Sunday, 8 April 2012

The Gospel According to Abigail Witchells

On 20th April 2005 Abigail Witchells was walking in the village of Little Bookham near her home, with her 2 year old son Joseph.  She was attacked from behind and stabbed in the neck, paralyzing her and leaving her son unhurt but traumatized.

A statement was released on her behalf which read, "The staff here are wonderful and I am making progress every day. I have sensation over most of my body and the pain is less now. I can move my head, but as yet I cannot move my arms and legs. I can breathe and speak on my own for short periods. Please pass on my thanks to everyone for their support and prayers. God is doing beautiful things."

Much has been made of the Witchalls' strong Christian faith, and that of the whole family.  her attacker was publicly forgiven by her, her mother and her husband.  Her mother said,   “Just being with her makes me feel better and I am immensely proud of her and her husband, Benoit, and of how much I have learned from them.  Abigail's life is a triumph of the Cross. Not the world's usual triumph of strength, but rather one of vulnerability and love.

It seems to me that Abigail Witchells, along with Gee Walker (mother of Anthony murdered in Huyton), Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Gordon Wilson (who’s daughter Marie died in the Enniskillen bombing) - all of whose stories (or parts at least) we have heard this week, have an Easter faith - a faith that trusts God to do, not just the improbable but the impossible.  Have we?
Easter to many people is about chocolate, hot cross buns, bunny rabbits and two long over due Bank holidays.  Easter is REALLY about Jesus Christ’s passion for a hurting world.  In recent days we have journeyed with Jesus into Jerusalem shouting our hosannas, to the Last Supper, to betrayal by kisses in Gethsemene, to trial and torture by Ciaphas and Pilate, and then standing watching the death of a traitor on a cross, dying the death of a failed man.  As a we stand close to the garden where the tomb is, where we have been waiting since last night, the sun gently pinking the early morning sky, some figures are seen making their way in the half light.

It’s Mary and the others.  These women, have been faithful to Jesus through it all - after desertion and betrayal - and here they are, after the Sabbath coming to the Garden Tomb to anoint his body as is the custom.  Although they are doing what they can to be faithful to Jesus, the women like the other disciples never really heard Jesus latterly, not really.  Here they are, despite talk of resurrection, coming to embalm a decomposing corpse.

They are chattering as they pass us, who will roll the stone away?  The women are clearly expecting to find what you would expect to find at a new grave.  The women are still live in a predictable world.  If you roll a stone in place on Friday it will still be there on Sunday.  These women demonstrate enormous courage and faithfulness coming ot the garden tomb, but they come expecting, despite what Jesus has said, that death still has the final word.

Throughout his ministry Jesus taught and revealed a new order that God was bringing in.  A new order where things are not always necessarily one of cause and effect but one where the topsy turvey values of the Kingdom of God break through.

As they near the corner of the garden, near the small outcrop of trees, where the tomb is located, this new order of things begins to break through.  As we follow them to the tomb, we all notice that the stone has been moved to one side.  Whilst there are many explanations for this, a sense of something just being wrong overcomes us all.

Out of concern?  Out of curiosity?  The women look, we look too - inside there is only a shroud in the tomb and no body.  What is going on?  ‘Do not be alarmed!’ says the young man sitting over to one side of the tomb.  Do not be alarmed?!  They were now terrified - was this the grave robber himself that they have disturbed?  ‘Do not be alarmed, you are looking for Jesus who was crucified - he has been raised, look here is the place where they laid him, ‘ he says as he points to the shroud.  ‘Go and tell the others he is going ahead of you to Galilee, and there you will meet him..’

If something as predictable and inevitable as death is not longer inevitable or predictable then the world has changed dramatically.  Frighteningly so.  The body has not been stolen but the grave clothes are lying there as if Jesus has just stepped out of them...  If stones can be rolled without help, if Jesus is really alive, what other certainties in life are now up for grabs.  Life is suddenly awe-inspiring and terrifying.  What else can and will God do in our lives?

One of the women with Mary said it later - that Jesus is now just loose in the world and coming to meet us, not on our terms, with our expectations, but on his.  We can no longer deal with Jesus compartmentalized as a dead body in a tomb, as a story told by Mary and the other women, but we meet him here as a living reality and there is absolutely no avoiding him in grief, sentimentality, in liturgy.  Business as usual in our day to day or Sunday lives is no longer safe because Jesus is here wherever we are, whatever we are doing calling us to be his disciples again and again and simply to come and follow him.

The women stand, as if suspended in treacle for a second that seems to last an hour, and then Salome screams.  She screams and screams and screams.  Immediately they are off in the directions of the four winds, running like they are being chased, running to who knows where, but not in the direction of Galilee.  Leaving us - at this strange and empty place.  They have seen with their own eyes and heard with their own ears the truth of all that Jesus taught - he has been raised.

This easter story does not have a happy end so that we can all heave a sigh of Lent-is-over-relief.  Jesus’ Easter story ends where it began, in Galilee - back in the ordinariness of the everyday routines.  Our Easter story ends where it began, in this community - back in the ordinariness of everyday.  But it is now the Risen Jesus meets us in the ordinary and everydayness of things - on his terms, whenever and wherever he wants to, calling us to follow him.

The disciples abandoned Jesus to death in the garden as he was arrested and then crucified, and these women abandoned him in as yet unseen new life.  There is only one group of people who can take the news that Jesus is risen, back into the ordinariness of every day life - us.  But will we?

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