Our Most Authentic Easter Ever?
I made the comment to someone earlier this week that I love Easter – but it’s going to be a strange one this year. I suspect I’ve not been alone in that observation. But then it got me thinking – is this Easter really as strange as we feel it is – or is the most authentic Easter any of us have ever seen?
If you’ve been following our Holy Week reflections this year you’ll know that we’ve been trying to walk in the footsteps of a disciple watching the events of the Passion story unfold for the first time. We’ve been trying to forget we know the ending of the story, and living through the highs and the lows fresh and without hindsight.
For me at least that’s a powerful part of any holy experience – not just to jump from the triumphal entry into Jerusalem to the triumphal re-entry into life of the resurrection of Easter morning – but to walk with Jesus the road of uncertainty, despair, and at the isolation from family, loved ones, and even God.
How extraordinary, and humbling, this year to have experienced Holy Week with those emotions writ large across the world. If nothing else it reenforces for us the incredible truth that we have a God who loves us so much the he gave up the riches of Heaven to walk as one of us upon this Earth. And he walked it not in a privileged way – securely and safely – but in a way that plumbed the depths of it at its worst and shied away from no hardship of the human condition.
We have a God we can look to in hard times, and times of suffering, because he has walked that road as one of us and told us something remarkable about it – it doesn’t end here.
At the end of Holy Week, after the brutality, pain, and suffering of the Passion comes the resurrection. The joy and wonder of new life, restored and resplendent. "This is not the end!", proclaims the risen Christ – beyond suffering there is healing; beyond isolation there is reunion, and even – remarkably – beyond death there is life! This is our hope, this is our message, as God’s people – not to just to one another, but to the whole world. If we place our trust in this man, this God, who has defeated death itself there is to be found an extraordinary perseverance, endurance, hope, and even joy in the face of the worst the world can throw our way. This too will pass, says Easter. It may pass like gallstones – but this too will pass.
It may seem odd to be celebrating that hope alone and in our homes instead of together in our churches; it may feel strange to express the joy and wonder quietly to just a few instead of singing it gloriously in the congregation – but the first Easter story reminds us that it was precisely in the midst of worry, confusion, and uncertainty that the resurrection took place. And when it did, it didn’t happen with fireworks, and anthems, and choirs, and parties. It happened unnoticed in a quiet garden, witnessed only, perhaps, by the birds. Jesus walked out of the tomb alone, without fanfare, in the cool of the dawn.
It was only afterwards that his friends discovered this extraordinary fact, and even then not all together, but in different places, in different ways, and at different times. On one occasion, you will remember, they were locked in a room by themselves – self-isolating, you could say, for fear of the danger that lurked outside.
When they did make the discovery their responses were just as varied – tears, joy, blindness – even doubt.
You don’t need me to write fiction to finish the journey we’ve been on this week. Here our paths, and the paths of the first disciples coincide. This year we live the Easter story in the most authentic way possible – apart from one another, isolated, locked away from the outside world, in a time of uncertainty, fear, and confusion without watching it happen, – and having to celebrate it together only later when we can.
But know this - it is as true now as it was then – even though the disciples weren’t there to see it – and even though we can’t be: Jesus Christ is risen today. And his rising is his promise, and is our hope – that this is not the end. The last words are not fear, suffering, and death – the last words are His alone – He who is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning, the end, the creator and the sustainer – and His words are the promise of tomorrow; the promise of restoration, and resurrection, and renewal; the promise of life, and peace, and joy, and - above all - love.
So let me hear you say it, sing it, shout it: Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
A voluntary for Easter day - Pachelbel's 'All Menschen mussen sterben', a chorale and 2 variations on the tune for 'At the Lamb's High Feast We Sing':