“The first Easter didn’t happen at a church. It happened outside of an empty tomb, while all the disciples were sequestered in a home, grief-stricken and wondering what was going on. So, we’re all going to be keeping things pretty Biblical this Easter.” Rev. Dr Emily C. Heath (Instagram 2020)
With the spread of the COVID 19 virus we have had reason to experience Lent and Easter in a slightly rawer less sure way this year. After two thousand years plus we had pretty much decided what Easter meant and although I have always found the ritual deeply moving and challenging this year feels like Easter is happening all around us, within us, and between us in an edgy less controllable way.
Now I confess that I am relieved, surprised and overjoyed every year to experience the resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Which might seem strange given that we know how the story ends. And yet each year I approach the crucifixion of our Lord, his death and burial with dread and a heavy heart. And I wait and wait with one foot dragging after the other until the joy of Easter morning. So far the great mysterious cycle of life, death, and new life has always “worked”. Maybe I am just a suggestible soul and easily emotionally overwhelmed. Possibly. But it is also that the drama of the season of Lent and especially Holy Week is one the deepest and most life changing mysterious truths of our world and each time afresh it is about being drawn into the dying and being reborn again. (Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4; and Matthew 28:1-10.)
For Easter Day is no less than the celebration that in Christ’s own body life was victorious over death, good was victorious over evil, and love was victorious over hate. It is the ultimate mystery, the ultimate victory, the ultimate gift, that we celebrate on Easter morning. In the self giving sacrificial death of Jesus the author of all life was put to death, evil appeared to have conquered good for a moment, and hate seemed to have won out over love that day. But in the resurrection of Jesus life eternal has burst forth, the goodness of God has triumphed over the worst that evil could do, and the gracious all forgiving love of God has won the new day over the reign of hate.
Looking back we can celebrate with much confidence: Christ was victorious, life eternal has been realised, the work of saving grace has been achieved. With his last breath Jesus said: it is done, it is accomplished, it is finished. And so it is.
And yet in our own lives of faith and doubt, stumble and service, love and compromise it is a little less sure. Like the first witnesses of faith we are not sure of what we see, what we believe. And even when we are sure at last, we do not quite know what to do because of our belief. Eternity stretches before us and what are we to do with this new again love that Christ has won for us? Like the first people of faith the truth of Christ’s victory is still being worked out in our flesh, in our hearts and minds and souls. And the consequences of love without limits is still unfolding within us and between us. The transforming work of God’s gracious love within us is very much a work in progress. And if we pause and look into our world, even our own families and community, we do not have to look far to see where the reign of God, the coming of the kingdom is still to be realised. The work of carrying the good news of Christ’s victorious love out into the world is our work and as urgent as when the commission was first given to the disciples to go and preach the goodnews and baptise believers in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
We are called to live as resurrection people – to be people of hope, love and life – even though we live in a world in which we still see the old order of hate, fear and death. We are called to be compassionate, generous, wise, humble, self giving. And so no matter how great or how weak our joy this morning we know it is not as easy ask. It is not easy to be hopeful in the face of this virus, entrenched poverty, division, climate warming, drug addiction, violence, cynicism, and other’s hopelessness. It is not easy to love when our own hearts are often empty or dried up, or judgemental and we struggle to know ourselves loved. It is not easy to proclaim life when around us the evidence of people and things we love dying – our church, our friends, far away children, our understanding of social order, maybe our planet itself. And yet our hope, our love, our life is well founded for it is founded on the one who embraced death, decay and despair in order that we might live abundantly and eternally. And he was victorious. Not in a cheap glittering leaping out of a birthday cake way but in a molecular, essential, cosmic way. Flesh that was dead and begun to decay became alive again. Breath that had ceased spoke words of love again. Hands and feet and side wounded were healed but the scars did not vanish.
The battle was not easy and neither is it for us and for our age. Life won but only after great suffering. Good won but only after much work. Love won but only after much sacrifice. We who celebrate the victory of our Lord are called to rejoice, to proclaim and to en-flesh, to live out this hope, to work out a life infused with love and goodness so that the kingdom might indeed come.
Even so, come risen Lord Jesus Christ.