(Sermon 16 Apr 23)
Precis – Might the choice of those to whom the Risen Christ first revealed himself tell us something about what HIS priorities were?
Those of you from St Laurence know that I’ve kept an eye on the length of clergy sermons going back over two years. Well I’m going for a record today so Maureen over to you 😂
I kinda feel privileged today. Not only is the gospel reading right at the very centre of Christian belief – ‘belief’ in the way we mean it today (touch the head) and in the way Jesus & Paul meant it with commitment & loyalty (touch heart) – but it’s also one of the most poignant scenes in the story of Jesus. It’s a reading on which you could base an entire book but today I want to pick out a couple of points from the first two resurrection appearance described across the four gospels.
The first concerns the identity of who or what was in the tomb to greet the women when they arrive at the tomb early on that Sunday morning. In Luke’s gospel it was two men in dazzling clothes. In Mark it’s a young man in white. In Matthew it’s an angel , who also rolls the stone away; and in John it’s two angels. The story of angels or other worldly beings obviously became ingrained in Christian memory very early on; but, Mark runs against the grain; and Mark remember is one of the two prime gospels, based as was on Peter’s memories, and is the most popular contender for the earliest gospel. Is it possible that Mark we see a ‘I was there’ moment? Remember that at the end of what happened at the Garden of Gethsemane Mark, and no one else, has a young man running off naked into the night? Was the Last Supper held at the house of Mark’s family; and was a young Mark earwigging at the keyhole during the Last Supper or even helping serve food in the background? Did an inquisitive teenager then follow the group to the Garden to see what might happen; and did that inquisitive teenager get up early on the third day to see if Jesus really WOULD rise up? Is MARK ‘the young man dressed in white’?
The second point is more important. Aside from the possibility that Mark was there first all the gospels agree that it was the women who first attest to the Risen Lord. In all four gospels Mary Magdalene is there. In three Mary the mother of James, and may be Joseph, features. Salome gets a mention in one gospel and Joanna get a mention in another. Remember too that in the two prime gospels, John and Mark in its longer ending, Mary Magdalene is the first to see the Risen Lord. The second encounter with the Lord is by Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus. Perchance Cleopas and his wife – the wife not being named because women were deemed unreliable witnesses in the eyes of the Greek readership? Perchance Mary the wife of Clopas who is at the cross with Jesus’ mother and Mary Magdalene (the difference between the names Clopas and Cleopas is thought irrelevent)? Because if that’s so two of the first three people to see the Risen Jesus are women; And THAT makes a mockery of those people in the church who STILL downplay the role of women and who STILL refuse to take communion from a woman.
It might also give us a clue as to what Jesus’ priorities were? Was it the DOING of love & the putting into practice of the Kingdom of God in a very early church led by women? Or was it in the message of sin, salvation & theology that men went for when the church became a good career option after Constantine legalised, and arguably hijacked, Christianity at Nicaea? Maybe, just maybe, the choice of those to whom the Risen Christ first revealed himself tells us what HE felt was important.