On Good Friday morning, after the Stations of the Cross in the Cathedral, I had an encounter with a lady who had come to the Cathedral to protest, which is of course her right. She was anxious about a number of things in the Church, one of which was sexual abuse.
In the course of our conversation, which was mutually respectful, I mentioned the Resurrection. She asked me, “Do you actually believe that?”, and I said in reply, “If I didn’t believe that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, I wouldn’t be speaking to you here now”. And I can say the same to you here, whoever you are: “I certainly wouldn’t be standing here preaching if I didn’t believe that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead”
Christianity stands or falls on this claim. St Paul said it long ago: if Christ is not raised from the dead, then we are the most pathetic mob of all (cf 1 Cor 15:12-19). But if Christ is raised from the dead, as we believe he is, then God has entrusted to us – for all our weaknesses, for all our wounds – the key that opens every door, the door of life and the door of death.
Don’t ask me about the details of what exactly happened and how: I don’t know. The stories that we have in the Gospels, one of which we’ve just heard, are strange stories full of gaps and silences. They’re absolutely not the kind of stories you’d write if it was merely propaganda, a load of rubbish, a great big lie dressed up as truth.
These strange Easter stories are full of gaps and silences because the people who encountered the Risen Christ didn’t expect it and didn’t know what to make of it. Who can blame them for that? They had seen him die an atrocious death on the cross; and when he died it seemed to be a full stop. They also saw his mangled dead body placed in a tomb. They saw a big stone rolled against the entrance to the tomb and sealed; again that seemed like a cosmic full stop. Not surprisingly, they thought it was the end; they thought the whole show had collapsed, leaving only disaster, devastation, death. They certainly weren’t sitting around saying, “I wonder when he’s going to rise?”
But then, undeniably, three days later we say, they met him or he met them. They didn’t know what to make of it. At first they thought he was a ghost; but then he had a body, but a body of a different kind. He’d entered into some other dimension that they couldn’t understand or explain. He could walk through locked doors, and yet they could touch him. They saw him eat a piece of fish: he was a body. This was no ghost, and eventually what they said was he was raised from the dead by the power of God’s love, the only power stronger than death – death understood as the masterstroke of evil, the coup de grâce of sin.
They came to see too that the Resurrection of Jesus wasn’t just about him. True, it happened to him, but it was also an experience of a new dimension of life offered to every human being. In fact it was offered to the whole creation which as St Paul says, groans in a great act of giving birth, (cf Rom 8:19-21), a birth into the new dimension of Easter. So we say that Jesus Christ is not the only one born from the dead. He is the first born of many brothers and sisters.
You come here today, I presume, searching for that experience which we call ‘resurrection’. It’s not just pie-in-the-sky; it’s not escapist fantasy. It’s an experience of newness, here and now, that will come to its fullness beyond death but which begins here. That experience we call Christianity. Christianity is no mere conventional religion. It is first and foremost an experience of a new dimension of life, the experience of light born out of darkness, of a life that is bigger than death. I put my faith in that truth. I believe that Jesus Christ is raised from the dead and, with the whole Church, I announce it to the world on this Easter morning.
The same lady said to me later in our conversation, “If there is a God, why does he allow so much evil to happen?” It’s true: the list of horrors could cover fill the walls of the cathedral. Why does God allow so much evil to happen? Why doesn’t he just step in and say stop, as he could? All I could say to her was, “I don’t know. I can’t give you a pat answer to the great question of the mystery of evil with which we all grapple”. But what I do know is this: that there is no evil, even the most horrendous evil like the death of Jesus, from which God cannot and does not draw good. There is no wound, however horrendous, that cannot become a fountain. On the hill of Calvary, all the sorrow, all the wounds and all the wickedness of the world are gathered up in the cross of Jesus. All the tears of the world – past, present and future – are gathered up on the dark mountain. In raising Jesus from the dead, God turns all of that into something else. Out of that death there comes life, and God is the only one who can do it. We try and we fail. But God does it and that’s what we announce to the world today.
It’s not that we deny anything; it’s not that we turn away from evil and the horrors of the world. All the chaos of the Middle East now; Christians being slaughtered because they put their faith in Christ: we don’t run away from any of that. Instead we bring it in here today, and we say to God, “Do what you did when you raised Jesus from the dead. Draw life out of all this death”. These words rise from a hope that is genuine, not cosmetic, a hope grounded on fact, not fantasy.
After I had spoken with the lady at the Cathedral, I came across words of Pope Francis which acquired a strange power because her words were ringing in my heart. So I offer you these words of the Pope on this Easter morning. He says this:
Christ’s Resurrection is not an event of the past. It contains a vital power which has permeated this world. Where all seems to be dead, signs of the Resurrection suddenly spring up. It is an irresistible force. Often it seems that God doesn’t exist. All around us we see persistent injustice, evil, indifference, cruelty, but it’s also true that in the midst of darkness something new always springs to life and sooner or later it produces fruit. On razed land life breaks through stubbornly and invincibly. However dark things are, goodness always re-emerges and spreads. Each day in our world beauty is born anew. It rises transformed through the storms of history. Values always tend to re-appear under new guises, and human beings have arisen time after time from situations that seemed hopeless. Such is the power of Christ’s Resurrection, which everywhere calls forth seeds of a new world, even if they are cut back they grow again. For the Resurrection is already secretly woven into the fabric of this history. Jesus did not rise in vain (Evangelii Gaudium, 276, 278).
Brothers and sisters, Easter isn’t just a day nor is it just a Holy Week. Easter isn’t “back there in the past”, something to remember perhaps, but long gone. As the Pope says, Easter is always and everywhere – and that’s because the Risen Lord is everywhere. The only question is, Have you and I got the eye that sees him? He’s there – that’s not the question. The question is whether we have the Easter eye, the eye that can actually see him, even at the heart of darkness?
Through the fifty days of the Easter festival, from today until Pentecost Sunday, may each of us and all of us together become a people who more and more see what’s truly there, the One who is always and everywhere. “This is the day that the Lord has made; we rejoice and are glad”: that has been our song this morning. We say too, This is the hope that the Lord has made; we rejoice and are glad. Amen.
Most Rev Mark Coleridge
Archbishop of Brisbane
April 5, 2015