In the Christian year we are amid Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter Day. These days recall the central tenets of the Christian faith, that in grief, pain, abandonment and the suffering of a young man, who gave his life for others, there is the promise of hope.
The resurrection of Jesus is God’s way of saying be courageous, go forward, fulfil the vision of justice for all, love one another and walk with me to build a community where all God’s people are cared for and loved. While many are unsure of this belief, yet so many live this message.
As we gather the greatest gift by which we can remember what Jesus of Nazareth experienced perhaps we can best live by his message and follow what he did for others in our lives and experience.
The gospel message of the resurrection begins with fear, confusion and amazement. The women go to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus and they find the stone rolled away and the body gone. Figures appear to them and they are terrified. A message is delivered - 'Why do you look for the living among the dead' - but it makes no sense. They don't know what to think or believe.
The twelve disciples lock themselves away. Till this point they have felt all sorts of things – embarrassment and regret at their cowardice; guilt at their betrayals and denials; relief, that at last it is all over. The great hopes that they had placed in Jesus are now extinguished; nailed to the cross and done away with forever.
But the strange events of the night, and a realisation which dawns with the new day, is altogether more disturbing. It is only just beginning. And the meaning itself is not clear or obvious. The Risen Jesus is either not seen at all, or seen and not recognised.
He is both the same person – the one who was crucified; and a different person, alive with a new and more challenging and more available sort of life. Going back to how things were is not an option. And it is very frightening. His risen presence is beyond them - the first message of Easter, delivered from the empty tomb is this: 'He is not here. He is risen.' - and beside them – they encounter him in the garden, on the road, and by the beach. Even as he leaves to go ‘home’, he says that he will always be with them.
What does this mean for us, his followers today? Well, it means that we must look for Jesus not just where he has been, and not just in what is familiar, but beyond ourselves, and beyond our present understandings. He is going before us, and we will now find him in ways that challenge and disturb. And in all this we must be his witnesses.
This is the Easter message. Look for Jesus. Embrace his message. Tell his story. Let his new and radical availability change your life and change the world. No wonder the first disciples were frightened and confused. No wonder Mary Magdalene clung onto Jesus. They had an enormous job to do: to witness to the Risen Christ. No wonder we are fearful when we consider that we are charged with the same responsibility today.
But when the disciples did see him and recognise him, fear gave way to joy, and in the power of the Spirit that joy has spread throughout the world. We are the inheritors.
Let me conclude with the prayer from John Donne:
Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening into the house and gate of heaven: to enter into the gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling light, no noise or silence, but one equal possession; no ends or beginnings, but one equal eternity, in the habitations of thy glory and dominion, world without end. Amen
So, may the amazing joy of Easter be with you, and may we rise up to tell the story of our amazing God. Our world needs this message of Good News and it equally needs us to supply the mans by which it will be experienced in our own time and place.
+ Stephen Abbot