Today – Easter day – there is only one thing to say: Christ is risen! He is truly risen!
I hope each and all of us can say it. Let’s say it! [We did].
St Paul says: ‘if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses the mouth and so is saved’ (Rom 8:9-10).
If we can say it with our lips and even just some of our heart, we are on a good way. One day we will see him, and there will be nothing else to say.
I’ve been touched over the last few days by three different people, quite unrelated, saying: ‘My faith is everything to me’, or ‘I’m so blessed to have faith’, or ‘it’s the most precious thing in my life’. These are people living real lives, with all the usual stuff. One of them has terminal cancer. And the core of this faith is what we just said: Christ is risen! Christ is truly risen!
Faith can seem a fairly marginal place to be these days. But we are very far from alone. We are with the early Christians. We are with believers throughout the centuries. We’re not alone. We are with believers throughout the world, especially today. We’re with our holy Father, Pope Francis. With the saints in heaven who see the risen Christ face to face. With Mary and the apostles. We’re with so many.
The Resurrection is not fake news!
So, let’s say it again! [We did].
Something happened in Jerusalem some almost 2000 years ago. That is fact. There was a remarkable man, a Jewish teacher, a healer, who gathered a group around him, who caused a stir in a volatile place and time. He fell foul of the Jewish authorities. He was handed over to the occupying power, and put to death in the cruellest way at their disposal. This is fact. His friends, we can imagine, were shattered and were beginning to scatter. They’d lost the very person they thought was going to put everything right. They’d backed the wrong horse. That’s documented too. But then something happened. Something detonated. Something changed. They were galvanized, energized, reunited. Christianity, let’s call it, began, or better erupted. The rest, again, is history. Christianity spread in the ancient world because, in a brutal society, it modelled a nobler way of life. Women were key in this. So was chastity. So was care of the sick and the poor. So was the readiness to bring children into the world, not to contracept or abort. So was the refusal to bow to the abusive power of the State. So was the willingness, at crunch point, to die for this faith. And this faith wasn’t – and isn’t – founded on an idea or a book or just another prophet. It was founded on the belief that something unique and unprecedented had happened, something they knew sounded crazy, but couldn’t deny: he is risen, he is truly risen. In the end, we can take it or leave it. God forces none of us. But the early Christians gave an explanation of this ‘something’. We heard it some of it today in the Gospel and the 1st reading: an empty tomb, a sequence of appearances, a release of divine energy. The Resurrection. And, to my mind the New Testament explanation remains the only one that makes sense.
And so, by God’s grace, I can say too: Christ is risen!
Yes, he is risen. And so, and so, and so… The flower unfolds. The 2nd reading is an early Christian instance: if Christ is risen, focus on him. If Christ underwent the worst we can do to each other and on the third day rose from the dead in his real, now transfigured body, then sin and evil and death can’t be the last things. Then the ashes of our loved ones are not the end of their story. Then true love is not a waste of time. Then self-sacrifice and patience and forgiveness are valid. Then ‘neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom 8:38-39).
A 20th c philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, a brilliant, complex man, with a far from simple religious history, once wrote this: “What inclines even me to believe in Christ’s resurrection? I play as it were with the thought.–If he did not rise from the dead, then he decomposed in the grave like every human being. He is dead & decomposed. In that case he is a teacher, like any other & can no longer help; & we are once more orphaned & alone. And have to make do with wisdom & speculation. It is as though we are in a hell, where we can only dream & are shut out from heaven, roofed in as it were. But if I am to be REALLY redeemed, – I need certainty – not wisdom, dreams, speculation – and this certainty is faith. And faith is faith in what my heart, my soul, needs, not my speculative intellect. For my soul, with its passions, as it were with its flesh and blood, must be redeemed, not my abstract mind. Perhaps one may say: Only love can believe the Resurrection. Or: it is love that believes the Resurrection.” Yes, without the Resurrection we are still in prison. With the Resurrection, our hearts are comforted and we are rescued (though not against our reason).
Yes, something detonated, something exploded from that empty tomb Mary, Peter and the beloved Disciple peered into. We live in a world of such noise, physical, emotional, political and so on, we might fail to hear this other explosion. We need the ears of the heart. But it is the real ‘Big Bang’. It is the victory of the love shown on the Cross. It opens a new world. It is the coming of the Kingdom of God. We’re small folk, but still precious. Perhaps we Christian believers, we the Church, might usefully think of ourselves as the fall-out of the Resurrection, or the shrapnel: not to contaminate or pollute, not to shatter or wound, but to give hope to a hurting world.
Let’s say it one more time: Christ is risen! He is truly risen! [We did].
(St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, 1 April 2018)