Festival Eucharist for Easter Sunday
1st April 2018
Acts 10: 34 – 43;
1 Corinthians 15: 1 – 11;
John 20: 1 – 18
By Ms. Leslie Spatt
They have taken him away …
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia.
We come to Easter Day with perhaps some uneasiness about the message and meaning of the Easter event. Because, on the face of it – the concept of resurrection is something which can be hard to process. Once someone’s dead, they’re dead, aren’t they? And right there in the centre of Christianity is the Easter event, the Resurrection. The stories about Jesus, things like miracles, what or who people thought he was; all these things we hear about him in the Gospels are nowhere near as important. It’s that unknowable mystery which defies any sort of explanation. It’s the hope of defeating death itself; and faith that life will carry on in some form, in some place, with God.
The resurrection of Jesus enables us as Christians to see both life and death in a new light. But it’s almost a ridiculous thing to believe in, as St Paul found out when talking to the Greeks. Someone who was clearly dead, lives again. Well…we believe he lives again. When the women who knew and loved him go to find him after he’s buried he isn’t there. The tomb is empty.
What happened? We don’t know. There were no witnesses to the moment of resurrection, what actually happened in the dark, in the waiting between the grief of burial and the discovery of an empty tomb. “They have taken him away” says Mary. What other explanation could there be?
How did it happen? We don’t know. It’s something which is beyond our reasoning; and challenges us to let go of our need of provable facts, to move out of our heads and into our hearts, our very guts, into the areas of faith and hope and belief. We can’t be won over by scientific or visible evidence because there isn’t any – except the absence of a body in the tomb. Resurrection is a God-moment which is impossible to understand, or even believe as an intellectual proposition. Resurrection takes us beyond human knowledge, past human experience.
How do we know it happened? That we can know… sort of, but only indirectly; just like we can only know that the invisible wind exists by feeling it on our faces or seeing the trees bend; or by looking at the behaviour of the early Christian communities who were – and some still are nowadays – willing to die for their sure belief that God raised Jesus from the dead; and they would also be raised to eternal life, whatever they had to suffer.
And what does it mean? One meaning might be that death doesn’t mean the final end of everything. Jesus being raised from the dead gives us the hope that physical death is the beginning of a new part of our relationship with God. We might believe in a bodily Resurrection, Jesus walking out of the tomb as a fully fleshed human, with holes in his hands and feet and side; we see the Gospels, Acts and the New Testament letters reporting many different people who actually saw Jesus as a real person after his death. Were they all wrong? Or a spiritual happening just as St Paul says we will be reborn, but frustratingly doesn’t say how; or the Resurrection being a set of hopes and visions which convinced people – somehow – that Jesus was alive to them. In some ways, it doesn’t matter what we believe, but it really does matter that we believe it. It’s OK to doubt, to argue, to differ and discuss because we just don’t actually KNOW how the resurrection happened then or in what form, and we never will.
Something obviously happened, the disciples changed almost instantly from a fearful group hiding in locked rooms and secret locations right after the crucifixion, into a radically transformed group who began to proclaim publicly that Jesus was alive; that God raised him from the dead. Nobody can argue with that, or what we see in the New Testament; the accounts there can’t be disproved even though they sound impossible. Maybe the clash between the Bible and our post-modern brains needing proof is unresolvable and we just choose to sideline the issue or ignore it all – despite the reality of the resurrection being essential for Christianity.
The acceptance of not knowing, and not needing to know can be a real struggle for many of us. We want to have some sort of factual, rational explanation which makes logical sense; because that’s a normal human response to avoid the uncomfortable feeling of not having an answer. “I don’t know” is possibly one of the hardest things to say to ourselves, and definitely to others. It makes us vulnerable. Like the unending questioning of a child asking “Why?” or “How?” we want God to give us an answer we can understand.
Is there life after death? I believe that there is, and I’m willing to bet that a lot of you do as well – but this belief probably includes times of wrestling with the details of what sort of life, or how this will come about. Will I have a regular earthly type body – will I see my friends and family again – will I have to live forever in a diseased body or with dementia. These may sound like petty and frivolous concerns; but actually death, when we won‘t be “us” any more, is terrifying; because we face a black hole of nothingness, of letting go into a frightening unknown.
The resurrection gives us the promise that we will never be abandoned – we can wrap ourselves in the belief that we will not be left in that nothingness, we will live forever with God, even if we have to say “I don’t know how.” As the late Basil Hume replied, when his consultant said he was so sorry to tell him his cancer was terminal, Cardinal Hume answered “Oh, not at all – just think…Eternal life!” In that belief, we are released from the fear of death as the end of all things. We are given the freedom to live a truly complete life as Jesus promised; knowing that the power of death has been broken apart, conquered by the reality of the Resurrection of Jesus, raised from the dead, as being the first of all the ones which are to follow.
As we baptise Alexandra this morning, we welcome her into the family of the Church, and hand on to her that promise of life in all its fullness, and of eventual eternal life with God. Nobody can guarantee her an easy, or rich, or happy life at all times, but she will always be held in God’s hand, and supported by God, her home family and her church family, will become the best person she can possibly be.
Perhaps in the Resurrection Jesus is saying “don’t doubt the power of God to change your life, just as I changed it when I was with you on earth. I will help you, I have gone beyond death and still am alive for you, I will live in you, and you in me; and we will both live in the Father.”
Jesus holds us in the darknesses, the doubts, the abandonments of our own Good Fridays. Jesus is no longer someone in the dim distant past, locked into one time and place. He has become the risen Christ, who lives forever in all times and in all places. And in his being raised from the dead he calls each of us by our own names as we turn to him; to bring us to his Father and our Father, his God and our God.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
©Leslie Spatt 2018