Revd Canon Leanne Roberts - Canon Treasurer
Make no mistake: if he rose at all It was as His body; If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule reknit, The amino acids rekindle, The Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
Each soft spring recurrent;
It was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
It was as His flesh; ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes
The same valved heart
That—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then regathered
Out of enduring Might
New strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
Credulity of earlier ages:
Let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
Not a stone in a story,
But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of
Time will eclipse for each of us
The wide light of day.
And if we have an angel at the tomb,
Make it a real angel,
Weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in
The dawn light, robed in real linen
Spun on a definite loom.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
For our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
Lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed
By the miracle,
And crushed by remonstrance.
John Updike’s poem, ‘Seven Stanzas at Easter’, confronts head on our dilemma when faced with the Gospel accounts of the resurrection, and speaks particularly to our Gospel passage this morning. Updike is clear that Jesus’ resurrection was actual and real: ‘Make no mistake: if he rose at all, it was as his body’ – there is no middle ground here, it seems; either we believe in the resurrection, or we don’t.
It is less fashionable these days to proclaim this most astounding – yet fundamental – aspect of the Christian faith. We can think that we are now too clever, too sophisticated to believe in such a miracle in a literal sense. It seems to offer an unbearable offence to the modern mind.
So it’s as well to remember that this is nothing new. It was an offence to the ancient mind, too, and Paul was laughed out of the Areopagus when he preached the resurrection at Athens. They knew as well as people know today that dead men don’t rise.
And yet Luke, in his Gospel, makes it clear that Christ’s appearance to his disciples in this passage should allay any fears or doubts that Jesus’ resurrection is anything other than corporeal. The disciples’ confusion echoes our own when confronted with this reality, and Jesus’ assurance of peace is as much for us as it was for them.
And, to use Updike’s words, the picture painted here is monstrous, unbeautiful … a tortured and murdered man appearing, three days after been sealed in a tomb, with the holes from the nails and the gaping wound in his side still clearly visible.
Unlike some of the religious imagery of the resurrection, which tends to be sanitised to make it more palatable for our delicate sensibilities, the image presented to us here is somewhat macabre.
No wonder, then, that the disciples – who had shut themselves away with a memory, huddled and grieving over what might have been – were afraid and doubted what they were witnessing.
Who wouldn’t have been terrified? This was impossible. And this is the fact we are confronted with, too – we know that the dead do not come to life again in this way. The human body has its limitations.
But our limitations are not God’s. He has us in his hands. He comes among us, tells us not to be afraid, to have the confidence and conviction to know that ultimate death really has been defeated by perfect love, and that his resurrection means that nothing will ever be the same for us again.
It is not a story to trot out as a glib response to the pain of bereavement – implying that ‘everything is alright’ because of it; anyone with any experience of death, however fleeting, knowns that it is most certainly not alright, and that talk of faith and heaven can be scant comfort to those left behind.
It is gritty, and grounded, and messy; it is about confidence in the face of terrible loss, and hope in the tenderness of God’s mercy when confronted with pain and confusion.
We deprive resurrection of its power if it becomes something that we just dust off and bring out at the end of Lent with a sigh of relief because we can sing more cheery hymns – or, at least, we used to be able to – and go back to eating meat, and chocolate, and drinking wine. Nothing really changes if we simply try to manufacture a sense of joy about an historical event that isn’t grounded in our very beings, in our daily life.
The resurrection of Jesus shows us the possibility of new life, new beginnings, new chances. Jesus is saying today, tomorrow, forever, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ All things: that’s us, too. If we forget or ignore this, we are in danger of turning Easter into abstract musings on a far-away heavenly afterlife. And that’s just a story – there’s little that’s transformative in that.
As our Gospel today shows us, resurrection happens within the messiness of living. Betrayal, guilt, hurt, sickness, fear – resurrection springs from all of these things, because Jesus was raised from the dead. It speaks to our living, as well as our dying.
I think a stumbling block for us is that we somethings think we have to get things sorted, in order, first, whereas in fact it’s the other way around. It is not neat and tidy – the horror of the cross is always part of the joy of the resurrection; like Jesus, our wounds remain, but they are transformed, redeemed through the triumph of love over death.
And this is why, whatever the season, we are always Easter people; because the cycle of death and resurrection is an authentic part of the Christian life.
Our faith never guarantees that our lives will be easier, or neater; rather, it proclaims that all these things are caught up in the life of God, that each of us is invited to know that there is more than death – and there has rarely been a time when this news is more sorely needed, when witnesses to the transforming power of love are more vital in our world.
Do you believe in the resurrection? Do you believe it has changed everything – everything – and turned darkness and agony and death on its head and gives us confidence to live with joy and hope, whatever our circumstances?
Do you believe that, this Eastertide, it is not just Christ that is risen, but us, as well?
Today, and every day, he can make all things new. Alleluia!