01 April 2018
10.30 Sung Eucharist
Canon Simon Cowling
Mark 16. 1-8
A few days ago, at the beginning of Holy Week, more than two hundred people from Argentina flew to the Falklands. They were not tourists. They were relatives of some of the six hundred and forty nine Argentinian soldiers killed in the Falklands conflict in 1982. For nearly four decades the bodies of over a hundred of these soldiers had never been identified: until last week their gravestones had said simply An Argentinian soldier known only to God. Thanks to advances in DNA analysis, a good proportion of the gravestones finally have names. For thirty-six years, on their rare visits to the cemetery, many of the relatives had kissed every gravestone without a name. Doing this gave comfort that one kiss at least was being given to their loved one. Now the soldiers will no longer be known only to God, but also to their families: a grave; a body with a name; a place to mourn. One of the Argentinian veterans who worked hard to bring the DNA project to fruition was inspired by his mother who had said to him, ‘If you had ever gone missing, I would have searched for you until the end of my life’. What the families of those dead soldiers have craved for so long is simply certainty about their final resting place.
This is a heartening epilogue to a tragic conflict of long ago in which two hundred and fifty-five UK military personnel also died. I read about it alongside my initial reflecting on today’s Easter Gospel reading. Three women come to the tomb of Jesus early in the morning. They are the same women who, in St Mark’s account of Jesus’s death, had been at the foot of the cross at the very end: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. Their initial concerns about whether or not they will find anyone to roll away the stone from the entrance to the tomb are swiftly overtaken. The stone has already been moved. Instead of the dead body of Jesus, wrapped in the linen cloth supplied by Joseph of Arimathea, they see a young man dressed in white. ‘He has been raised’ the young man tells them; ‘he is not here’. The women flee in terror, amazement, and fear – apparently too overcome to follow the young man’s instruction to tell Peter and the rest of the disciples that they will see Jesus in Galilee. And there St Mark’s Gospel ends: with almost a mirror image of the experience of the families of those Argentinian war veterans. The known grave of the one named Jesus has no body. The certainty of the two Marys and Salome about where they would find the body of the one whom they had loved has given way to uncertainty; their journey to a known resting place has resulted, quite unexpectedly, in unresolved questions.
On the face of it terror, amazement, and fear do not amount to much of an Easter message. St Mark denies us, as well as the women, certainty; he leaves us with unresolved questions. But he does plant firmly one significant fingerpost to help us on our journey: he is going ahead of you to Galilee the young man says. Jesus is going ahead to the place where he first called the disciples; going ahead to the place where he first taught the crowds, embraced the outcast, fed the hungry; going ahead to the place which the prophet Isaiah had called ‘Galilee of the nations’, in other words a region of uncertain boundaries between Jew and non-Jew, a place of uneasy co-existence. And more than this, Jesus is going ahead of the disciples in order to meet them there. The physical landscape of the resurrection life will be strangely familiar to the disciples; but its spiritual landscape is to be utterly transfigured by their dawning realisation that on Good Friday Jesus died, not into darkness, but into the eternal light of God which will flood the Galilee of the resurrection where he awaits them.
In the final section of his last great poem, Little Gidding, T S Eliot memorably reminds us that
(The) end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
As we strive to write our own stories into the wider narrative of the resurrection, Eliot’s lines can be seen as eloquent commentary on the reassuring words of the mysterious young man in the empty tomb: he is going ahead of you to Galilee. As for the disciples, so for us: the risen Christ goes ahead of us not to some resurrection utopia but to the places we have come from, the places that are familiar, the places where we started and in which we are rooted: our local communities, our nation, our world. These are our Galilees of the resurrection, the places in which we will encounter the risen Christ waiting for us. Waiting to show us the outcast whom we are to embrace, waiting to show us the hungry whom we are to feed, waiting to show us the physical, emotional, political, and racial divisions we need to heal – divisions such as those caused by the Falklands conflict which the DNA project has begun to heal. It turns out that the project would not have been possible without the initiative of a British army captain who originally saw to the careful retrieval and respectful burial of the unknown dead Argentinian soldiers. He said of his initiative: I am an army officer, I am a soldier but before everything else I am a human being.
Christ crucified and risen reminds us lovingly yet insistently of our need to embrace our vocation as human beings, flawed as were the first disciples, but made ultimately in the image and likeness of God. Christ crucified and risen goes before us to our Galilees of the resurrection, calling us as human beings to join in God’s work of transfiguring reconciliation. As we rejoice in Christ’s resurrection today, we rejoice as well that our humanity will eventually find its fullest and most perfect expression through him in the Galilee of the eternal Eastertide of God; to whom be glory now and to the ages of ages. Amen.