In the story that we’ve just heard there is a lot of confusion as there is in all the Easter Gospel stories. When they arrive at the tomb and meet the heavenly messengers, the women don’t know what to think, and I don’t blame them. And when the apostles hear the women’s report they think it’s nonsense, and I don’t blame them. Then when Peter goes to the tomb and finds it empty he’s amazed, and I don’t blame him. The Easter stories are full of reactions just like this and they are hardly the sort of thing you’d expect to find if these were fables constructed at a later date as some kind of propaganda. The impression rather is that here we have ordinary human beings just like you and me, pushed to the limit as they struggle to make sense of something wholly unexpected and wholly new. The problem was and still is that the resurrection doesn’t fit any of our conventional categories. In fact it blows them sky-high. Yet we can keep trying to put God’s ocean into our bottles, to distill from the deeply disconcerting facts of Easter some general and rather conventional spiritual truth which may be thought more widely palatable. But any attempt to domesticate Easter is bound to fail.
Easter is firstly about fact, not some fable or fantasy concocted by human beings. It’s about facts, which are God’s work, not ours. The first fact is the death of Jesus, understood not as the work of human beings, though seen from one angle it was that, but rather as the work of God. Jesus dies as part of God’s plan. Amazing, but true. The second fact is that Jesus was raised from the dead as the climax of God’s plan. A third fact is that the disciples encountered him as risen from the dead. An unmistakably bodily presence, not some ghost or phantasm. A bodily presence though entered now into some strange new dimension that was and is hard to explain. They didn’t expect him to rise from the dead but nor could they deny the truth of their experience. They’d seen him dead and buried but then they’d met him; seen him; heard him; touched him and even eaten with him. The obvious questions were how did this happen and what did it mean? To answer those questions the first Christians delved into the scriptures, seeking their God’s answer, to those questions. That’s why last night in the Easter Vigil here, we read the Resurrection story only after we had listened to readings from the bible that took us back to the beginning, the creation, then onto the promise made to Abraham and further still to the Exodus. The great liberation of the slaves which is the seed of biblical religion. The first Christians had to go back to the very beginning of the biblical story to understand its climax and to understand the truth of their own experience. So what does this tell us? It tells us that the Resurrection of Jesus , however unexpected, didn’t just pop out of nowhere. It’s not an isolated act of God but the climax of a plan which begins in the act of creation when in the beginning darkness comes from light, fullness comes from emptiness, order comes from chaos. That’s what God is. That’s what God does. It’s the only thing God’s good at – bringing something from nothing. The real God specialises in the impossible. What we see God do in the beginning we see him do also in bringing the baby Isaac from Sarah’s barren womb. It seemed impossible. We see him do the same thing when he brings slaves out of Egypt. It too seemed impossible yet the promise to Abraham, the promise of a life bigger than death is fulfilled only once Jesus is raised from the dead. The liberation of slaves, the promise of ultimate freedom is fulfilled only once Jesus is raised from the dead. If he remains in the tomb death will always have the last word and ultimate freedom will be no more than a mirage. The cosmos itself will be no more than a tomb. The tomb of Jesus is the darkness from which the creator draws light. It’s the barren womb from which the baby comes. It’s Egypt – the house of bondage from which slaves are set free, and all of this leads us on this day through our own darkness, our own barrenness, our own slavery, since it’s there and only there that we encounter the risen Christ.
At times the darkness of the world can be hugely disheartening as death seems so often to have the last word. At times the barrenness of the church can be no less disheartening as the old womb can seem irredeemably sterile. The slavery at work in my life can also be disheartening as I settle for Egypt and abandon all hope of coming free. Yet it is there that Jesus rises from the dead. The fact of his Resurrection becomes the promise of our Resurrection. He’s not the only one to be raised from death. He is as St Paul says the first-born from the dead, not the only-born. Is it possible then for the world to rise from darkness? Is it possible for new life to stir in the seemingly barren womb of the church? Is it possible for me or you to come forth from the Egypt which holds me and you in its grip? The answer to these questions is yes. Absolutely so! If we can open to the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. The only power stronger than death. The love of God, whose plan in all its fullness we see and celebrate on this Easter day. If we can allow Easter to define us on its terms rather than try to define Easter on our terms then a whole new world of possibility opens up before us. A world where death doesn’t have the last word. A world where, in the words of Ronald Knox, “the wall becomes a window”. Through that cosmic window comes not the little and languishing hopes that we concoct, but the grand fact-based hope which only God can give. That hope has a face and a name. The face we see is Jesus shining with the glory of Easter. The name we hear this morning is Jesus, the beginning and the end. The alpha and the omega. All time belongs to him, and all the ages. To him be glory and power through every age. Amen.
Most Rev Mark Coleridge
Archbishop of Brisbane
March 31, 2013