A happy and blessed Easter to you!
By Bishop Susan Bell
Perhaps no other time in recent memory has the church had such need of the celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord.
In N.T. Wright’s book written for our times, God and the Pandemic, he writes that the Resurrection was met by the disciples with “tears; with locked doors; and with doubt.” Mary was in tears in the garden; the disciples were fearful and behind locked doors and Thomas doubted.
Well, those seem to me like entirely reasonable ways to greet the news that someone presumed — and even confirmed — dead has risen!
Mary’s tears flowed because a real death had happened. The Easter story does not merely say that things, after looking rather unpromising on Good Friday, turned out alright after all — no need to be upset.
On the contrary, it says this is about as serious and painful as it can get. So Holy Week brings home to us once again the fact that at the very centre of the Christian story is the story of a death: a brutal, unjust, and terrible death. And that there is real grief — and very real tears because of it.
But there are also tears of recognition — of knowing and being known — as Mary recognizes the risen Jesus in the garden. These are tears of joy and renewed hope as a future which had been tragically snatched away by this real death now takes shape again — but in a different way — promising real life instead.
Then there is the fear that the unknown brings. When the dead do not stay dead, that is a fearful thing. When the powers and principalities of this world want to squash hope and destroy difference and change, that is also something to fear. The fears of the disciples hidden away behind closed doors were paralyzing. They were faced with an inexplicable reality, but a reality no less, that they had to come to terms with.
And there’s doubt. Thomas is the spokesperson for that very understandable doubt; doubt that God could do this incredible thing and Jesus could truly have risen. Thomas had to come to terms with the fact that for God nothing is impossible.
Tears, fears and doubts greeted the Resurrection.
The fact is the Resurrection has never been easy to accept. It can only be explained in human terms up to a point and after that, well, it’s a matter of faith – a matter of belief in God’s power and loving intent; a matter of knowing and trusting that God keeps God’s promises. I cannot tell you how Resurrection happened in the tomb on that first Easter day; it is indeed a holy mystery. God’s ways cannot be justified or explained at times — so great are God’s powers that we can’t understand them. But I know Jesus rose from the dead. That’s a matter of faith. And it’s legitimate to say that. Truly it is.
I may not be able to tell you how it happened, but I can tell you why it matters.
I can tell you that Peter and James and John and Mary Magdalene and all the rest of the disciples so very close to Jesus experienced a shift in their reality so profound that it changed the trajectory of their entire lives. Ever after they were “Eastered” people — as are we because of their witness.
You see, it was personal for them. They knew that Jesus had walked among them, healed them, taught them, loved them, and saw them. And they knew with a slow dawning of comprehension that he was exactly who he said he was: God’s Son. And so when he died and said it was for them, to make them right with God. That he would give his life for theirs — they knew that to be the truth too. And when he had risen from true death with the good news that his work was accomplished, that they were right with God, they were forgiven, redeemed, and set free, and that Jesus had done that not just for them but for all humankind, well, they spent the rest of their lives compelled to tell anyone and everyone about that.
As one biblical scholar said, the disciples knew what to do next because they knew the story they were in. They knew that the Messiah — the promised Messiah — had come and that Jesus was the answer to God’s promise. So, they went around preaching the good news of the proof of God’s love for the rest of their lives.
Well, we have our own tears, fears and doubts to contend with: tears for the tragedy of the real deaths during the pandemic, the fears of danger, illness and death that have been our companions this past year, and the doubt that there will be an end to the suffering induced by COVID-19. These are very real things for us.
Here’s the thing: just like the disciples, Jesus meets us in our tears, fears and doubts, and just as he breathed his peace on the disciples in the upper room and emboldened his followers to preach the gospel and live lives of selfless service, he continues to breathe his strengthening peace on us too for the same work. And we take this strength, borne of faith and we live out of it and we share it.
What I know for sure is that people like you and me — people with the knowledge of Easter and the certain hope of life with God in their hearts, reveal God’s love and action among us here and now in acts of love and mercy as Eastered people.
So, the blessings: the peace, the strength and the hope of the Risen Christ be with you now — and always.