From that place of death

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High in the apse at St Mary’s Church, awash with angels who hold symbols of the passion of Christ

It was an episode of Silent Witness I think, the BBC drama series which investigates crimes using the science of forensics. There is discovered the remains of a dead body, incarcerated in a prison beneath the concrete floors of a discarded factory. The body was naked, his torn clothes next to him. The psychological diagnosis was that he had stripped himself of his clothing as a desire and need to be free from that place of death.

The place of death before Mary of Magdala and two of the apostles who run to investigate, seems to be a tidy affair. There is no corpse but an empty tomb. There are no ripped clothes but a rolled up cloth in a place by itself. Jesus has left behind the death shroud, the garments for burial, as he emerges from the tomb’s prison, risen from the dead. In all the encounters with Jesus which follows during the next forty day (and portrayed by the four gospel writers in different ways) there is the recognition that he is both the same Jesus but now somehow also different. At first, his followers don’t always recognise him. Mary only recognises Jesus when he says her name. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus only recognise Jesus later in the day when he breaks bread. When Jesus appears to them in the upper room, and says ‘Peace be with you,’ they think they are seeing a ghost and so he asks for something to eat. When he calls from the shore of Galilee to those who returned fishing they only recognise him after they pull in the great haul of fish, found at his direction. Things have not returned to how they were. There is no going back – only a moving forward. He tells his disciples that they must head to Galilee when he will see them there, for Jesus will continue moving on, moving up, as he ascends to the Father and, according to his promise, the Spirit is poured out upon them, the fulfilment and climax of the Resurrection of Christ who has been freed from that place of death.

Those who encounter the risen Lord are no silent witnesses. Mary of Magadala cannot keep silent. The disciples who see Jesus at Emmaus make the return journey to tell the others. When Jesus appears to the disciples and Thomas is absent, they can’t wait to tell him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ There are times in our own lives when our encounter with Jesus is strong and vivid, and other times when we fail to recognise him. For Peter and John it is enough for them to see the empty tomb and the discarded death clothes, the desire and need for Jesus to rise from the dead, to be free from death, and so liberate us all from its clutches. Our witness must never be silent, although words may not always be used, as we live out our faith alive in Christ Jesus our Lord who has raised us up in the light of life through his desire and need to be free from that place of death.

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Exultant with paschal gladness, O Lord, we offer the sacrifice by which your Church is wondrously reborn and nourished. (Prayer over the Offering at Mass, Easter Sunday)

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Christ our Passover has been sacrificed, therefore let us keep the feast with the unleavened bread of purity and truth, alleluia, alleluia!

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