The Lord is Risen – He is risen indeed, Alleluia! In these strange times, the message of Easter seems more powerful than ever
Good morning, and a very happy Easter to you.
“The Lord is Risen!”, we say to each other today – and I can almost hear many of you responding, “He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!”
Well – the ‘earthquake’ account of Jesus’ resurrection, that we’ve just heard read to us, is the most robustly dramatic of all the accounts! Luke in his Gospel records the first Easter as a meal on Sunday evening with the risen Christ; and later, in Acts, Luke tells the story of how ‘God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.’ John has the resurrected Jesus encountering Mary Magdalene in the garden. Mark has the disciples awed and afraid as they are told that Jesus is going before them to Galilee. But for Matthew: “Suddenly there was a violent earthquake, because an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and approached [the tomb]. He rolled back the stone and was sitting on it” (Matt. 28:2). For Matthew, the first Easter is an almighty earthquake!
The way Matthew tells it, the resurrection of Jesus is an earthquake that shook the whole world. It got everyone’s attention. At Easter, Matthew is telling us, God did all he could to ‘move’ the world. And the earth shook. You don’t explain that. You experience it. It goes right through you.
An earthquake is a bit like a virus pandemic in its impact. You don’t immediately try to explain it. You experience it – shockingly. It turns things upside down.
And so it was for those followers of Jesus back 2,000 years ago. Right after Jesus yielded His spirit on the cross, His body was brought down and laid in the tomb, and those early followers thought it was the end. Shocked and devastated – that was them.
Frightened and confused, they went into defensive lockdown. Yes, I think we know that feeling, don’t we? They locked themselves behind doors, doors that only the risen from the dead was able to go through. And when they were at their lowest and most despairing, Luke tells us that the Risen Jesus stood in their midst, showering them with His peace, opening their amazed eyes to witness His new earth and new heaven come into being in their very midst.
With the present corona virus pandemic, the foundations of many areas in the lives of people have been shaken and shattered. As St. Paul wrote to the Romans: ” The whole creation is groaning in travail.” How true for these days!
Some have been asking, ‘Where is God in all this?’
God is in Jesus. God is in each person – there in the suffering, and we have focussed on that in this Holy Week. However, God is also there in Jesus’ resurrection – yes, even as our world gets turned upside down. Although the sheer scale of the destruction wrecked by the Covid 19 virus is almost impossible to imagine and the human tragedy is heart-breaking, yet, in spite of this great disruption we can see seeds of hope, and signs that the crisis may hasten the reform of aspects of the previous global order. What do I mean?
It is true that there is a sense of loss and disorientation, often of deep fatigue with all the uncertainty. But there is also a beautiful community spirit being resurrected, with thousands of neighbourly support groups and countless acts of kindness. Respect for key workers is now widely expressed after decades of indifference. People are noticeably realising that it is in their interests to work together for the common good.
Is the pandemic a time of potential conversion when we recognise, as never before, our interdependence upon each other?
My belief is that these are seeds of genuine hope -with deeper roots. What ‘deeper roots’ do I mean?
I mean the roots reach down into the very being of God, who brought about in the self-giving for us of Jesus on the cross a tectonic-plate change on a cosmic scale in the spiritual realities that hold our universe in being. The life that was given sacrificially by Jesus changed those deep-down realities so that, since then, love and graciousness, not death and destruction, always have the last word.
That is the truth worth shouting from the rooftops, even though we cannot go out much, or meet and sing about it in our churches. Jesus, who was dead, is alive, self-giving love is victorious – and that is the dependable reality in which all our lives and deaths find their meaning and their hope.
Matthew gives us an earthquake, and we currently live with a pandemic. Both are devastating, and it would be an afront to the many who suffer to offer a glib explanation.
Let us, if I may suggest, rather than dabbling in triumphalist superficiality, allow ourselves to be drawn deeper into the dependable reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Hear the ancient words spoken in the darkness of last night, Holy Saturday, before the light dawned:
“This is the night when Jesus Christ
Broke the chains of death
And rose triumphant from the grave.
The power of this holy night
Dispels all evil, washes guilt away,
Restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy.
Night truly blessed when heaven is wedded to earth
And man is reconciled with God!”
As we continue, still confined to our homes, let us do so with the hope of the light of Christ ever before us, in heart and mind, bringing light to the darkness.
Last night’s prayer of thanksgiving, exulting before God, for resurrection from devastation, can also be our prayer:
Accept this Easter candle,
A flame divided but undimmed,
A pillar of fire that glows to the honour of God.
Let it mingle with the lights of heaven
And continue bravely burning
To dispel the darkness of this night!
May the Morning Star which never sets find this flame still burning.
Christ, that Morning Star who came back from the dead,
And shed his peaceful light on all humankind,
Your son who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen.”
“The Lord is Risen,
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!”