We Stand on Holy Ground – Alleluia! – Br. Geoffrey Tristram
Today is Easter Day; the glorious culmination of these days of Holy Week. Today, our Lord Jesus Christ has been raised gloriously from the dead. Today is a day for rejoicing. Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
Although we’ve had to wear masks for much of the time, this has been a wonderful Holy Week. But during the week, my mind went back to a very special Holy Week I had, many years ago, when I was rector of a parish in England. What made it especially memorable was that I had invited a friend of mine to come and stay with me for the week. Richard and I used to teach together, and it was great having him to stay for Holy Week and Easter. But Richard was not a person of faith. It was a very strange experience to be immersed in all the preparations and liturgies of Holy Week, and then to go home to someone who wasn’t really very interested. Perhaps some of you know that experience, with perhaps a spouse, a child or close friend. In fact, quite a lot of my friends don’t believe in God, and I sometimes feel a bit of a failure: these friends who know me so well – so why don’t they believe? I can’t be a very effective evangelist, and I’m a priest as well!
But I also remember, later that week, one afternoon. Richard and I took a walk through the churchyard, to look at all the ancient gravestones. I remember it was very beautiful that day. There was a woman carefully tending the grave of a loved one, tidying up and placing new flowers. It was so peaceful, and the churchyard was filled with primroses, and daffodils. We wandered through, stopping to try to read worn inscriptions, and make out the dates. We didn’t say anything for a long time. Time seemed to stand still. After a while, he turned to me and said, ‘You know, this is a place where I feel I could believe in God.’ I felt a sort of electric charge, which I remember made me tremble. We were on holy ground. There was for me absolutely no doubt that we were not alone, that we had been joined by another. And we spoke of things we had never spoken of before: important things, things that matter. I wonder if you have had such an experience; a sense perhaps that Jesus had drawn near, rather as he did with those disciples on the road to Emmaus.
That experience in the graveyard was unforgettable. But I should not perhaps have been surprised. For the graveyard is where our new life in Christ began; the graveyard, where we find ourselves now, this Easter morning. St Matthew tells us that as dawn was breaking on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb where Jesus had been laid. They weren’t expecting to find anything unusual. Mark tells us that they were carrying spices, to anoint Jesus’ dead body. Their walk in the graveyard at dawn started out as peacefully and quietly as my walk with Richard. But I remember on our walk, it was as if at a certain moment we crossed a kind of threshold, and suddenly, we were without a doubt standing on holy ground. It made me tremble. And Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, as they walked slowly toward the tomb, at some point they too crossed a threshold unawares. This holy ground they were now standing on was where God had just raised Jesus to life, with great power. The very real presence of Almighty God, God’s ‘shekinah’, God’s glory was still present, and as they entered that space, they saw and felt things which did not just make them tremble, but filled them with holy terror! The earthquake, an angel of the Lord like lightening, descended from heaven and rolled back the stone. ‘Don’t be afraid ‘, he said to the women, ‘I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.’
Those poor women! When Moses saw God’s glory in the burning bush he knew he was on holy ground, and hid his face, afraid to look. When the prophet Ezekiel saw the glory of the Lord, he fell on his face in terror. And now these two women, had, unknowingly, crossed over to the very place, where God had just enacted the greatest deed of power in our salvation history. No wonder the guards were so scared that they shook and became like dead men! Mary Magdalene and Mary were terrified. And so should we be! On this day of all days we need to allow the sheer mind-blowing wonder of resurrection to touch our hearts and minds anew. Easter is not about eggs and bunnies. It is about God breaking into our world of sin and death, and with great power raising Jesus gloriously from the dead. It is about the Risen Lord drawing each one of us to himself, so that we too can be raised with him to eternal life. We need all the help we can get to keep us awakened to the wonder and significance to us of this momentous event which has changed the world. We need all the Sundays of the year, all the liturgies of Holy Week, we need to get up at 3 in the morning and hear the story of our salvation again and again, to reawaken us to the wonder, the shock, the holy terror, the joy of the resurrection.
We, like those women are standing on holy ground. The Risen Lord is here, with us now. He is here. The glory of the Lord shines round about us. If we had any sense we’d fall on our faces – or run away as fast as we can! OR, stay here, and allow the Lord to fill us with life, to set our hearts on fire. For this is the day on which the Lord has acted. This is the day on which God Almighty, with great power, raised Jesus to life.
As you come now to receive the body and blood of the Risen Lord, in bread and wine, let your hearts rise with him, and give joyful thanks – thanks that the same God who raised Jesus to life will also raise us to life. Death, the final enemy has been conquered.
In the words of St Chrysostom proclaimed at Easter in every Orthodox Church;
‘Let none fear death, for the death of the Savior has set us free.
Christ has risen and the demons have fallen.
Christ is risen and the angels rejoice:
Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia!’
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