sense of, that there is more mystery and more wonder and in the end more hope than we could even contain within our understanding.

How well do we understand what Easter is all about?  There is always going to be room for improvement, but if we understand that it is all about life and love and hope being more powerful than all the things which work against those things, we will certainly have reason enough to celebrate.

Bible Readings            

Our first passage comes from one of the earliest texts we have in the New Testament, written perhaps just 20 years after the events of Easter morning, and expressing what faith in the Easter experience had already come to mean.

1 Corinthians 15: 3-10

I passed on to you what I received, which is of the greatest importance: that Christ died for our sins, as written in the Scriptures; that he was buried and that he was raised to life three days later, as written in the Scriptures; that he appeared to Peter and then to all twelve apostles. Then he appeared to more than five hundred of his followers at once, most of whom are still alive, although some have died. Then he appeared to James, and afterward to all the apostles.  Last of all he appeared also to me—even though I am like someone whose birth was abnormal. For I am the least of all the apostles—I do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted God's church. 10 But by God's grace I am what I am, and the grace that he gave me was not without effect.

In the previous chapter Jesus has been arrested and tried, he has been tortured and mocked, he has been hung on a cross and left to die, his body has been quickly wrapped and placed in a tomb.  It looks like a natural place for the story to end.  But if the story had ended there we would not be here today.

John 20: 1 – 18

Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been taken away from the entrance. She went running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!”  Then Peter and the other disciple went to the tomb. The two of them were running, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and saw the linen cloths, but he did not go in. Behind him came Simon Peter, and he went straight into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there and the cloth which had been around Jesus' head. It was not lying with the linen cloths but was rolled up by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in; he saw and believed. (They still did not understand the scripture which said that he must rise from death.) 10 Then the disciples went back home

11 Mary stood crying outside the tomb. While she was still crying, she bent over and looked in the tomb 12 and saw two angels there dressed in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 “Woman, why are you crying?” they asked her.  She answered, “They have taken my Lord away, and I do not know where they have put him!”  14 Then she turned around and saw Jesus standing there; but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 “Woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who is it that you are looking for?”  She thought he was the gardener, so she said to him, “If you took him away, sir, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”  16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!”  She turned toward him and said in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (This means “Teacher.”)  17 “Do not hold on to me,” Jesus told her, “because I have not yet gone back up to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them that I am returning to him who is my Father and their Father, my God and their God.”  18 So Mary Magdalene went and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and related to them what he had told her.



A man was walking along the edge of a cliff, enjoying the spring weather, when without realising it he wandered a little too close to edge.  Inevitably he slipped and fell.  I say inevitably because it would be a very good story if nothing had happened.  As he fell rapidly downwards he saw his whole life flash before his eyes, but then as he reached out in desperation he managed to grab hold of a narrow ledge on the rock face.  Clinging on with his finger tips, he looked down – to see only the waves crashing into the cliff far below.  Terrified and desperate, he shouted as loudly as he could – help, save me, is there anyone there.  To his amazement a voice answered his plea.  “This is God here.  Don’t worry, I can save you”.  Well that was good news.  God continued – “All you need to do is stop holding on to the ledge, let go, let yourself fall, and I will catch you”  Our man looked down again at the waves far below, and he shouted out – “is there anyone else there?”

You need to stop holding on. You need to let go.  By a strange co-incidence, these are also the first words that Jesus spoke to Mary once she realised that he had risen from the dead.  “Do not hold on to me…But go…”  Well of course she didn’t want to go anywhere.  Of course she wanted to cling on to him for everything she was worth.  She had been devastated by what looked like the humiliating defeat of the one she had pinned her hopes upon.  Now it looked as if all of those terrible days were just like a bad dream and things had gone back to the way they were before.  Of course she wants to cling on to him and hope that the bad times never come back.  But she had to be told that holding on was not possible.  She had to be told that the only way was to let go and move on and be ready to be part of the new thing that God was doing.

