Have you heard the one about the couple who decided to go to church on Easter morning? When they got there a sign on the door said, “He is not here – he is risen”.
When I taught RE, we used ‘The Miracle Maker’ – a fantastic film of the gospel story, which the children loved watching in installments week by week. One year I had a new child in my class – who hadn’t already done 4 Easters in a church school. She watched the crucifixion scene with real horror, on the edge of her seat – and then rushed up to me saying…”It does have a happy ending doesn’t it?”
A happy ending – it is easy to see Easter morning and the resurrection as a happy ending. In churches the world over the liturgies of Holy week have helped Christians journey with Christ. We move from the triumph of Palm Sunday to the quiet meditation of the beginning of the week. To Maundy Thursday with its sense of Jesus’ approaching death, the uncomfortable beauty of foot washing, the awareness of impending betrayal. Through Good Friday when we can only kneel at the cross in awe at the depth of God’s love for us. Through the emptiness of Holy Saturday…
So ‘Alleluia – he is risen’ does seem like a happy ending to a demanding week – for the vicar if no one else!
And then there is the relief that Lent is over – and we can have chocolate, alcohol, coffee…
But of course if Easter was only a happy ending to a difficult week – we would not be here today. At Christmas we thought about incarnation and God sharing our lives…Easter shows that he shares lives in order to change them.
Jesus’ death on the cross was a demonstration of what pure love looks like. Love that will not use power because it doesn’t seek to control…love that forgives and goes on forgiving…love that gives everything including itself…love the world thought it could destroy.
Jesus’ resurrection shows the ultimate triumph of this love. But it’s not a reversal of the cross – Jesus given back to those who loved him for a bit longer – not the sort of happy ending my class used to use when they had written their hero into a corner and couldn’t work out how to rescue them…”they woke up and it was all a dream”.
No, the risen Jesus still had the scars of torture and crucifixion. This is not just a happy ending where the good guy wins and the bad guys are defeated. This is where God shows that love and surrender to God, the refusal to hate, complete forgiveness, actually defeat hatred, greed, the thirst for power…and even death. This is a happy ending that demands a new way of looking at things.
Matthew’s description of the resurrection makes it clear this is totally outside normal experience…an earthquake; an angel resembling lightning descending from heaven; an angel rolling the stone away, sitting on it and telling the women Jesus has been raised; an empty tomb…
Angels, earthquakes? This is not about human actions, but about God…God doing something entirely new. This is not a happy ending but a new beginning.
In this – and all the resurrection appearances it’s clear the risen Jesus is different – not the old Jesus – but somehow a new way of being human. Bodily human, able to eat, touch and talk with his friends, but also totally one with his Father.
Which gives us the challenge – and the possibility – of finding a new way of being human.
Jesus’ resurrection says that we can escape from what destroys life – our preoccupations with ourselves, our selfishness, our fear of difference and change, our need to control – and grow into what gives life, peace and blessing…not by any human efforts, but by God doing something entirely new.
We may well be ready for a rest after this week’s services – but there are 50 days of Easter. It is a longer season than Advent, Christmas or Lent. The resurrection is just the beginning.
We can journey faithfully through Lent and Holy Week, confront the difficult bits of our lives on Good Friday, wait with them on our minds through Holy Saturday – but if after acclaiming “Alleluia Christ is risen” we go back into our lives, hopefully more aware of our faults and failures, of Christ’s love for us – we still only have half the story.
With the disciples we have to meet the risen Christ and work out what resurrection, as well as crucifixion, looks like in our lives. Easter is a new beginning because it offers us a new way of living. Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t just say love and forgiveness won – but love and forgiveness win and can keep on winning. Resurrection shows the way God works – it’s what God does. Think of Peter almost defeated by the horror of his denial. But we have to let the risen Christ in…we have to let him change our lives as well as share them.
So back to the bad joke at the start – blame Matthew – he suggested an Easter sermon should have a joke – and the others I found were mainly about hot cross bunnies…
But perhaps it makes a point – is that sign…‘He is not here – he is risen’…misleading? The angel told the women “He is not here” because he wasn’t there – he wasn’t dead and fixed in time 2000 years ago. But the resurrection means he is here – in this church, in all churches, in all places, in all people for all time.
Resurrection – not a happy ending 2000 years ago – but a new beginning in how we live our lives now.
May Christ, who out of defeat brings new hope and a new future, fill us with his new life. Alleluia!