Sermon Easter Day 2023


Readings John 20, 1-18, Acts 10, 34-43

Early in the morning, whilst it was still dark………..

Any Christian, hearing these words will know they are the beginning of the resurrection story and the remembrance of the rest of the amazing passage will be evoked. All four gospels describe that early visit, and all four name Mary Magdalene, she plainly led the other women who went to the tomb, variously named in the other gospels. John too refers to them indirectly, for Mary says to Peter as she runs to him “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!’

The first witnesses at the empty tomb, with Mary Magdalene, were Mary, James’ mother, Joanna, and Salome, and possibly others, and Mary Magdalene then is the first to see the risen Lord, and the first to tell the disciples that the tomb was empty because Jesus had risen.

The first evangelist.

God has a habit of choosing people the world rejects, despises or doesn’t recognise for their true worth, we see this throughout the Old Testament when the most unlikely people are part of God’s salvation story, or who have come to prophesy God’s word to the world. In New Testament times, (and indeed subsequently in the church for many, many years), women were unimportant, subservient to men, society did not recognise them as equal or important.

The gospels often mention the other women who followed and supported Jesus along with the disciples, and there are a few examples of their devotion, like Mary of Bethany and her sister Martha.

Mary Magdalene was named as one who supported Jesus and often hosted him and the disciples, possibly supported and financed much of his three years of ministry. She thus may have been a woman of wealth, of significance because of that, and, it seems, a natural leader of the other women. She was first to the tomb.  Luke tells us she had seven demons cast out of her by Jesus, possibly the biblically significant completeness of 7 indicating that at some stage she had been totally overcome by some severe emotional or psychological trauma which he released her from. An event not specifically recorded in the gospels, and only mentioned by Luke, so maybe a more private, personal healing by Jesus, but her release from that burden, whatever it was, led to her total devotion to Jesus as a close follower, and in supporting his ministry.

So, she was incredibly significant, not only having been a supporter and follower of Jesus, one of the few who stayed at the cross when the disciples had fled, one who helped take the body down and lay him in the grave, but also the first to witness Jesus’ resurrection, and the first to tell others of it.

Peter, in our reading, in his powerful sermon in Acts begins “I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism, but accepts everyone who fears him and does what is right”. He speaks of the disciples being witnesses of the resurrection, but no mention of Mary, despite his opening statement. Paul too, in all his writing makes no mention of her, and except the gospel accounts, there is no other mention of her.

For someone who was so important throughout Jesus’ ministry, as a witness of his death and the first witness of the resurrection, her lack of recognition perhaps was due to the patriarchal society of the day, and the church for so many years, and still, in many cases, today.

Yet her witness tells us much today. Early in the morning, whilst it was still dark….

Mary had travelled from a very dark place in her life, Jesus’ actions in expelling her demons had brought her to a place of light and hope that changed her life as she devoted herself to Jesus. Followed him, and thus witnessed the cross and the empty tomb. After his death, she must have been plunged into darkness again, the darkness of the morning reflecting that. Her despair at the tomb being empty, her running to tell Peter and anguished cry that brought him and John running, her staying as they left, weeping, her despair talking to the angel, all deepened that darkness, so much so that through her tears she could not even recognise Jesus as he stood there.

Perhaps he was standing against the rising sun, her tears blinding her against the glare.

But it needed just one word.


And darkness turned to light again, just as Jesus had taken her darkness and despair away before. But this time, not just for her, but for all the world- and she began all that we know today, by telling others he was risen.

I said earlier that God has a habit of choosing people the world rejects, despises or doesn’t recognise for their true worth, we see this throughout the Old Testament when the most unlikely people are part of God’s salvation story, or who have come to prophesy God’s word to the world. Paul reminds us of this in his first letter to the Corinthians:  

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption.”

Jesus himself was ultimately despised and rejected by the world, yet God transformed that, in love, to transform the world. No matter who you are, what gender, what race creed or colour, old or young, with wealth or without, psychologically, mentally or physically fit or seemingly suffering interminably, there is but one thing which has the ability to transform you in a way nothing  and noone else can.

And that is when the risen Jesus calls you by your name.

Because he knows you, and he can heal every darkness within you. And when you know him like that, when you hear your name, you too will want to tell everyone that Christ is Risen.