Easter Sunday 2011

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Easter Sunday, 2011

In the four different accounts of the events of Easter Sunday morning, there are a number of differences which at first sight seem difficult to reconcile. But of course, there are many details which are the same. All the accounts tell us that the story began to unfold “on the first day of the week” and in the early morning, just before dawn. We know that it is a very special time of the day, and some people make a point of being out and about at that time. Little by little, the light begins to improve, and things become more visible and clear. That is what also happened on the first Easter Sunday morning.

There were a number of followers of Jesus who had the special experience early on that Sunday morning. They included the women who had followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem. That was not an insignificant gesture, as it normally would take about three days, to walk the journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. The others who were part of the early morning events were the two apostles, Peter, and the beloved disciple, whom we understand to be St. John.

Part of the recollection of St. John, as recorded in his gospel, is what he noticed when he finally went inside the empty tomb. The clothing which Jesus had discarded was not left there lying in a heap, as if someone left in a hurry. There on its own, was what we today would probably speak of as a handkerchief, neatly folded and lying in the space apart from the other items. The small cloth had originally been used to cover the eyes of Jesus as part of the burial process, but the disciple noticed it folded neatly on its own.

There are those who suggest that the experience of the beloved disciple is our experience as well. He is there representing each of us. Unlike Mary Magdalene, Peter and later on Thomas as well, we do not actually see, or feel, or touch the risen Lord, and yet we too believe.

We can see the emptiness and absence, not as a loss, but, in the light of scripture as evidence, in a mysterious way of the power of God to bring life out of death, and to call back into life, as St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans, “things that are not.” What was first glimpsed in the semi-darkness, early on the first day of the week, is now plainly to be seen by all, with the eyes of faith. The Lord is raised, the world is changed, and the life of each of each and every believer is altered for good.

The greatest mark of Christianity is actually hope – if we are not hopeful, then we are not truly Christian. Not only is that the gift that comes to us, but it is also our great gift to the world. If we have understood properly the message of Easter, a story which has taken three days to tell, then we will realise that, with the grace of God, there is nothing, absolutely nothing that cannot be overcome. As St Paul says, “death has no power of Jesus any more.” (Romans  4, 6-11)

This feast is not just about the resurrection of Jesus, but also about our own resurrection. It is about the way God touches whatever is dead within us, or our family, or our Church, or our world, and brings it back to life – not the old life, but as something new.

Certainly, if this transformation is to happen, it does take time.  We need patience, we need trust, and above all, we need hope. Even the resurrection did not happen on the same day as the crucifixion – it all took a little longer than that. But if we are patient, if we trust, and if we live in hope, the God of life will act.

It is interesting to note that Jesus did not raise himself from death – he was raised up by the Father. The truth that God raised Jesus from the dead gives hope and help to those who want the miracle repeated in the midst of life. We can all catch something of the reality of the resurrection when we experience new life in the midst of hopelessness, and when we do something ourselves to make that happen.

We see it in the nurses whose loving care brings very sick people back to life. We see it, as I do, when each day near where I live, dedicated carers turn up to assist some very seriously disabled people who come to the day centre for respite and care.

For all this as well we rejoice on this Easter occasion; it is a refusal on our part, because we are Easter people, to leave anyone for dead. Because of Easter, there is hope for everyone.