He is risen indeed!
March 31, 2013
The birth of a child. The death of a parent. Falling in love. Mostly life goes along in a routine way but sometimes events happen that shake our lives. Perhaps you’ve experienced that. If you have you’ll know that when events rock our lives it’s hard to get a grip, to fully understand what’s happening around us. The poet T.S. Eliot writes, “We had the experience, but we missed the meaning.” It’s easy to miss the meaning when our lives are being turned upside down. To catch the meaning we need to be able to stand back and reflect. We need to put the jigsaw of our lives back together piece by piece. And that takes time.
Today, on Easter Day we celebrate the heart of our faith, the core of our worship, the ground of our believing: that Christ is risen indeed, alleluia! Resurrection. The Church has had two millennia of history to stand back and reflect on the rising from the dead of Jesus Christ. We’ve had time to piece together the jigsaw, to ponder on what the resurrection means. But for the first disciples it was different. Think of the most earth-shattering event that ever happened to you and multiply it by ten. That’s what experiencing the resurrection of Jesus was like for the first disciples. Each of the four gospels has its own way of describing the resurrection. What comes through is a sense of astonishment, of bewilderment. The resurrection of Jesus is so far beyond ordinary experience that the gospel writers are struggling for the words to convey it.
We’ve heard how Luke tells us how the women disciples have come to the tomb and are confused discover that Jesus’ body is missing. Instead two men young man dressed in dazzling white challenge them: Why do you look for the living among the dead? Remember what Jesus told you? That the Son of Man must be crucified, and on the third day, rise again? Of course the men don’t believe the women’s story. Peter goes check out the evidence for himself and finds an empty looking tomb, but the heavenly messengers are no longer there. It’s the day of resurrection and no one seems to fully grasp what’s going on.
I like the fact that the resurrection stories in the Gospels are rather chaotic and untidy because for me that gives the flavour of a huge, momentous event that is so new to people’s experience that it is hard to make sense of as it is happening.
Think about the time your world took a new and unexpected course: the new relationship, the new job, the new baby. They’re times when we find ourselves missing meals and sleeping at strange times of the day and night. It takes time for us to get to grip with the meaning of big things that happen to us. And it took time for the disciples to catch the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus. Can we blame them? It seems that he disciples experienced a sense of Jesus physically present with them, especially when they broke bread together, there was the fact of the empty tomb. But how would this change things? In the long run what would this strange fact of resurrection mean?
To find the answer we need to fast forward a few weeks to the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. Now the Spirit of the Risen Christ comes to energise his followers in a new way. The disciples who a few weeks before were frightened, confused and tongue-tied become confident and assured in their faith. Now resurrection starts to make sense. The bigger picture of God’s desire to save and heal the whole of his creation starts to become clear. In our first reading we heard how Peter speaks out to the people of Jerusalem: “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree but God raised him on the third day…..he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the One ordained by God…..everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
So there we are. Peter the fisherman finding his voice, holding his own as he begins the work of preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ. And the Church is born. It starts with an empty tomb, a confused huddle of believer who don’t fully understand what’s going on. And then it continues with the church spreading like wildfire around the Mediterranean, enduring bitter persecution at the hands of the Romans. And then the Roman Emperor is converted, and with him the whole of the Roman Empire, the whole of the civilised world. The news of the Risen Christ spreads through every continent, every country. Missionaries travel on foot, by boat, across deserts, across oceans. Two thousand years after Peter preaches the resurrection on the streets of Jerusalem, we gather here this Easter morning in Crosspool to proclaim that same resurrection Gospel. You want evidence for the resurrection? Well, look around you. We are the evidence! The divine energy that raises Christ Jesus from the dead is the same divine energy that inspires Christians to tell other Christians, across the centuries and across the globe. Why else would we be here?
He is risen indeed, alleluia. This is the heart of faith. Indeed, if we could not say these words there would be no faith, no church, no salvation in Christ. Jesus of Nazareth would be a long-forgotten footnote in history. The life of the world would look unimaginably different. As St. Paul writes, if Christ has not been raised from the dead, then our faith has been entirely in vain, all our prayer and worship a waste of time.
He is risen indeed, alleluia. With these words the church celebrates its entire reason for existence. On Easter morning we recover our astonishment and delight that death is not, after all, the final word. Christ’s rising from the dead means that what had seemed the very worst of evil and defeat is changed into something supremely good: the ultimate victory of life, hope, and freedom. The life of God that was in Christ could not, and cannot be destroyed.
So what does that mean for us? What does it mean for us to be Easter people, people who live in the light of the resurrection dawn? Let me suggest three ways that God calls us.
As Easter people, we are called to be community of faith. We need to keep the faith confidently. The false gospel of these secular and cynical times is that the way to salvation is through personal wealth, and personal choices: that nothing matters more than looking good, feeling good, pursuing our individual gain and self fulfilment. The resurrection gospel tells us something quite different: that we are called to the joy of life lived together in Christ’s open and inclusive community, to a way of simplicity and service, of obedience and sharing, of discovering that it’s as we lose our life that we find it. We need to let ourselves be formed by Christ, by meeting with him in the word and the bread and the wine, letting him form us into the people he wants us to become.
We are called to be a community of hope. We place our hope not in ourselves, our bright ideas or our pension plans, but in Christ Jesus, crucified and risen. He is our hope, in this life, and in the fullness of God’s eternity. And the wonderful thing about hope is that it energises us, galvanises us to wash up for the lunch club and collect for Christian Aid, to give time to chat with the homeless people at the soup run or take a meal to a housebound neighbour.
And as Easter people, we are called to be a community of love. When the risen Christ appears to his friends, he still bears the scars made by the nails: the marks of suffering love, the love of a One who gives himself utterly, without reserve. The resurrection is God’s great Yes to the way of self-giving love embodied in Jesus. We are called simply to let ourselves go into this love which is our deepest reality.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” May the risen Christ form us into a community of faith, hope and love, this Eastertide and always.
Frances Eccleston, March 2013