Psalm 133, Acts 4: 32-35, 1 John 1:1-2:2, John 20: 19-end
It’s hard to get your mind round this resurrection lark. A few weeks ago, a representative of the Meaningful Chocolate Company, who produce fairly traded Easter Eggs and Christmas chocolate, was in talks with a senior buyer of one of the big 4 supermarkets. The aim was to place more of their Easter Eggs with a copy of the Easter Story into supermarkets, but the buyer was bemused by all the talk of religion. “What has religion got to do with Easter?” he asked.
I have recently finished reading a controversial book about Jesus, called Zealot: the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan. It stirred up emotions because Aslan is neither a Christian nor a historian, and because it was launched to fame by a fabulously mis-judged interview on America’s Fox News Channel. It is an annoying book for anyone who has spent any time reading around the New Testament, full of assertions and dismissive of much that is widely accepted. He, like many, has nothing to say about resurrection: in fact, he moves straight from the crucifixion narrative (which he rewrites) to the life of the Early Church. But running through his account of Peter, James the brother of Jesus, and Paul, is a lurking admission that these people’s lives were dramatically different than they had been before, that something had transformed them into confident, outgoing advocates for the teachings of Jesus and energetic leaders of their burgeoning movement.
What was it that changed these men? What was it that Reza Aslan & many others cannot get round to naming? What is it that makes Easter special, that the supermarkets haven’t worked out yet? Resurrection. Resurrection, pure and simple.
Thomas had the same problem, but it didn’t last long. The presence of the risen Christ was sufficient for him – did he actually touch Jesus? I don’t think so – he didn’t need to put his fingers in the marks of the nails, he had all the proof he needed, and went out and lived a life of adventure and commitment to his risen Lord that took him to the banks of the Ganges. That’s how much his life was transformed by the resurrection.
You may say that there is rank idealism in the depiction of the Early Church in Jerusalem in the 4th chapter of Acts, but they had something special, they had a different way of living together, of regarding property, of interacting with the world around them, that was not motivated by dogma or creed, but by resurrection, and by love.
What the supermarkets have to learn, and what the world in general has to learn, is that Easter is the most important event in the year, not Christmas. Easter is pivotal to everything, otherwise we are just another group of people with an inspirational incarnation myth that goes nowhere. Any two-bit god in the Graeco-Roman pantheon could transform themselves into a human being, usually for their own wicked ends, and then go back to being a god again.
Only God almighty, the creator of the universe, becomes a part of his creation for love’s sake, dies at the hands of that creation, for love’s sake, rises to life again, for love’s sake, and is alive for evermore, for love’s sake. Resurrection and love go hand in hand, resurrection and love take us forward into new ways of being human. Resurrection and love open up the possibilities of living in this world with a true regard for those around us, a true motivation to meet their needs and to include them in the good things of God. Resurrection and love play out together to recreate humanity and the world: it is the best thing that ever happened to this world, and its glory is that we are included in it.
The Christ we remember in bread and wine is the Christ who hung on the cross and rose again. This celebration is a celebration of incarnation and resurrection, it is a joining of heaven and earth in a love feast: it ought to make chocolate seem quite tame.
We need to rediscover the confidence of the Early Church, the energy that filled them as they talked with joy about their risen Lord, the love that reshaped their lives into lives of service, of sharing and care. In our homes, in our workplace, in our community, we need to take that resurrection confidence into our relationships and interactions. As the children of God, loved by God through this life into everlasting life, we must live as those who rejoice in the risen Christ, are only too pleased to tell his story, and to live his life of love and service for others.
May God’s Holy Spirit, who fills us day by day, enable us all to live lives of confidence and joy, hope and delight, as we celebrate this Easter season in the full presence of the risen Christ.
Rev Peter Hart