Preached at Croydon Minster on Easter Day. Mark 16.1-8
‘This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118.24)
The marking of the Sabbath – a day to be kept holy by commandment of God – gives completion to each week.
It evokes the seventh day of creation, the day on which the creative activity of God paused; the creation breathed and took stock. It is a day of silence.
God had not run out of steam or felt tired that morning, but rather gifted to creation and to us, his creatures, the possibility and imperative of pausing, of rest and, supremely, to give a day a week to the one who gave us life in the first place.
The greatest Sabbath since the creation of the world is the day on which Christ rested in the tomb, known to us as Holy Saturday. It was yesterday. Holy Saturday is the Sabbath in which the stillness and silence of the tomb dominates. From that darkness and silence a new day is born. The sabbath is over; a new dawn has broken.
Our ancestors in the faith, the patristic writers, delighting in all of this, asked a question: the Sabbath was the seventh day of creation so, they asked, ‘when is the eighth day?’
It’s worth noting at this point that the Church Fathers were not biblical literalists, as the new atheists assume we all are. They saw scripture, as we do, divinely inspired with patterns and pointers and meaning that lead us into deeper relationship with God.
They reasoned that if the Sabbath was the seventh day of creation, if, as St Paul says, Christ is the New Adam and ‘if anyone is in Christ they are a New Creation’ (1 Corinthians 5.17) - then the Day of the Resurrection of Christ is the eighth day of creation.
That’s why St Mark is careful to tell us, ‘when the Sabbath was over…’ (Mark 16.1) The Sabbath completed gives way to a new day, the first day of the Creation renewed in Christ.
‘This is the day that the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it’
In his gospel, St Mark sets the resurrection of Jesus in the purposes of creation. This is not a disruption in what God is about in the world, but the fulfilment of it. (It’s also why St John can say that Christ, the Word of God, was in the beginning and all things came into being through him).
The Sabbath is never empty, but is filled with God’s creative renewal and possibility.
So it is, after the Sabbath, three women – Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome – ‘very early on the first day of the week, as night was giving way to the new day, and the sun risen, went to the tomb’.
What they encounter is not the dead body of the crucified man they have come to anoint; but the message of life: ‘He has been raised; he is not here’.
It is the new resurrection morning, the eighth day of creation, that drives the mission of God. Those three women embrace that wholeheartedly and give testimony to the disciples, and to Peter, that Christ is risen, and that they will encounter him again in a new and vivid way.
We can over labour the Covid parallels, and I don’t want to diminish the undiluted message of the resurrection of Christ on this Easter Day, but perhaps this past year has also had a Holy Saturday or Sabbath feel. We have been locked in and locked down: much as the tomb had been.
Yet, throughout the lockdown the Church could be a people of hope. Not because we are naïve optimists or the types who say ‘it’ll all be okay’, but rather because our hope is rooted in the Crucified and Risen Lord who endures the trauma, the pain and coldness of death, so that, whilst we will still know them, we might see beyond those things into the coming future of God.
A new day will break for each of us because of the resurrection of Christ.
It is appropriate that it is in the Book of Lamentations, which is so full of expressions of bitter pain, that we also read these stirring words that surely were in the hearts of the myrrh bearing women that first Easter morning when the old sabbath day had died and they came to the tomb at dawn:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul,
‘therefore I will hope in him.’ (Lamentations 3.22-24)
So let us walk together, as an Easter People, into that new day.
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.