Saint James Anglican Church

Joseph Howe Drive at the Armdale Rotary, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada             


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Easter Sunday 2009

John 20: 17 " My God and Your God ů"

 

Every art form tries to exploit its strongest suit in order to get an audience, convey a message, entertain and thrill those who come to the show. One of the strong suits of the motion picture business is the use of special effects. Increasingly sophisticated these days, using cutting edge technology, making use of the big screen, it's one of the reasons many of us continue to prefer to see movies in the theatre. Biblical stories are often good candidates as movie subject matter, because special effects can be used to depict the supernatural events described in the stories. It's an old film, but in it's day the Movie The Ten Commandments was the special effects talk of the town. The people of Israel cross the Red Sea flanked by two huge raging columns of water as the sea separated. However, I try and stay away from watching religious movies at this time of year, even though they tend to run and re-run on television during holidays. Special effects are part of the reason. They tend to focus in on the supernatural element while glossing over everything else that the story has to offer us. Whether it's drama like Jesus of Nazareth or documentaries about The Shroud of Turin, they focus on how the " supernatural trick" was done --to the detriment of the over all message of the story itself. There is one movie, with a religious theme, that I think is actually a wonderful exception. It's the Canadian and French Movie Jesus of Montreal. This award winning film was made in 1989. The plot is very interesting. A local pastor hires a group of actors to make a passion play about Jesus. They do this, and in a kind of revolutionary way, end up making a statement about religion and the church that outrages their patrons. What is most interesting about this movie is the parallel and similarities drawn between Jesus and the lead actor Daniel who is hired to play the part of Jesus in the passion play. The movie explores the way in which religious themes impact people, and especially how people are either changed by spirituality or simply dig their heels in and oppose it. The movie has a particularly interesting ending-which I won't spoil for you in case you would like to rent it and watch it sometime. The emphasis is not on supernatural conjuring tricks but on the transformation of people and their lives.

 

The Gospel for this morning, according to Gospel of John, is a telling of the events of the first Easter morning, "the third day", when Jesus is discovered to have been raised from the dead. Led by Mary from Magdala, pious holy women come to the tomb to pay their respects to Jesus at the place where he has been buried. This is a venerable story from the earliest memories of the Christian tradition. Unlike those of us who gather on Easter day in church, these women came with expectations very different from ours, and without any ideas of resurrection of the dead. Several verses, a very lengthy account by most bible standards, are used to describe the puzzle and problem of what they find there. The tomb is empty, the stone rolled away. Two of the men arrive but there is some confusion still about what it all means. The Gospel writer's interests seem to be very different from those of modern screen writer because the evangelist passes over the opportunity to describe a supernatural spectacle of Jesus bursting from his grave clothes, the stone rolling away, and all that might go with it. (One of the "unofficial" Gospels takes the story in this direction. It was never included in the canon of the New Covenant). Peter is puzzled. The other disciple, we are told, believes; but exactly what he believes and to what extent, is more muted. They both go home.

 

The empty tomb is the scenic backdrop, but the action on stage is in the encounter between Mary and the Risen Christ. Jesus speaks to Mary in three brief fragments.  He asks her who she is looking for and then calls her by name so that she recognizes him. He then speaks his one most significant line to her "Do not cling to me because I have not yet ascended to my father. But go to my brothers and sisters and tell them I am ascending to my father and your father, to my God and to your God." Here the Christ places front and center what is most important, what is most to be remembered, what is most crucial -the powerful decisive and transforming action of God. In a manner that is supported by the earliest preaching of the Christian church, supported in the other readings this morning from Acts and Corinthians, the empty tomb is left behind. The power of God in the lives of God's people drives the plot of the story. It is God's name that is glorified, God who vindicates Jesus, God who raises up the Christ. Jesus must go up and take his place in the bosom of God. It is as the glorified and victorious Lord that Jesus discloses himself to those who see him now through the eyes of faith. A new season opens upon humankind. The emphasis is not so much on the how or the what of the empty tomb. The emphasis is placed on the Divine transformation has been at work in the Christ, and in the lives of those who love him. Mary is asked to decide whether or not she is prepared to let go of the more limiting relationship she has had with Jesus up until now. Will she become among the first to accept transformation in her life that opens her up to the Christ? Will she accept the offer of this relationship with "my father and your fatherůmy God and your God"? Will she allow God to transform her life in this way? Will she be part of a community that, in its most authentic form, brings the message of the possibility of life giving change and transformation to the world God loves? Her response is brief; but carries the weight of a newfound faith. Her reply? "I have seen the Lord". Jesus is no longer just "teacher". He is The Christ, He is God's agent, He is Lord of all.

 

This morning we gather in a familiar place. We know before we come here that the tomb will be empty. We sing familiar hymns filled with familiar imagery about an Easter story that contains no surprise endings for us. It can be lot like watching your favorite movie, say Casablanca or The Ten Commandments or Gone with the Wind. It can be a positive enjoyable experience to tide us over until next time. Hopefully, we can connect with something more than that. Hopefully we can feel, recognize, hear the offer Christ makes to us about a relationship with "my God and your God". Can we not see, beyond and behind the familiar and the expected, the offer from the living God to change and transform our lives? Can we commit ourselves to play a part in changing and transforming God's beautiful world? Can we grasp what the Risen Lord offers us in a renewed relationship with "my God and your God."

 

-Rev. Canon Rod Gillis