Easter Day


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1 Corinthians 5.7b-8; Romans 6.9-11; 1 Corinthians 15.20-22; Doxology
Almighty God, who through thine only-begotten son Jesus Christ hast overcome death…
Colossians 3:1-7
John 20:1-10

Perhaps because we live in a world that is imperfect by virtue of our necessary freedom to love, we are less well able to deal with the perfect act of Resurrection than with the Crucifixion in which we all have a part. The liturgical cycle of Easter from the Vigil to the Ascension is as magnificent in its affirmation as the Lenten cycle is profound in its preparation but somehow it is difficult to rise to its level of supreme triumph. We say to each other: “Christ has risen! Alleluia!” but reply with the somewhat mundane: “He has risen indeed! Alleluia!” After the baby whom we know how to love and the suffering servant whom we have known how to pity comes the triumphant risen Lord and we are somehow flat footed; and that after two thousand years of tradition which has retained the reality of the Resurrection at its core as the identifying sine qua non of Christianity.

If we still find the concept of the perfection of God’s incarnation difficult to handle, imagine how the followers of Jesu must have felt. On that Easter morning they had no theology of Resurrection other than a knowledge of the enigmatic Book of Daniel and the split between the Pharisees and Sadducees on the issue. As we noted yesterday (Easter Eve), Jesus had made some statements about rising again which sound much stronger in retrospect (which, of course, is when they were written down) than they must have sounded in the heady days of fear and hope as Jesus went to his self proclaimed, prophesied fate.

Let us never forget that it was women, including Mary Magdalene who, according to all four Evangelists discovered the empty tomb and in all three Synoptic Gospels they heard news of the Resurrection from angels (Matthew 28:1-6; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-9); in John the women simply find an empty tomb and report it to the Apostles at which point there is something of a dynamic tension between the Apostle John’s youthful competitiveness with and deference for Peter. Ultimately they both go into the tomb, see the discarded grave clothes and go home puzzled.

At least we have our Anthems and other readings to counter balance this lowest key account of Easter morning. Even so both the Epistle and Collect seem reluctant quite to enter into the festive spirit. Although Paul in Colossians explains that the Resurrection means that we will appear with Christ in His glory, he cannot resist the usual temptation to refer to those sins which will exclude people from that experience; and although the Collect crisply states that the Resurrection has opened up for us the “Gate of everlasting life” it still adopts a penitent rather than an affirmative stance. Only in the Anthems from Paul do we really receive a triple blast of affirming Resurrection theology: the first links the Passover with the Resurrection; the second affirms that death and sin have been conquered; and the third describes the span from Adam to the conquest of death (cf Sixth Sunday after Trinity).

It is important that Paul’s necessary difficulties in formulating a theology of Resurrection should not obscure the utter simplicity and magnificence of what we are being told. To understand this we need to remind ourselves of two preceding events: in the Incarnation, God erupted into history and confirmed the union of the Creator and the created; in the Crucifixion God showed us that our wrong choices in exercising our freedom to love would not count against us; and in the Resurrection those two realities were transposed by, in Carl Rahner’s memorable phrase, “an irreversible promise of salvation” whereby the created will be enfolded back into the life of the Creator.

What we miss in the bewilderment and struggle of all the Resurrection accounts is a true sense of history shattered and yet perfected. Rather than “Christ is risen” and the reply: “He is risen indeed” we might try: “Christ has freed us from earth” with the reply: “He has made us sacred”, or something of the sort. Cyclical observance makes it difficult to generate a real sense of wonder and surprise but that is what we must try to do; for without this history shattering and history confirming event there is no point in coming to church at all. The Incarnation and the Crucifixion, taken separately or together, mean nothing to us without the Resurrection. They might, in some way we cannot understand, have some theological significance; but what would be the point of confirming our oneness with the Creator and our freedom to love without any hope of returning into the Creator? What would it mean to be Christians without the Resurrection?

It seems not to have occurred to the Apostles (with whom we must count Paul) that there was any significance in the life of Jesus without the Resurrection. The early writers did not have the crystalline perspective of an Aquinas or Rahner but their utter faith in Resurrection and their fearlessness in explaining it made that later clarity possible for not only did the Resurrection defy history it also put immense strain on the Apostles’ understanding of what history is. Theologians they were not but, guided by the Spirit whose coming ends the Easter cycle, they never wavered; nor, with all our theological tradition and the benefit of hindsight. Should we.

Starting Points for Sermons or Discussions:

  1. Tell the story of Easter morning from the point of view of one of the women or one of the Disciples
  2. Think of some alternative Easter greetings and responses to those customarily used.
  3. Is the Resurrection integral or incidental to the atonement?
  4. What significance is there in the difference between the Synoptic accounts of Easter Morning and that of John?
  5. Is the idea that the Resurrection is the actual conquest of death rhetorical or real?

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