This has been a strange Lent for all of us; not what we expected, or wanted. And many of you may feel a bit sad that you cannot be with me in our church for the Easter ceremonies. It is such a special time for us. But think of this: the first Easter saw several women coming to the tomb early in the morning, only to find it empty. Mary Magdalene remained at the empty tomb in mourning. Then Jesus appeared to her. When she went to tell the Apostles, Peter and John ran and also gazed into an empty tomb, while the others were locked away in fear of what might happen to them. That was the first Easter. They didn’t automatically believe that Jesus had risen, they just didn’t know what to think. It was only after Jesus appeared to them that they began to realize he had actually risen from the dead and who would blame them, by human thinking it was impossible. That was the first Easter.
In some ways, our Easter is a bit like that. We do believe that Jesus is risen from the dead, but like most of the Apostles, we are locked away in our homes, not sure what to think, not knowing what is coming next. I think it can be a good thing when everything changes and makes us think differently. This time has been very challenging for our faith, but I also think it has helped a lot of people in their faith, as it has made us realize how important it is to us and that it is really the only thing that makes sense of why we are here on earth in the first place.
There is an extraordinary line in St. Matthew’s account of the passion. During the trial of Jesus, because there is conflicting evidence against him which is of no use to them, the High Priest eventually asks Jesus directly: “I put you on oath by the living God to tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”
And Jesus answered:
“The words are your own. Moreover, I tell you that from this time onward you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mt 26:63-64).
In other words, Jesus says “Yes I am the Son of God.” For Jesus to make a claim like that, he must have been either a liar, insane, or he was telling the truth, because it was an extraordinary thing to say. We believe it was the truth and that is exactly who Jesus is, not just a holy man, or a prophet, but the Son of God.
From a human point of view Good Friday is the ultimate sign of despair and failure. Everything falls apart and everyone is devastated and horrified at what has just happened. There is a terrible miscarriage of justice and Jesus, the one everyone was putting their hope in, is tortured in a very savage way and killed. Even Jesus on the cross feels abandoned by God. He is not actually abandoned by God but that is how he feels and he cries out “My God, my God why have you abandoned me.” The ultimate suffering is to feel that we have been abandoned even by God. From a human point of view it couldn’t get any worse.
Then we have the silence of Holy Saturday when Jesus is in the tomb. People are in shock, numb from what has happened and not sure what to do next. And then we come to Easter Sunday, the opposite of Good Friday and the ultimate symbol of hope. The unimaginable happens and rumours start to spread that Jesus is alive. ‘But that is impossible!’ many said. Most of the disciples would not believe it initially, yet that is what happened. From a human point of view, it is impossible and naive to think such a thing could happen, but there is more than human work here. The power of God has brought about something extraordinary which no human mind can take in. This is what God has made known to us.
The reason Easter is the ultimate symbol of hope is because now the worst thing imaginable, which is death, is no longer permanent. God has opened a doorway for us to something wonderful when we die, so that we can see and be with our loved ones again. Think of the people you love who are dead. Without Easter they could not experience happiness now and neither could we when we die. So now our life has greater purpose than just what happens here and that gives us a greater hope than anything else. Now we have reason to keep going even when things are difficult. Now we are given purpose and we have a better sense of what our life is about; that is, our journey that will lead us to God if we remain open to it.
“Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last, the living one. I was dead and now I am to live forever and ever and I hold the keys of death and of the underworld.”