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Delight, and my fish stew

24 March 2016

The resurrection is a game-changer, writes Stephen Cottrell


Something for the stew: The Miraculous Draught of Fishes by Jean Baptiste Jouvenet (1644-1717)

Something for the stew: The Miraculous Draught of Fishes by Jean Baptiste Jouvenet (1644-1717)

I WAKE up in a world where Christ has risen. That means I wake up in a world where sin, decay, corruptibility, and death do not have the last word. They are still all around me, and they appear to be Lord. But the presence of the risen Christ means that they are defeated. My destiny, and the destiny of all creation, is being gathered into the new creation of which, to borrow Tom Wright’s phrase, the “incorruptible physicality” of the resurrection body of Jesus Christ is the first piece.

This changes everything. First of all, it means that I cannot view sin, decay, corruptibility, and death in the same way, ever again. I no longer need to fear them.

More than that, I have already passed through them, and beyond them. The baptismal promises I reaffirm at Easter, which is itself the great festival of initiation into the Church, is the declaration that, through my baptism, I have already died and risen with Christ. Therefore, although my earthly body will decline, and although I will still fall foul of the snares of sin, and although I will one day die, all this happens in the knowledge that I will also be reclothed. My death and dying have been shared by Jesus Christ, and are the necessary journey that I — along with the whole creation — must make.

And even when I sin, and even though it causes the same harm as before, and should elicit the same remorse, I also know that I am forgiven, that sin does not define me, that my truest identity and surest humanity are defined by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This is where my humanity leads me: forwards to the new creation, and, here and now, the resurrection life.

And perhaps it is this knowledge of my forgiveness that changes my life here and now more than anything else. The resurrection of Jesus Christ makes me more merciful, more ready to go the second mile, and more concerned to share the goodness and beauty of God that I see in Christ. I discover what God has done in Jesus, and I discover what my own humanity could be.

It also changes my relationship with the world. I love it more than ever. I know that it, too, will be redeemed. Sometimes Christianity has been accused of promising heaven while disregarding the earth. The opposite should be true: the earth and all that is in it, and life itself, are the ingredients of heaven. They are not things we leave behind, but things to be transformed. Just as I cherish and care for the onions, garlic, tomatoes, parsley, and cod that will make the fish stew I am planning for supper, so I cherish the earth.

Even more disquieting, the promise of heaven has sometimes been used as an excuse for ignoring injustice and exploitation. Everything will be all right later, in heaven, is the empty promise sometimes made to the oppressed. The resurrection changes this. I see the Risen Christ, and I am enlisted in his programme of transformation. I, too, am called to roll away stones, break down barriers, wipe away tears, and raise the dead to life.

THIS new life and new hope breaks out not just once a year on Easter Day, but every day. Every day I can be transformed by God, and every day God’s new life can be renewed in me, changing me and making me more like Christ.

But it is especially focused on Sundays, when I join with that rag-tag, barmy-army, muddled, broken, and “being transformed” gathering of every tribe and nation which is the people of God, the community of the resurrection, those who are being redeemed and renovated by Christ as we gather around the Lord’s Table on the Lord’s Day, and feast on his risen life.

For every Sunday is resurrection day; and every eucharist is manna from heaven, rations for the journey, and a foretaste of the banquet at the journey’s end.

In the resurrection, God’s future comes rushing into our present. This is not just to calm our fears, though it is welcome reassurance in a world of so much horror, but to strengthen our resolve to work now for the heaven on earth that will be our future.

On that first Easter Day, standing in the dawning brightness of a new beginning, thinking all was lost, when actually all was about to be found, Mary Magdalene mistook Jesus for the gardener. Actually, she was right — he is the gardener; the new Adam, tending a new creation.

I wake up in a world where Christ is risen, and I am beginning again. I am part of this new creation. There is a smile on my face, a joy in my heart, and a spring in my step. Trees are coming into blossom. Dead seeds are rising. Even from the place where the nails were hammered into the wood, flowers are blooming. Behold, says the Lord, I am making all things new.

The Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell is the Bishop of Chelmsford, and the author of several books on evangelism, catechesis, and spirituality, including The Things He Said: The story of the first Easter Day.

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