Think when we’re finally allowed to leave our enforced isolation – Easter is a day of being un-tombed… A Day of Resurrection!
Like many people, I’m a big fan of the Christmas Carol, “Once in Royal David’s City”. But I can’t help thinking that something has gone seriously wrong in that verse which reads- “Where like stars his children crowned- all in white shall wait around”. Again, I love the Carol but if that’s supposed to be a picture of what we have to look forward to when we die then, this picture of some kind of celestial waiting room seems a bit dull to me.
Of course, language will always let us down when trying to describe eternal things but sometimes it gets a little absurd. I’m sincerely not mocking but it reminds me of the time I conducted someone’s burial at a hillside cemetery and one of the mourners said to me in all seriousness, “Well, we chose this spot because we know he’ll enjoy the view”.
All of this comes to mind because this the sort of stuff many of us are thinking about just now. Today is Easter Day. The Jesus who was brutally murdered on Good Friday is raised from the dead and there’s much to celebrate. But I can’t help thinking that there has to be more to look forward to than some kind of waiting room or a rather pleasant view(!)
Don’t misunderstand me, as custodian of Wordsworth’s grave in Grasmere, I have nothing against daffodils and springtime and hope for better things; all of which are perfectly laudable in days like these. For all manner of good reasons our observance of Easter includes a great deal of quite understandable positive sentiment. It’s just that, as a colleague of mine often said, “It’s right… but it’s not right enough”.
What I mean is that whilst today we proclaim (and celebrate) that Jesus the Christ is Risen from the dead, many of the things we associate with this season mean that, if you were so inclined, it doesn’t really matter very much whether that’s really true or not. And it doesn’t really matter what you think happens after death either, because it’s quite possible to think of it all as rather like one of those ‘feel good’ movies with the greatest happy ending of all time. In other words, it’s little more than a story designed to give us a lift. After all, it’s all about hope, life triumphing over death, ‘we’ll meet again’ and all that.
This is the kind of ‘fix’ any sincere person can derive from this time of year. The more religious take particular comfort from Jesus’s resurrection, which seems to imply that, there is life after death. In other words, whilst none of us are sure about the details, it lifts morale and reinforced with a bit of spring-time optimism, we can go back to how things were before. “Wasn’t that nice?” we might say.
I may be exaggerating for effect but I just keep thinking that something is missing. Nice sentiments… sure. But a bit flat. No, as someone said… “This is the day when we’re brought out of our tombs”.
Because the Gospel writers don’t say “Jesus is risen- so there’s life after death’. Nor do they say: ‘Jesus is risen, so we’re all off to heaven’ with added speculation about what kind of view we might get(!) No, what they say is: “Jesus is Risen. So, he IS who he claims to be. He is the Messiah, the Lord, or King of the World if you wish.
And they say, all of this means that God’s new creation has begun and as Bishop Tom Wright puts it… ‘We all have a job to do’. We are now the heralds. The ones who are called to tell the world who Jesus is, what God has done and work to bring in his Kingdom- his reign in the hearts and lives of all. I don’t know about you- but I find that far more engaging than the heavenly waiting room or a grave with a view.
So, I suppose the question before us is whether we prefer the somewhat mythical Jesus who comes back to life just to reassure us. The one who comes to give us a rather ill-defined, sentimental, reassuring, daffodils, springtime, feel-good kind of Easter- with a gentle suggestion that ‘all will be well in the end’.
Or whether you can cope with the thunderous news that as one scripture writer said: ‘Death itself has been destroyed’ and I would add, that in the here and now we have been let out of our tombs….
Let’s remember that Easter Day tells us that the Resurrection begins now. A whole new world order has been inaugurated and you and I have a part to play in answering a prayer that we say all too glibly- ‘Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’.
Think on this when we’re finally allowed to leave our enforced isolation. Easter is not a grave with a view… but a day of being un-tombed…. A Day of Resurrection!
Happy Easter, David.