Psalms 114 and 115, Exodus 12: 21 – 42 and John 20: 11 – 23
The Lord has been mindful of us; he will bless us; he will bless the house of Israel; he will bless the house of Aaron; he will bless those who fear the Lord, both small and great. Psalm 115: 12 and 13
That same night is a vigil to be kept for the Lord by all the Israelites throughout their generations. Exodus 12: 42b
Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’. John 20: 17
Almighty God, who through thine only begotten Son Jesus Christ hast overcome death, and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: We humbly beseech thee, that as by thy special grace preventing us thou dost put into our mind good desires, so by thy continual help we may bring the same to good effect; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. Collect for Easter Day
Freedom Day! Exodus 12: 41 notes it was on the 430th anniversary of their arrival in Egypt when deliverance finally occurred. They had lived under increasingly difficult circumstances, latterly as slaves, and we have read previously of the obstinacy of Pharaoh in repeatedly challenging the Lord God. This presents us with a vivid picture of the power and consequences of sin, in oppressing God’s people in Egypt. The plagues were reminders of God’s power over life and death, culminating in judgement on the firstborn in each Egyptian family. Last Sunday we reflected on the elaborate arrangements God had instituted for Israelite families, sacrificing lambs, daubing the doorposts and lintels of their dwellings with the blood and eating a hurried meal in readiness for departure. The last sentence of our Exodus reading states the command that this vigil was to be kept every year afterwards, as a reminder of God’s power and faithfulness in freeing them for slavery and setting them on their journey to the promised land. This annual feast – the Passover Festival – was to be a means of rehearsing these events and remembering.
Freedom Day! Our reading from John’s gospel is so full of very personal information. The different eye witness accounts included in the gospels all add to a rounded picture of what took place on that Sunday morning. Amidst the tranquillity and beauty of the garden – such a contrast to the brutality and ugliness of Golgotha on Good Friday – we have to step back to remember the momentous event that had just taken place. The body of the crucified Jesus had been laid to rest on the Friday, secure in a guarded tomb with that large stone over the entrance. The Sabbath Day had intervened and Mark records that it was Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome who came to anoint the body of Jesus with spices early that Sunday morning, only to find the stone moved and the tomb empty. Then came the hurried arrival of Peter, John and the other disciples. John’s account includes Mary Magdalene’s personal witness of how a little later she saw two angels and encounters the risen Jesus. In her grief she does not see distinctly who the stranger is, believing him to be a gardener. Then comes the realisation it really is Jesus, and the command not to hold onto him. Amid all these personal encounters an event of unprecedented power had just taken place; Jesus had laid down his life for the sins of the world and had now been raised to life, proving he had been successful in dealing with the curse of sin affecting every human being and conquering death. But, as he said to Mary Magdalene, he had yet to ascend back to his Father in heaven.
Freedom Day! Easter Day has come round again. Under normal circumstances we would have held services throughout Holy Week, and this year have had to adapt and use emails and videos instead. However, we have been freed from restrictions in time to remember the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday and the events of Good Friday. In these unprecedented times it seems inconceivable that this is the second consecutive Easter affected by the pandemic. A day will soon come, we pray earnestly, when we will be released from restrictions. Yet perhaps this pandemic has given us a visual aid of the oppression faced by the Israelites and the longing felt for deliverance. Maybe through Holy Week we have been challenged afresh at the suffering Jesus willingly endured to enable us to receive personal freedom from sin. Easter Day gives us the opportunity to rejoice at this world-changing good news and to offer thanks for God’s faithfulness to the promise made to Abraham that all the world would be blessed. ‘He will bless those who fear the Lord, both small and great’, as Psalm 115: 13 reminds us. May we receive a measure of the special grace our Collect mentions, as we ask God to go before us (the Latin root of preventing us is somewhat archaic) in our discipleship, privileged to call ourselves children of God and to have direct access through Jesus to our Father, emboldened in our lives by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Kevin Boak, Lay Reader