Resurrection Now!

ImageHappy Easter!

What does it mean to wish each other a ‘Happy Easter?’ 

“I hope you enjoy that glass of wine you’ve denied yourself throughout Lent?”

“I hope you have lots of chocolate eggs (though not so many that you are sick?)”

What is Easter all about?

I think liberal Christians can find it easier to believe in Good Friday than Easter.  It takes no leap of the imagination to imagine a good man crucified by an unjust occupying force.  “Nice guys finish last” is a twenty first century cliche.  It’s what we expect.  

But we struggle to believe in Easter Day – if we believe it at all.  New life, new hope, the thought that things can get better – that is a struggle.

But if we don’t believe in resurrection we are cheating ourselves and missing out on the joy that faith offers, and we are missing out on a fundamental truth of human existence.  

I must clarify that I don’t mean the physical coming-back-to-life-from-the-dead – that’s a trick that happens several times in Scripture and is a bit strange and bit mysterious and is a story from the ancient world that is a bit hard to get our modern heads around.

But I mean the historical fact that the disciples who fled Christ at his arrest become the missionaries who turn the world upside down with Christ’s teaching of love and forgiveness.

In our world resurrection is not an incident in history or an abstract theological idea, it is a present reality.

 

“We’re all going to hell in a handcart” – is the subtext (if not the text) of most stories in the Daily Mail.  But they are totally wrong.  The world is getting better.  Fact.

Two thousand years ago the most advanced, civilised nation in the world carried out the death penalty on an industrial scale.  It’s true that the death penalty still exists in many countries worldwide including the United States of America (but in America constrained by a phrase in their constitution that forbids ‘cruel and unusual punishments’ and so no nailing people to planks of wood).  No nation, not even the worst civil rights offenders, practices public crucifixions today.

Things are getting better.  Easter is a constant reality in our world.

Torture still happens, but it is no longer morally acceptable.

We no longer allow slavery.  It still happens, but its not considered a crime.

I hear some of you protest at my glib optimism!  “How can you say the world is getting better – world wars and genocides have occurred in the last 100 years!”

There have been genocides and attempted genocides in the last fifty years, but these are now the exceptions in how we deal with conflicts between people’s – a thousand years ago these were common practice.

Our technological advancement has been faster than our moral advancement – so there are very real dangers.  But we don’t live in the shadow of immanent global destruction in the same way we did a few short decades ago.  We still have the weapons, and they are still a danger, but we are no longer pointing them at each other with the same insane enthusiasm.

Things are getting better.  Easter is a constant reality in our world.

Our technology is threatening the future of the planet.  Pollution and global warming are perhaps he greatest threats that the human race has ever faced.  But we have never been better technologically or morally equipped to meet these challenges.

If the ancient world or the medieval world were suddenly transported through time to take over we all be dead in a generation.

Things are getting better.  Easter is a constant reality in our world.

But we don’t always feel that.

As we get older we lose the innocence we enjoyed in our youth (if we were fortunate enough to have a peaceful and safe youth).  In our life we go from a sate of fluffy childhood loveliness to having to encounter the difficult realities of life, and the older we get the more unpleasant stories we read in newspapers and it seems easy to believe things are getting worse.  It’s seductive to look back with rose coloured spectacles, and look ahead with fear for more disillusionment to come.

But we should look back with honesty and ahead with hope.

Things are getting better.  Easter is a constant reality in our world.

One symbol of the resurrection is how society has changed – is the place of women.  In the ancient world women were property, passed from their father to their husband… When no longer property they had to promise to “obey” their husbands in the marriage service until recently.

It wasn’t until 1918 women over 30 were able to vote in Britain and women were not allowed to be lawyers or accountants until 1920.  It was not until 1828 – just 86 years ago, that women were given the equal right to vote with men.  The first female minister of state was not until 1965 (when Barbara Castle was appointed Minister of Transport).  Equal pay didn’t come until 1970 Equal Pay Act – and that was a very imperfect piece of legislation that has needed several revisions.

Only last year were women given theoretical equal hereditary rights for the British monarchy.

Today women still do not have full equality – but it is prejudice and inertia, not the rules that cause inequality, the rules largely push towards equality now…

Things are getting better.  Easter is a constant reality in our world.

But they get better by struggle, by a recurring process of work and campaigning and protests and sliding back before pushing forward.

It’s not that we are drifting into a better world, it’s that campaigners and organisations and individuals are working hard and standing up to injustice and making sacrifices and being crucified over and over and over yet daring to believe that there is a resurrection to come

Things are getting better.  Easter is a constant reality in our world.

Watch and old television show from the 1960s or 70s and you will be shocked by the casual sexism, and racism, and homophobia.  Even in the last 40 years attitudes have changed for the better.

Another symbol of the change is our attitude to sexuality.  In much less than a generation we have gone from homosexuality being illegal to gay marriage.

Here is a perfect symbol of the resurrection.  The resurrection does not end the story – it begins it.

The resurrection is a message of hope and new life that has to grow and spread.

The celebrations of the first same-sex marriages were exciting, and for many a symbol of resurrection after long years of prejudice, bulling, violence and state-sanctioned persecution.

There will be a song on this subject to come later in the service, but for now I close with one of my favourite poems, Sometimes by Sheenagh Pugh.  I’ve used it before, but it bears repeating:

 

Sometimes things don’t go, after all,
from bad to worse.  Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don’t fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

 

A people sometimes will step back from war;
elect an honest man; decide they care
enough, that they can’t leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen: may it happen for you.

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