Easter Day • 16 Apr 2017

Acts 10:34-43
Colossians 3:1-4
John 20:1-18

Rev. Chris Udy

Bronnie Ware
is an Australian palliative care nurse,
who wrote a book
based on her life’s work
and on conversations she’d had
with people she had cared for
in the last weeks of their lives.
The book is called
‘The Top Five Regrets of the Dying’,
and in it Bronnie writes about
the “clarity of vision”
that people gain at the end of their lives,
when they know that death is absolutely real,
and that they will very soon be dying.
She says that when, in those times of clear vision,
people were given the chance
to talk about what they might have done differently,
or whether they had regrets,
these five themes “surfaced again and again”.

The first, as witnessed by Bronnie Ware,
is “I wish I’d had the courage
to live a life true to myself,
not the life others expected of me.”
“This was the most common regret of all”, Bronnie says,
“When people realise
that their life is almost over
and look back clearly on it,
it’s easy to see how many dreams
have gone unfulfilled. ...
Health brings a freedom very few realise,
until they no longer have it.”

The second regret is
“I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”
“This came from almost every male patient
that I nursed,” Bronnie wrote
“They missed their children’s youth
and their partner’s companionship.
Women also spoke of this regret,
but as most were from an older generation,
many of the female patients
had not been breadwinners.
All the men I nursed
deeply regretted
spending so much of their lives
on the treadmill of a work existence.”

Third was “I wish I’d had the courage
to express my feelings.”
“Many people suppressed their feelings
in order to keep peace with others.
As a result,
they settled for a mediocre existence
and never became
who they were truly capable of becoming.
Many” according to Bronnie,
“developed illnesses
relating to the bitterness and resentment
they carried as a result.”

“I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends”,
is number four.
“There were many deep regrets
about not giving friendships
the time and effort they deserved”, says Bronnie.
“Everyone misses their friends
when they are dying.”

And the last of the top five regrets is
“I wish that I had let myself be happier”.
“This is surprisingly common” according to Bronnie.
“Many did not realise until the end
that happiness is a choice.
They had stayed stuck
in old patterns and habits.
The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity
overflowed into their emotions,
as well as their physical lives.
Fear of change
had them pretending to others –
and to themselves -
that they were content,
when, deep within,
they longed to laugh properly
and have silliness in their lives again.”

Easter is our invitation to die
and to rise into life again.
It’s our invitation
to stop being and doing those things
that are likely to lead to regret
and take on a life
that has an eternal dimension.
Easter invites us to experience,
and even to embrace,
the reality of death;
not to make us feel frightened, or guilty -
and certainly not to threaten us
with punishment or judgement -
that would be a profound abuse
of the message of the gospel -
Easter invites us into
the experience of death,
so we can leave behind
our fears, and guilts, and regrets,
and rise to the life we were made for:
a life of love, and honest integrity,
and courage, and compassion.

On Friday we heard the story
of the way that Jesus died.
We followed him
from the garden where he was arrested
after eating his last meal among his friends,
to the mockery of a trial
by the people who ran the Temple in Jerusalem.
We then followed him
when they sent him on to Pilate,
the Roman governor of the city,
to be unjustly condemned to death for treason.
We followed him
as he was taken out
to be executed by crucifixion
which was intended to be
not only a painful and shameful death,
but also a horrible public warning
to anyone who might even think
of following the example Jesus had set.

But we followed Jesus anyway.

We heard about his death
and we thought about how and why he died,
and we saw ourselves,
not only in his friends
and in all the other people of the story -
but we also saw ourselves in him;
we saw ourselves in Jesus,
and in him we touched,
and were touched by,
the reality of death.

But Friday wasn’t the end of the story.
Yesterday was a bit subdued and quiet -
as Easter Saturday usually is -
but then, this morning,
we heard, from the women
who were first to see him risen and alive,
we heard that Jesus was no longer dead -
which makes women, by the way,
the first apostles
and the heralds of resurrection -
so why on earth some parts of the Church
still think and insist
that only men can be ministers
just makes no sense.

Anyway - we followed Jesus,
on Friday, into death -
and today we follow Jesus again
into a new life -
a life that looks forward in hope -
not back with regret -
and a life that’s grounded and focussed,
not on things that are going to pass away,
but on things that will last
and continue, even through death,
and into eternity.

When Jesus died
he left behind
all the disappointment and hurt
of his friends’ betrayal, and denial, and desertion.
He left behind
the failures of religion and politics,
and the everyday brutalities
that human beings visit on each other.
He left behind any worries and fears he might have had
about how he looked, and what to wear,
and what he could earn, and where he could live.
None of those things survive dying,
so he left them all behind,
and when he rose to life he brought with him
only those things that continue beyond death.
First, character - that unique and distinctive identity
that we begin to form and grow
from the moment that we’re born;
our only durable gift
both to this world and the world beyond.
And then, relationships of loving respect,
forged through shared experience
and in honest conversation,
repaired with forgiveness
when we suffer or cause pain,
and celebrated - not so much
in lavish ceremonies or rituals in public,
but every day, around tables,
with bread and wine, or coffee and cake,
or in a kiss or a hug
or even a handshake.

Character and loving relationship:
that’s all we take through death,
so we might as well begin
to invest in them now,
while we have the time, and health,
and energy and courage
to make them stronger -
and to have them reflect
who we really are.

On the morning of resurrection,
as we read from John’s gospel today,
Mary Magdalene went to the tomb
where the body of Jesus had been laid
after he died on Good Friday.
She saw the stone in front of the tomb
had been removed,
and she ran to tell the disciples
that his body had been taken.
When they returned with her
and had seen that the tomb was empty,
Mary remained in the garden after they left,
grieving for her teacher and her friend.
John says Jesus came to her
and asked her why she was weeping,
but it was only when he said her name:
“Mary” - that she recognised who he was.

Names represent us:
they call to mind a character;
they signal relationship -
and it was when Jesus said Mary’s name
that everything he was, and all she was,
and everything they’d shared together
came flooding back to memory and to life.

Easter is our invitation
to die to those things
that have no enduring purpose;
to die to our regrets and guilts and fears,
and to rise into a life that will last:
a life where who we are,
and what we hope and stand for,
is known and understood and can be respected;
a life where those who live with us
know that we love them,
not for what they can do for us,
but for who they are;
a life where names are spoken and remembered
with authentic recognition
and with honest affection,
and in a way that leads us all
into the truth and hope
of resurrection.