The resurrection was not about turning things back, but about moving things forward.  It was not about restoring the past but about shaping the future.  It was not about bringing comfort but about creating change.  So Jesus tells Mary not to hold on to him, but to go, to go and do things, to go and tell people, to go and get others ready for the journey that lies ahead.  For the resurrection was not about putting things back the way they were.  It was much bigger than that.  It was the beginning of making things the way they should be.

That was tough for Mary, it was a hard lesson to learn.  And of course it is still hard for us today.  She had gone to the tomb to care for his body but she discovered that she could not have Jesus as a memory to cherish, because the tomb was too small to contain such new life and there were bigger and better things to be getting on with.  Which is a lesson that we have struggled to come to terms with ever since  when we want to hold on to Jesus as a great teacher and a wonderful example, someone to be adored, even worshiped.  Only to keep finding that his instructions send us away again to continue his work, to be his hands and his feet, to be good news to the world in the same way that he was and is.

Mary had to discover that she could not have Jesus on her terms, she could not be in control of him, it just wasn’t going to work like that.  Which is a lesson that we have struggled to come to terms with ever since, as we claim his name in support of a nation or a cause or a battle, only to find that he consistently chooses to associate instead with the poor and the weak and the victim.

Mary had to discover that she could not belong to Christ and hold on to the past for he was going on to new things, and she had to move on also.  Which is a lesson that we have struggled to come to terms with ever since, as we view the past through rose tinted spectacles and cling to our traditions with more energy and determination than we use to search for where he might be leading us next.

Mary could not hold on to Jesus.  She could not cling to what had been in the past.  For all things were being made new, and her calling now was to tell others and to get them ready to participate in new purpose that would be given to them.  Without the resurrection there would be no point in carrying on.  But with the resurrection it is a whole new story.  Without the resurrection there would only be memories, with it there is a hope for the future.  Without the resurrection there would only be a past, with it there is a purpose.

The other disciples didn’t understand what Mary told them and none of them had any idea what to do next.  But if they were to be faithful to Jesus it would have to mean more than cherishing his memory, it would have to mean more than admiring what he had done, it would have to mean more than holding on to what he had given them.  For it would have to mean letting go, and going where he sent them, going with him to the ends of the earth.  Being ready to let the demands of their own ego die in order that they might share his new life, being ready to let go of the guilt of the past so that they might be ready to embrace the hope of the future.

The call of God is still to go out and change the world in his name, to heal the sick and care for the poor and speak up for the voiceless.  And while we may have responded to that call, there are many things along the way that we want to hold on to, many things that we want to cling to, because that always feels more secure than letting go and moving on.

Jesus let go of control.  He let go of his life, trusting that somehow his father would be able to save him.  And that is always the experience of those who follow him.  It is almost the definition of faith.  Trusting that if we are willing to let go of the things that we cling to for security, even the religious things that we cling to for security, if we are willing to live as he lived and serve as he served, then what we discover will not be a terrible fall, but a whole new kind of life.



Glory be to you, our strength and our redeemer.  The vacant cross and the empty tomb vindicate your claim
that the love which suffers is the love which saves. 

So fill your people with joy and your Church with celebration that the world may know that your holy Son Jesus is not a dead hero we commemorate but the living Lord we serve, to whom with you and the Holy Spirit be our praise for ever.

Through the rising of your Son from the grave, you broke the power of death and condemned death itself to die. 

As we celebrate this great triumph may we also make it the model for our living. 

Help us to identify in our lives all that should rightly die – redundant relationships, tired habits, fruitless longings. 

Resurrect in our lives faith, hope, and love, as surely as you raised Jesus Christ from the grave.

Bless our families and friends this day, wherever in the world they may be.

And bless those with no families and friends to share with.

Bless our homes as places of shelter and peace.

And bless those who have no home to go to.

Bless our church as a place of resurrection life and service

And bless those who have no faith or no community.

Lord of might and power, through the mighty resurrection of your son

you have overcome death and opened the gate of everlasting life.

Grant that we, being dead to sin and alive to you may reign with Christ in glory, who with you and the Holy Spirit is alive, one God, now and forever.  Amen