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/ 4 April 2021

Easter Day Sermon by the Bishop of London

The Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, Bishop-Elected of London
Location: St Paul’s Cathedral
Date: 04/04/2021

Readings: Acts 10:34-43 and John 20:1-18

You can watch a video of the service here

And there was Mary Magdalene going to the tomb of Jesus early on the first day of the week “While it was still dark” and she wept.

I suspect that there are few of us who have not wept in the last year and yes, I believe that we should live in a society where to weep is seen not only as a normal emotion but as an action of hope.

In the Bible there are significant occasions when we see people weep – Hannah because of her infertility weeping before the Lord and misunderstood by the priest in the temple; David wept over the death of Jonathan, Jesus wept over Jerusalem, Jesus wept at the grief of his friends who were weeping at the death of Lazarus and Jesus wept because of his own inner struggles in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Weeping in scripture involves more than tears, it is about outright bawling and a culturally shaped expression of grief and sorrow.  In scripture, it was associated with action which comes out of a deeply troubled spirit – it is the same movement when Jesus feels compassion – that movement which comes from deep inside.

Jesus, after talking to the grieving sisters and seeing Lazarus’s friends weeping, was deeply troubled and moved and we are told in the shortest verse in the Bible that ‘Jesus wept’ (John 11: 35).

Belden Lane says ‘in the beginning you weep.  The starting point for many things is grief, the place where endings seem so absolute. One would think it should be otherwise but the pain … it is an antecedent to every new opening of our lives’.

Weeping is the starting point of new openings and beginnings in our lives. We are told by the Psalmist that weeping is part of the path to joy (Ps 30:5).

When Jesus was deeply troubled, he was moved to heal the sick, raise the dead and care for his sheep.

And there was Mary Magdalene going to the tomb of Jesus early on the first day of the week while it was still dark and she wept.

Yet when it was still dark…God was at work on her behalf. He was making a way where there seemed to be no way.  In the midst of what seemed hopeless, while Mary felt helpless, God was still working.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ proclaims to us in flesh and blood that fear and death are not the last words. God has spoken life, hope and purpose. Even when it is still dark God is at work, even in the midst of our tears God is at work. As the prophet Isaiah proclaims “The Lord will wipe away tears off all faces” (Isaiah 25:8).

As Mary stands weeping outside the empty tomb Jesus’s first words to her are ‘Woman why are you weeping?’ (20:15)

‘Woman why are you weeping’? It is a question asked by the angels and then by Jesus – and it is asked of us – why are you weeping?

Jesus takes Mary’s – ours – all humanity’s – grief seriously; respecting it and recognising it. Not rushing to answer it or telling us why we are wrong to feel it. God doesn’t just know our sorrows; he notices them and he enters into them and asks, ‘Why are you weeping?’

Our reason for weeping may be clear or it may be deeply held within us.  Jesus say to us “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest’ Matthew 28:11.

The reality that God was still working whilst it was still dark, while Mary was weeping, tells us that we can act in hope in spite of the doubts which at times might overwhelm us; we can behave as though things are going to get better even though we’re really not sure that they are, or when they will. We can turn ourselves – and point others – towards the light at the end of the tunnel, even when we are struggling to see far enough to put one foot in front of the other – that is hope. That is the hope which the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ speaks of.  It is that hope that we bear witness to today. It is that hope which we celebrate.

To hope in this way is not to deny our grief. It is not to deny the fear, the loss, the pain which are very much a part of life for many people, at least for some of the time. In the Christian tradition when we read the words ‘Do not be afraid’ – whether it’s God who says them, or the angels in the narratives of Jesus’s birth, or Jesus himself – these are not words of denial. ‘Do not be afraid’ doesn’t mean shut your eyes and ears to the pain of the world, the struggles of our neighbours or of ourselves. But because the words are always followed by the promise and the assurance of God’s presence with us in the world’s pain which is what we celebrate today in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, it gives us a model for our response to our grief, our fear and our loss and to human suffering. God is there for us and we are called to be there for others, in their service, offering the gift of our presence, of God’s presence, our attention and our love and the reckless love of God.

And there was Mary Magdalene going to the tomb of Jesus early on the first day of the week while it was still dark and she wept.

Only then does Jesus say something that isn’t a question – but it isn’t an answer either. It’s not even an explanation. It is simply her name. ‘Mary’.

Mary met the risen Jesus weeping and he speaks to her her name.  Then he asks her to go and tell others of the hope that she has found – the life that there is after death – to proclaim the good news of the Gospel. It is a call to action.

This Easter morning let each one of us know that Jesus meets us when and where we least expect him, in ways we often don’t recognise at first. He takes our feelings seriously, whether they are positive or negative.  And in our weeping, the start of new things exist, and he speaks to us our name and he asks us to go and tell other people – tell them things we are hardly sure of ourselves and announce things we feel very unprepared to proclaim – and in doing so to bring hope to others.

Let’s hear for ourselves this morning the words that Jesus spoke to Mary while it was still dark.

Why are you weeping? What are you looking for?

And let us then hear Jesus speak our name. And he says to us:

Go now. Go to my friends and tell them that you have seen the Lord. Jesus is alive. Death is no more, no longer do we live in darkness. The light has come.

For Mary, and for us, our tears are the starting point of hope.

Alleluia, Christ has risen.  He has risen indeed. Alleluia.   Amen

About Sarah Mullally

The Rt Revd and Rt Hon Dame Sarah Mullally DBE is the 133rd Bishop of London. Before ordination, Bishop Sarah was Chief Nursing Officer in the Department of Health. She trained for ministry at the South East Institute for Theologian Education.

Read more from Sarah Mullally

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