Easter Day

13 April 2017

PA

Final act: Les Cheveldayoff as Christ in a scene from the Passion, at the Holy Land Experience, a Christian theme park in Orlando, Florida, in 2004

Final act: Les Cheveldayoff as Christ in a scene from the Passion, at the Holy Land Experience, a Christian theme park in Orlando, Florida, in 2004

Acts 10.34-43 or Jeremiah 31.1-6; Psalm 118.1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3.1-4; John 20.1-18 or Matthew 28.1-10

 

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.

 

IN ANY poll of favourite Easter hymns, “Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son” is likely to feature prominently. Composed in French by the Swiss pastor Edmond Budry, in 1884, it is known to English-speaking worshippers in Richard Hoyle’s 1923 translation. Any setting other than Maccabaeus (“See the conquering hero comes” from Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus) would verge on unthinkable.

The art of a fine translation is distinctive and complex. On the one hand, the translator must strive to capture the sense of the original; on the other, he or she must obey the disciplines of the target language. Looked at side by side, Budry’s and Hoyle’s texts are noticeably different in emphasis, and in the way that they develop biblical images.

Budry draws on the prophetic anticipation of a Saviour (see Isaiah 25.8-9, 40.9-10, 52.1-10) in celebrating the risen Lord. Hoyle concentrates on developing the drama of the resurrection itself. Where Budry seems to draw on Matthew for a Gospel source, describing the shining angel descending to roll the stone away, Hoyle’s addition of the “folded grave clothes” is a clear reference to John (John 20.1-10).

After this, though, Matthew resumes a directing role, particularly evident in Hoyle’s affectionate and empathetic second verse:

 

Lo! Jesus meets us, risen from the tomb;

Lovingly he greets us, scatters fear and gloom;

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Let the Church with gladness, hymns of triumph sing;

For her Lord now liveth, death has lost its sting.

 

The first verse has established that Jesus has risen. The second verse turns to his encounter with the women who have come to visit the tomb. R. T. France points out the dramatic elements leading up to the meeting: the earthquake, the angel who resembled lightning, the guards so rigid with fear that they might as well have been dead (New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Matthew, Eerdmans, 2007).

Meanwhile, the absence of Jesus’s body in the open tomb is testimony that he is alive. The kindliness of the angel’s “Come, see the place where he lay” is amplified when, setting off according to his instructions to inform the disciples of developments, the women meet Jesus.

The way he greets them is significant. France translates the Greek “Chairete”, recorded by Matthew, as “Hello”. He goes on to say that it is “almost banal in its everyday familiarity”. But, of course, it is not banal; for it proclaims something enormous: “Jesus is with his friends again.”

Under these circumstances, Jesus does not immediately tell the women not to be afraid. They are too overcome with joy for fear to have any purchase. Their response is, nevertheless, more formal than his greeting, and they kneel at his feet to worship him (Matthew 28.8-9).

When Jesus does urge them not to be afraid (Matthew 28.10), the reassurance has become larger in its reference. The women are being given their first task as witnesses of the resurrection, and, while it might seem easy enough to go and report to the disciples, whom they know, perhaps things are less straightforward. Might they have hesitated to demonstrate superior knowledge to the men? Or might they have felt another kind of reticence in confronting the people who had let Jesus down?

France notes that Jesus calls the disciples “my brothers”, despite their failure. Despite the women’s anxieties, this mission will “restore the family relationship which they must surely have thought had come to an end in Gethsemane”.

Acts 10, which vividly relates the way the Roman centurion Cornelius and his household came to faith, is also continuing testimony to the restoration of Peter. Peter has learned a great deal since his betrayal of Jesus, both about himself and about God.

A great part of this learning is the realisation that those who met the risen Lord face to face hold a story too good to keep to themselves. Nor can these privileged witnesses make distinctions between Jews and Gentiles any longer, because such distinctions are refused by God (Acts 10.34).

The good news gushes out of Peter (Acts 10.36-43) and flows directly into the descent of the Holy Spirit on the new believers. We hear no more of them, or how they worked out their belief as servants of the Emperor. Paul’s guidance to the Colossian Church gives an idea of the staged development of a young Christian community, imagining themselves to be risen with Christ (Colossians 3.1-4).

The hope that he offers them finds its echo in the last verse of Hoyle’s translation:

 

No more we doubt thee, glorious Prince of Life;

Life is nought without thee; aid us in our strife;

Make us more than conquerors, through thy deathless love:

Bring us safe through Jordan to thy home above.

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