Easter Day

John 20:1-18

A Sermon by The Rev’d Canon Jenny Wilson

In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.

George Frederic Handel in his most loved oratorio Messiah opens the third and final part with the soprano singing the glorious aria, “I know that my redeemer liveth”.

That, I think is why we have entered our cathedral today. We know that our redeemer liveth. We know, or, perhaps, we long to know, we have heard it said, it has caused us to wonder. Could it possibly be? That our redeemer liveth? We have walked through Holy Week with Jesus and kept company with his fear and courage and his cruel death. We have watched him cry out to his Father God, a God he experienced this one time as absent, we have seen him forgive those who nailed him to his cross and we have heard him hand, into his Father’s hands, his spirit, as he breathed his final breath. We have watched his broken body being taken down from the cross and we have seen it laid in the tomb. And yesterday, on Holy Saturday, this day sometimes referred to as a grey day, we have waited.

And then we have come, come to see, to hear, to spend time with the possibility. The possibility of the extraordinary truth. That our redeemer liveth.

There is only one place to know this truth. To sense its possibility. To glimpse its wonder. Only one place. And that is the place of death. Over the coming weeks, we will hear the stories of our redeemer living. And it will always be in the dead places. Today it is the tomb and Mary, Mary searching for his body, just to spend time with him, to say farewell again. Next week, we will gather in the upper room in the midst of the disciples’ fear and Thomas’ doubt. Another time it is the Emmaus Road, where the disciples are all questions and confusion. And, then, there is Peter, fishing where there are no fish, and only the echo of three denials and the crowing of the cock and guilt. Oh the guilt. Jesus comes to all these places, all our dark places, all our dead places.

And we’ve known some of those this year haven’t we?

During this year of pandemic, we know, those of us who live on Australian shores, that we are the lucky ones. And, yet ,even we know that our world has entered a dark place from which we may never quite recover. Other parts of the world have not been so fortunate. There are tombs everywhere. Tombs filled with the dead this disease has taken, filled with dreams destroyed, families pushed to the limits unknown until they found themselves living together alone for months on end, the education of children and young adults stunted, economies battered by lockdowns and uncertainty. We knew from very early on that the healthcare workers were the ones who would hold us until they almost broke. We heard in a sermon, on the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth, the voice of one of her daughters. Her voice shall be our tomb, this Easter morning.

Julianne is an Intensive Care nurse in New York City during this time of pandemic.

All Quiet on the Eastern Front [she writes in article posted on Facebook] I am a Covid ICU nurse in New York City, and yesterday, like many other days lately, I couldn’t fix my patient. Sure, that happens all the time in the ICU. It definitely wasn’t the first time. It certainly won’t be the last. What makes this patient noteworthy? A few things, actually. He was infected with Covid 19, and he lost his battle with Covid 19. He was only 23 years old. I was destroyed by his clinical course in a way that has only happened a few times in my nursing career. It wasn’t his presentation. I’ve seen that before. It wasn’t his complications. I’ve seen that too. It was the grief. It was his parents. The grief I witnessed yesterday, was grief that I haven’t allowed myself to recognize since this runaway train got rolling here in early March. I could sense it. It was lingering in the periphery of my mind, but yesterday something in me gave way, and that grief rushed in. I think I was struck by a lot of emotions and realities yesterday. Emotions that have been brewing for weeks, and realities that I have been stifling because I had to in order to do my job effectively. My therapist tells me weekly via facetime that it’s impossible to process trauma when the trauma is still occurring. It just keeps building. [1]

This is only the beginning of Julianne’s post, a piece of writing that is relentless, gut-wrenching, woven with the hideous truth that is an Intensive Care Unit in a city where this virus has taken hold. A crying out almost like Jesus’ crying out. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” A cross, where death seems relentless and only to be born. A tomb, filled with the deaths that Coronavirus Identification Number 19 have wrought. Jesus died, crucified, death by asphyxiation, literally being unable to breath. Covid deaths are not unlike Jesus’ death in a way, death by being unable to breathe.

This tomb hold’s nurse Julianne’s story, what is ours?

Where do we need him? Is it beside our tombs as it was for Mary, the place where we need to sit with something, someone, lost to death, a view of the world no longer real, perhaps? Or, are we more like the disciples in that upper room, frightened by it all, this all, this year, doubting even a world we thought we knew, let alone the possibility of God, of Jesus alive. Or are we just baffled, walking on our Emmaus roads, trying to make some sense of the stories of this pandemic year? Or is it guilt, is there something we have done, some way we have been we cannot shake? And we wonder how he could possibly forgive us for we surely cannot forgive ourselves? Where shall the risen redeemer who liveth meet us, speak our names in his oh so surprising, living voice? 

And what is he saying to us, wherever he meets us, wherever we need him most? I am with you. You thought I was destroyed didn’t you, you thought COVID 19 would finish me off, you thought your sin would send me away, was that it? What is he saying to us?

When, like Mary, we barely recognise him in the early morning light.

 Our names.

As we look at him so puzzled, he says our names.

The words that mean us, to him, as we are, loved and forgiven and now bathed in hope. This redeemer that liveth says our names. That’s all he needs to do, really. For then we’ll know. That the fear or the confusion or the guilt or the grief whatever it is – is known and held and kept company with. Is not enough to send him away disappointed in us disgusted in us, perhaps. Is not enough to destroy him and God’s love.

It’s our names we will hear. And then we will recognise him. And know. Know what the very walls of our cathedral cry out. Know what the windows and the reredos tell, what the scriptures say and the choir sings. Know what our beloved organ plays. Know.

That our redeemer liveth. That Jesus lives. That, whatever our time and place might tell us will bring life to its knees, will not be the end. As the dawn rises each Easter Day, this Easter Day, we will know again. Through the speaking of our names. Jesus lives. Our redeemer liveth.

[1] https://www.wamc.org/post/our-grief-nurses-experience-during-covid-19-pandemic