Holy Week 2020

The Easter Vigil and First Mass of Easter

Matthew 28.1-10

Everybody, just about, empathises with the Festival of Christmas because you can revere a vulnerable, holy child without having to sign up for Incarnation; and it is possible to understand the judicial murder of a great teacher and healer without having to accept the doctrine of salvation; but the Resurrection leaves no room for half measures. For all kinds of reasons there were disputes in the early Church about the nature of Jesus Incarnate and for quite other reasons there was a controversy in the 16th Century Western Christian Church about - above all esoteric things - the salvific mechanics of Crucifixion; but there has been no such theological controversy over the Resurrection. Either you believe it or you don't - or at least you firmly want to believe it - and as an idea it is further beyond human language than anything else we have to deal with; so we accept Saint Paul's magnificent attempt in 1 Corinthians 15 and give him the last word.

It will not, I think, surprise anyone that I believe this is the ultimate instance of faith and the ultimate abandonment of any attempt at reducing a profound mystery to a set of theological propositions; and it is for this reason - perhaps paradoxically - that the requirements of faith need to be met by a highly personal approach to our understanding, apprehension or whatever state of mind we care to mention, as the state of mind itself can differentiate. Some people, for example, are deeply exercised over the form which the risen Jesus took but I have never given it a second thought. Some people are puzzled by the ability of Jesus to move through solid objects, to appear and disappear in the Upper Room and in the house at Emmaus, but to worry about that seems to me like worrying about what kind of paper a loaf is wrapped in when it's the quality of the bread that matters.

My focus has always been on a rather simple idea: that as Jesus kept all his other promises there is no reason at all why he should not have kept the promise of Resurrection and Ascension. For all the scholarly work on Paul's understanding of the Crucifixion, the sequence from the words of Jesus before and after his Resurrection up until 1 Corinthians 15 is, as Paul remarks himself, the one that really matters. If Christ has not risen then all of us are wasting our time.

When we are faced with a mental conundrum the simplest metaphors are usually the best. I must say that I like the dichotomy of darkness and light which we celebrate on this night as much as I dislike the dichotomy of Word and Flesh. Even in a civilisation so artificially lit - a kind of metaphor for being falsely informed - we understand the power of a small light in a dark place which, although it takes up much less volume than the darkness, has an immeasurably greater impact; we can see a tiny light through miles of darkness. But we can so easily lose the light of the risen Christ in the artificial light of our own consciousness. For just as the resurrection light frames the blackness of the cross, so the ubiquity of anthropomorphic light is always threatening the light of the risen Christ.