Happy Easter!! Jesus Christ is risen to day – Alleluia!
We have gathered to celebrate something strange and often poorly understood – the resurrection is a mystery. It is literally impossible to take it literally because the Gospels disagree on the details. The resurrected Jesus is solid enough to eat fish by the side of the lake, yet ethereal enough to appear from nowhere in a locked room and mysteriously vanish.
But to totally reject the resurrection leaves us with the baffling mystery of what caused the mostly illiterate scattered followers of a humiliated and executed leader to find heart again and be so full of energy and new life that they turned the world upside down.
The resurrection is the story of how death is followed by new life – whatever the realities of first century Palestine, it’s a meditation on the human condition.
Good Friday shows how bad the world can get: a good and kind and generous and inspiring and loving man, the brightest and best humanity can be, is executed in a barbaric way. And then on Easter day we are given new hope.
The broken body of Jesus and his blood spilled by his Roman executioners has become a symbol of life and hope and the centre of the meal that has united Christians for millennia.
The act of Jesus’ judicial murder which scattered his disciples has become the very symbol of his life – the cross the most instantly recognisable emblem of our faith.
Easter does not remove the suffering of Good Friday.
Resurrection is not the denial of death.
Resurrection is what allows us to look at all the horrors of the world, the politically motivated cuts to the health service, the horrific plane crashes, the rise of militant fundamentalists and dictators and warmongers… …we look squarely into the horrors of the world and say – “we will not give you the last word. We do not believe that this is what defines humanity.”
In the words of Gandhi “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall – think of it – always.”
This year I read a fascinating book, one which I highly recommend – its “The Better Angels of our Nature” by Stephen Pinker.
It’s a huge book that goes into huge detail and presents mountains of statistical data and analysis to prove (I think beyond doubt) that violence has been in decline over millennia and that the present is probably the most peaceful time in the history of the human species. The decline in violence is not a small change, it is enormous! The evidence is seen in the reduction in military conflict, in the decline in murder, the comparative rarity of genocide, the limits paced on torture and outcry it causes whereas it was once commonplace, the increasingly civilised criminal justice system, and the improvement in the treatment of children, LGBT folks, animals and racial and ethnic minorities. He stresses that “The decline, to be sure, has not been smooth; it has not brought violence down to zero; and it is not guaranteed to continue.”
If you disagree and think that the past was better and civilisation was better in the past think about bodies found in peat bogs and permafrost in eastern Europe – from before the dawn of civilisation – the majority of them reveal that they died violent deaths. A thousand years ago there were a lot more natural deaths, but still a lot of violent deaths,
You only need a History GCSE to realise that five hundred years ago it had improved further and one hundred years further still. Since the Second World War there has been a steep decline in all-out war between the nations.
Gandhi’s words are not just wishful thinking, they are fact: “all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall – think of it – always.”
But progress does not come in an endless easy cycle of improvement, it comes in a painful struggle with death and resurrection followed by death and resurrection followed by death and resurrection.
Gandhi saw his dictators topple, but he paid for it with his life.
Death and resurrection. Christ showed us the way, and it is the only way.
Easter is not a historic event that we gather to commemorate, it is a present reality that we are invited to take part in. We are invited to join the struggle for a better world, to strive for justice and create peace, to build the Kingdom to give hope…
I close with a poem that speaks of the challenge of Easter
EASTER MORNING by Edward Conder
You, Lord Jesus, didn’t stay
Quietly dead and hid away,
You’re still here to cause dissention,
To challenge clerical invention.
For there is still a need of men
To respond to as you did then
To overcome their normal fears
And face the world with fresh ideas.
Give us then the strength divine
To step completely out of line,
Going after where you led,
Doing always what you said,
Not putting you upon a throne,
Nor making monuments in stone,
But out there with you doing stuff
Where life is true and life is tough.
Be our strength when we are weak,
Be there when we your comfort seek,
Be there in glory when we win,
Be there in mercy when we sin.
Lord Jesus, with the spirit fill us,
With his awesome power instil us,
For it is then that we can do
and follow truly after you.