The moveable date of Easter certainly helps give it a fresh feel each year! This year we were still having snow in the week before Easter. Two years ago Easter Day fell at the opposite end of its range, on 23rd April. The weather was balmy in April 2011. At Easter weekend the pubs were gearing up hopefully for a season of long summer evenings. The reason I remember was the bizarre sign I saw outside a pub in Reading . It read:
“Join us for the St George’s bank holiday weekend 23 – 25 April!”
When I saw that sign I was taken aback! Had I blinked and missed Easter? Here was a stark reminder that there are people for whom Easter means nothing. Christ’s resurrection doesn’t register as the reason for the holiday. It was very salutary to be confronted with hard visible evidence of that, so plain and simple as a sign outside a pub; a board chalked up casually enough to show that this was the common sense. The erasure of Easter?
It got me thinking what difference would it make if Christ’s resurrection had been nothing more than a blink of an eye? A flicker of delusional hope in the mind’s eye of his shocked and grieving friends. Something long forgotten, erased from the record of history? To paraphrase a well-known hymn – think of a world without any Easters? It can be a good way to discover how much how we value something – imagine what life would be like if it wasn’t there any more? What would the world be like with no resurrection of Christ? What would your life be like if Christ were not raised? Would it be any different – where would the difference be?
Historically without the resurrection of Christ there would be no church community – no Christian witness, no Christian presence, no Christian message, no Christian ethic. Two thousand years on how many would even know about, let alone celebrate, a failed prophet – however inspiring his words and teaching in his day – who, having wandered the ancient countryside for a couple of years, was then executed as a heretic insurrectionist? Without the gospels and St Paul’s letters – which we would not have without the resurrection – we’d have merely a paragraph about Jesus in an ancient book read only by classical scholars.
In short, without the Resurrection Jesus is history.
But still it’s possible even for Christians to forget how vital to life and faith the resurrection is – by forget I mean – in practice – in the way we think and how we live our lives. Of course Christians know in our heads that the resurrection is there in the bible, in the creed, and it’s what Christians believe – but what does it mean to us in life?
The resurrection isn’t just an add-on to the life and work of Christ – the happy ending to an exemplary life. The resurrection is more than a happy ending. It’s the only ending that gives meaning to Christ’s work. Without the resurrection the sacrifice of Christ on the cross is a mockery; a delusional optimism about how the world works; a pointless painful drama which need never have been entered into. Much more sensible for Jesus to have disappeared back into a Palestinian village and lived a quiet life into old age. Without the resurrection Christ’s teaching of love and peace is facile idealism – nice but not what really works in this world.
You could say the resurrection is the opposite of a happy ending. It’s terrible news in fact because it’s not what’s supposed to happen! When you are dead you are dead – everyone knows that. If there were a chance of reversing death shouldn’t it go to someone whose work was still in full flow – who was needed to come back and carry on? But Jesus had failed in his work by all common-sense understandings. His movement hadn’t achieved critical mass before he was executed. He’d alienated key leaders who could have been allies to his cause. Why should Jesus be resurrected? How could God’s chosen Messiah be such a person as this? Someone who was unable or unwilling to stand up to the occupying forces; who went about with the lowly, the rejected, the inadequate characters of society? How come he is the one whom God has vindicated? How is he the light and hope of the world?
The resurrection is terrible news to those who count on a world in which power is more important than love; money more important than people; a world in which the fear of death and loss allows hearts and minds to be shaped to the will of the strong and forget the weak and vulnerable. The resurrection is terrible news – news to be buried wherever possible – to those who want the world run for their own gain and comfort regardless of the cost and suffering of others.
But the resurrection is wonderful news to those living in the hope that compassion and respect are what matters, however powerful selfishness and greed appear to be; that mercy and justice are what God is all about doing in the world. May we live in that hope and so live the resurrection that it will never be forgotten, in fact so it will be our future always.