“This day was made by the Lord; we rejoice and are glad.” That’s from Ps 117 (118), and repeated over and over again in the Easter Octave and the Easter Season. This “day” is for us the day of the Resurrection, the first day of a new creation. And the Psalm begins and ends with a refrain: “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his love has no end.”
“His love has no end.” That, in a nutshell, is what the Resurrection says. Even if they didn’t yet put it like that, it’s what Mary Magdalen and Mary the wife of Klopas and Salome and Joanna and all the others were about to discover when they found the stone rolled away first thing on Easter morning. Even if they didn’t yet say it like that, this is what Peter and the beloved disciple after their race to the tomb would see and believe. It’s what would dawn on all those first disciples as Jesus showed himself to them, in ones and twos and fives and elevens.
“His love has no end.”
Let’s go back to basics. Love is the best of life. Both being loved and loving. I don’t mean the “treat you as a bar of chocolate” kind of love, “cupboard love”, but loyal, earthed love that really cares, that really wants what’s good for the one loved and does the lover good too, love that hangs on in there. But the trouble with love and the trouble with life is that this love does have an end: also known as death, also known as “I’m sorry, I just don’t love you anymore”, also known as “life moves on, doesn’t it?”. At this point, I am not asking you to take out your handkerchiefs, but I had a grandmother who, I’m told, loved me very much. I came across a poem she wrote for my 6th birthday. This is touching. I’m sure too her love did me good, has unconsciously stayed with me. But by the time I was seven she was dead.
Deep in our Christian mindset, quite rightly, is the belief that Christ went to the Cross out of love for us. “Greater love has no one than this but to lay down his life for his friends”. “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph 5:2), says St Paul, thinking of the Cross. “Christ loved me and gave himself up for me” (Gal 2:20). I can even believe that, at some level of his unique mind, Christ thought lovingly of each one of us at the time of his Passion. Yes. But it’s two thousand years ago. It’s in the past. Dare I say it, it looks like a love that has an end. And that won’t do. A love that ends at 3pm on a Friday two thousand years ago – let me shock you – what good is that?
This, the understatement of the year, is where the Resurrection comes in. We rightly construe Christ’s freely-chosen death on the Cross as “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”. But a sacrifice requires acceptance by Him to whom it is made, the fragrance must be welcomed. And the raising of Jesus by the Father on the third day is precisely the sign, the proof, the evidence of that acceptance. And what had Christ offered? His love. And what did the Father accept? His love. And what does the acceptance mean? It means the Father endorsed, validated, eternalised this love. The Father transformed it from “a love that has an end” to “a love that has no end”, that isn’t finite, limited, bounded, restricted, circumscribed by time or space or circumstance. Neither by sin nor death. Through the power of his Holy Spirit the Father transformed it from something confined to a particular time and place to something able to pass through the locked doors of any time and place. In the Resurrection Christ’s love passed from what “was” to what “is”. Hence the famous words of St Paul: “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor death, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus”. And we can add to Paul’s list: nor Covid nor cancer, nor politicians nor even me…
“Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his love has no end.” Really? Yes. If in the worst-case scenario, if I definitively lock my heart against this love, if at my end I refuse it any ingress, if…then I take the consequences. But I do not end the love. “If we are faithless, he remains faithful” (2 Tim 2: 13). “Every love seeks eternity”, a philosopher said. And this love has no end. No end in time. No end in its capacity, its inventiveness, its versatility, its tenderness, its power: it can transfigure the universe and change a human heart. No end imposed by outward circumstances. No end caused by my state of mind. No end imposed by anything. It is covenanted love, loyal and lasting, close and kind, exquisitiely personal, embracingly universal, light and life. It’s the love foreshadowed in the Old Testament, perfected on the Cross, endorsed and unleashed in the Resurrection. It is Jesus risen from the dead, irrevocably, irreversibly given to us.
With the Resurrection, all is “changed, changed utterly”. When Jesus leaves the tomb behind, the “day” of a new creation begins. A great landscape is thrown open. An ocean stretches out before us. Life now has different parameters. We walk, as it were, on a different ground under a different sky. The Resurrection is not the Father’s pat on the Son’s back, not mere reassurance for or wishful thinking on the part of the disciples, not something we can bracket off and still be Christian. It is an integral part of the mystery of redemption. It’s what takes the bread of Jesus’ life and death, all that he was and is, and breaks it open for the life of the world. Without it, even the Cross would be nothing but a noble, ultimately irrelevant gesture. “If Christ has not been raised”, says St Paul… But, if he has, then the fragrance of the love offered on the Cross has now been poured out for us all.
Give thanks – give thanks this Easter Sunday – give thanks to the Lord for this love of his which has no end. Now, even our love, my love – in its efforts to be Christ-like, in its clumsy, halting, fitful, weary expressions, its proneness to get “fed up” – is validated too. The Father raises us with him, says the New Testament. No crumb of genuine love need fall. None of the love we’ve each been privileged to receive and reciprocate has an end now. Even the good loves that have died can live again. If love is the best of life, if now there’s a love that has no end, if this love can live in us, then life eternal is around.
(St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, 4 April 2021)