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Readings: Easter Day

22 March 2013


Acts 10.34-43; 1 Corinthians 15.19-26; Luke 24.1-12

Lord of all life and power, who through the mighty resurrection of your Son overcame the old order of sin and death to make all things new in him: grant that we, being dead to sin and alive to you in Jesus Christ, may reign with him in glory; to whom with you and the Holy Spirit be praise and honour, glory and might, now and in all eternity. Amen.

SOME of the most powerful words in the Bible are questions; question that, if we ask them of ourselves, may take us to new depths in our knowledge of ourselves and of God.

"Why do you look for the living among the dead?" is an ironic question. On the face of it, it was a silly question, because the women were seeking not the living among the dead, but the dead among the dead. Nevertheless, Easter is a time to be faced with supremely silly questions and situations, as we navigate the unknown territory of resurrection.

For the people who had been around Jesus in Jerusalem, life was beyond belief that first Easter Day: an enormous stone rolled from a tomb; a missing body with its grave-clothes in a neat pile; men in dazzling white appearing with ridiculous messages; women instructed to bear witness to what they had seen (something they could never do in a court, having been considered gullible, unreliable witnesses ever since Eve was deceived by the serpent); men expected to believe an idle tale told by women. And that was only the beginning.

The cast of human characters in the Gospel is familiar. The named women who went to the tomb knew Jesus well; they had (shockingly in their culture) travelled with him, and provided for him financially (Luke 8.1-3). Peter was probably his closest friend. The women were perplexed and terrified - no resurrection joy for them as yet - but at least had the presence of mind to find the others, and to report what they had seen.

Peter was curious enough to go to the tomb and look, but, at that early dawn stage, did not move on from amazement. So he looked, just as Jesus had looked at him when he denied Jesus. This time, he saw not Jesus's eyes, but his absence.

Was this his turning back, his repentance, of which Jesus had spoken as the prelude to strengthening the others (Luke 22.32)? Certainly, later that day, Jesus appeared to him privately (Luke 24.34) and, within weeks, Peter was at the centre of the proclamation of the gospel (Acts 1.15, 2.14). Not only was Jesus changed by resurrection: Peter became a transformed man.

We rush to Easter joy, and rightly sing "Alleluia" with joyful hearts. Distanced from events, and knowing the end of the story, we have had time to take it all in. But, on that first early morning, nothing had prepared the women and the disciples for what they experienced, so their first reactions of fear, doubt, and perplexity are completely understandable.

At dawn, all they knew was bad news - the body was missing, and their first thoughts were far from resurrection. Even when Jesus appeared to them, in stories that we shall hear in the coming days, it was not immediately good news, because they took time to make the mental leap that resurrection required.

They had seen their friend die the most horrible death; they were in shock - today we might call it post-traumatic stress - and resurrection was not in their vocabulary.

So the empty tomb was not gospel, in its sense of "good news". To become good news, along with the emptiness there also had to be encounter with its former occupant. Their imaginations needed to be burst open by resurrection, but that was still to come. As ee cummings put it when he wrote of "unimaginable You": all this was indeed unimaginable.

They came, as dawn was breaking,
to finalise their loss,
absorb death's grim, stark meaning,
the horror of the cross.
They came, and angels told them
"Recall the words he said.
You seek the one now living,
why look among the dead?"

We dream of resurrection
yet when it comes we cling
to things known and familiar,
the boundaries they bring.
And we, who are not ready
to let our grieving go,
reject the angels' story,
hold to the loss we know. 

You interrupt our mourning,
an untrod path you pave;
for you bring resurrection
while we still seek the grave.
Our lives are wrenched wide open,
the wounds we nursed exposed;
and, like a phrase of music,
our death to life transposed.

Rosalind Brown

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