Reading Luke 24.1-12
Preacher Canon Robert Titley
Younger worshippers are setting off on the Easter egg hunt round the churchyard, to see whether a sweet tooth can win out over numb fingers, a reminder (if we need it) of how hostile the weather has been and – despite the sunshine this morning – still is.
Martin Luther, father of the Reformation, once said, ‘Our Lord has written the promise of the resurrection not in books alone, but in every leaf in spring-time.’ Well, not this year. In Luther’s homeland of Germany they are calling it the ‘hundred-year winter’. Here, thousands of cattle and sheep will be found dead of cold once the snow in the North recedes, and there was a daffodil drought for Mothering Sunday. As for the economy, no-one has dared use the phrase ‘green shoots of recovery’ for over twenty years, and never less than now, when the weather itself is waging a cold war against us and may push us back into recession, as people cannot get into work, and more and more go sick, many because of seasonal affective disorder. (Mind you, recession or no, try finding a seat on a plane to Egypt, Turkey or the Canary Islands.) John Vidal, in the article which supplied me with all this meteorological gloom, says that ‘It feels that the natural order of life has been usurped and there is no prospect of warmer days.’ All of which prepares us well for the message of this wonderful day.
Because Easter falls in the spring, there is a danger that we get our Easter joy on the cheap. With signs of new life all around us – bright flowers, spring lambs, summer collections in the shops you’re actually tempted to put on – it’s understandable if thoughts turn sunnier, it’s natural to heed the advice of the song at the end of the Life ofBrian and ‘look on the bright side of life’. Until, that is, you come up back up against the old, chilly realities of life and then you put away such gullible notions. That trap is harder to fall into this year, when nothing in nature is promising resurrection, when each morning you look out of the window and ask, ‘Where is the Spring?’
On those spring days in Jerusalem around the time Jesus died, it might have reached a pleasant 15-20ºC, with flowers well into their brief blaze of glory before the scorching summer, and green wheat carpeting the fields. But it in the hearts of his friends it was the dead of winter. Some of them had let Jesus down – deserted him, denied him – so his humiliation was theirs too. But Jesus had also let them down. He was the one to redeem Israel, they thought, but he had ended up like every other would-be saviour, on the wrong end of the cold steel of the Romans. No wonder, Luke tells us, the crowds on the first Good Friday went home beating their breasts, feeling anything but good. This was no Springtime for them.
So on that morning when the women went to the tomb, it wasn’t in expectation, not to see if that promise Luther would talk about had been kept. They were seeking the dead among the dead. They wanted to offer one last act of love and give some decency to the body of Jesus. That’s all. They saw no prospect of warmer days.
What they found there was not, then, what they had hoped for, if they hoped for anything. And even when their terror turned to joy, when experience convinced them that Jesus, who they had seen die, had somehow been given back to them, when they discovered that ‘the natural order of life [had] been usurped’ in an unimaginable way, this springtime did not give them what they thought they wanted. So much was unchanged: Pontius Pilate still ran the show for his ghastly master in Rome; life was still too hard – and too short – for too many people; Peter and the others still had to live with the truth that they had failed their friend.
Yet everything had changed. They saw now that God’s resources of love and forgiveness could absorb the worst the world – or they – could do. They felt God giving them the spiritual energies of the age to come. St Paul calls it ‘a new creation’.
The good news of today is not that Jesus was raised from the dead – all I’ve just said was in the past tense – but that Jesus is alive. What does this bizarre statement mean? It means that when God raises Jesus from death to new life God says, ‘This is my life. This is how I am, always and everywhere. This is what I do.’
For the first friends of Jesus the promise of the resurrection meant divine forgiveness after their failure, and vibrant hope after the world’s refusal of God’s love. What of our time and our place? You and I need to go to those places (and most of us have them) where things are wintry and fruitless. The relationship or the job that has gone dead, that thing you cannot forgive someone for; or forgive yourself for; the pain of body or mind; the anxiety or loneliness; wherever life is stuck on Good Friday (though it does not feel good); wherever you ask, ‘Where is the spring?’
Is it there that God is at work? Is it there that you or I will find what the friends of Jesus first found – forgiveness, courage, joy? Or is all that an idle tale? Perhaps in these fifty days of Easter, perhaps in this very hour, some of us may discover. Perhaps some of us, like Peter when he leaves the empty tomb, will be ‘amazed’ at the God who brings something out of noting, who raises the dead.
John Vidal http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/mar/28/how-government-end-long-winter .
The one to redeem Israel Luke 24.21.
Seeking the dead among the dead The two men at the tomb ask them, ‘Why look for the living among the dead?’ Luke 24.5.
The spiritual energies of the age to come words from the Liturgy of Good Friday http://www.churchofengland.org/media/41156/tspashw.pdf .