A few weeks ago, after the dreadful earthquake in Turkiye and Syria we supported an appeal to collect clothes for victims who had lost everything. We were completely unprepared for the response! When we put up signs saying that we couldn't take more donations, but there was almost a riot. Donations continued to appear long after we wanted them.
The kind hearted version of me was moved by the generosity of our neighbours, and rejoiced that the church could be a presence for good, but the cynic in me felt that we became a convenient repository for a load of old clothes.
Old clothes is what the disciples see when they run to the tomb on that first Easter morning. Two piles of old clothes.
The linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head rolled up by itself.
Details like these, some would argue, indicate that this was no grave robbery, why would a grave robber bother to remove the clothes, let alone fold them? Is this detail evidence that the resurrection is real?
Maybe, but the actual moment of resurrection is off camera to us; let’s not be so preoccupied with the empty tomb, that we forget to talk to the gardener.
It is entirely appropriate that Mary Magdalene mistakes him for a gardener. For Christians, the story of creation and recreation begins and ends in a garden, first in Genesis and here in John 20. What does a gardener do? Gently tends, prunes and weeds, discarding what no longer brings life and sowing seeds of new growth.
What is the new life that is being grown in this garden?
The theologian James Alison describes what happens in the death and resurrection of Jesus as nothing less than an anthropological earthquake, in that what Jesus is inaugurating is a new way of being in which there is no social other.
Listen to St Peter when he says, I truly understand that God shows no partiality.
God shows no partiality: is this not what Jesus told his disciples to imitate on the night before he died, when he said love one another?
Are we, human beings, not the ones who show partiality, in all cultures and across all human history, shoring up our identity and sense of self by excluding the other?
Jesus becomes the innocent, excluded one, who shows us exactly what we tend to do, and still loves and forgives us that we might grow out of those tendencies, calling us to show that this new way of being is possible.
This Easter is twenty five years after the signing of the Good Friday agreement, that extraordinary yet fragile ending of violent partiality. A God who shows no partiality, and a church tries to put that into practice, is what we mean when we say that the we believe in one holy, catholic church.
In James Alison’s words, “the great secret of catholicity:
is that we can build a culture which has no frontiers because we no longer have to build any order, security or identity over against some excluded person.”
Mary may not hold on to Jesus just as we need to let go of our assumptions of superiority and righteousness. She is invited, in her grief, to enter into this catholicity of being.
Just as we might be keen to declutter, and get rid of our old stuff, is it not also time to let go of our ideas about ourselves, or about God that no longer bring life, or assumptions or prejudices that make us feel more secure, but show a partiality that God does not?
Is it time to walk with St Mary Magdalene from the garden, along the way of Christ, sharing the good news of God’s spacious and generously forgiving and welcoming, impartial love?
The first Christians did all they could to spread this extraordinary message. The story does not end as long as there are disciples who meet Jesus in the same way the first disciples met him, not only up in heaven, but here and now, challenging the powers that would divide and exclude people, recognising in ourselves our own lack of love, but walking with him nevertheless. May we walk in the way of Christ this Easter and always. Amen.
Vicar Revd Gill O’Neill (on leave until 2 July)
Curate Revd Gemma Birt firstname.lastname@example.org
Assistant Priests Revd Anne Clarke email@example.com , Revd Alistair McCulloch firstname.lastname@example.org and Revd Rosemary Shaw email@example.com
Parish Administrator Maxine Plunkett, firstname.lastname@example.org
Churchwardens Tayo Olatunde 07908 679 407 and Julie Whitney 07786 686 385
Parish Safeguarding Officer Mary Dawson (contact via Parish Administrator)
PCC Secretary Christine Camplin
PCC Treasurer Claire Nylander
Stewardship Martin Howell
Director of Music John Webber
Editors of The Gander Christine Camplin, Jim Nurton, Tayo Olatunde and Dorothy Oxley
(Contact each of the above via Parish Administrator)
St John's & St Clement's C of E Primary School, Adys Road, London SE15 4DY
www.stjohnsandstclements.org, 020 7525 9210
The views expressed in The Gander are not necessarily those of the Editors, Vicar or PCC.
Notices and items or articles for possible inclusion in the next issue of The Gander must be with the Editors by the 15th of the preceding month. Please contact the team in person or by email to the Parish Administrator with any questions.