Reclaiming Easter 4: Easter Sunday

(This is one post in four parts… Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.)

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Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed!

It’s a joyful bit of liturgy that’s been proclaimed this morning, that will be proclaimed this morning, all across the timezones as we move from shadow into light.

This is the day that, as the church, we need to grasp onto as if our lives depended on it. Not just our eternal lives – we do Christ as disservice if we treat him as nothing more than a business transaction, an insurance policy for our soul – but every day in the everyday.

That means living in hope, which sounds trite sometimes, especially when a pessimistic blogger types it. But this whole series has been about proclaiming Easter, reclaiming it from our power struggles and our greed, our selfishness and our prejudice. And that hope is rooted in resurrection – a one time event 2,000 years ago, sure, but also all the other resurrections that branch out of it. We’ve made ‘born again’ a label, an identifier, a tribal password, and in doing so we’ve gutted its power.

Across the world there are thousands of community gardens and youth clubs and food banks and baby groups and homeless shelters and refuges, places and spaces where the transformative power of a phrase like ‘born again’ is life, not a label.

These are corporate things, of course, but they grow out of millions of changed lives. That’s the only place it can start; Jesus and us, standing outside an empty tomb. And there’s a danger of getting too comfortable with this story, a danger of it turning into something political and legalistic rather than letting it get into our hearts and our bones, rather than seeing it as being about redemption and resuscitation and rebuilding, creativity and community and creation.

Maybe we need to spend more time trying to be more like Jesus than in trying to make other people look like the messed up Jesus of our stunted imaginations.

And that starts early in the morning, in front of a tomb that should be full but is mysteriously, miraculously empty. And that quiet voice whispers behind us; the garden bursts into bloom; life begins anew.

And we, not just Easter, are reclaimed.

The Stranger on the Road (Luke 24:13-35)

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They were walking to Emmaus, about 7 miles from Jerusalem. About 130 years earlier, this had been the site of a great battle, Jewish rebels triumphing over Greek forces. After Herod the Great died thirty years earlier, the village was burned to the ground after the inhabitants attacked a Roman garrison. Now it had been rebuilt and become home to a disciple called Cleopas, who was now trudging his way back from Jerusalem, the aftermath of the crucifixion bearing down on him.

We celebrate Easter Sunday as a glorious explosion of new life, but as he walks the road to Emmaus, Cleopas is still living in Saturday. He’s leaving Jerusalem, where within the space of a week Jesus has gone from being popular hero to an abandoned victim of conspiracy and crucifixion, all the hopes and expectations of the last three years nailed to a blood-soaked plank of wood. On the horizon is the site of a Jewish victory, yes, but that had been a long time ago and Herod had showed what happens to anyone hoping to change the world.

So when Cleopas encounters a stranger on the road, he explains the situation with a sense of loss: “We’d hoped he would be the one to redeem Israel.” With the benefit of hindsight we can smile at how Cleopas is missing the point – we know the big reveal, after all, that the stranger on the road is the resurrected Jesus. But maybe Cleopas needs this moment of unrecognition for his preconceptions and prejudices to be reconfigured.

And so, despite a long theological conversation, it’s only when the stranger breaks bread and gives thanks – a eucharistic moment that echoes the last supper – that the stranger’s identity is revealed. The Last Supper forms the basis of our communion services, speaking of Christ’s death, but this second meal is its bookend, the revelation of his resurrection.

Maybe we need to hold the revelation of Emmaus in our hearts every time we eat the bread and drink the wine, remembering not just the crucifixion but the fresh vision of Jesus granted us by his emergence from the tomb, the miracle we encounter when the Stranger on the Road turns out to be the risen Saviour.

That’s not a once-a-year moment of sacredness in the Spring. It’s every Lord’s Supper – no, it’s every day. Heaven knows I need to make resurrection a daily remembrance. As we walk with Cleopas into another week, may we meet Jesus once again, and find the Saviour in the Stranger on the Road.

Easter Sunday 2014: Gardens

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Really it’s all about gardens.

The Bible, after all starts with a garden; the great cosmic scope of the creation story zooms in on a single location, a garden planted by God to home those created in his image. But the image is marred, the garden is lost, and the rest of the Bible is about a journey to restore that primal intimacy with God.

Jump forward to the end of the Bible and Revelation’s climactic description of the new Jerusalem. Here we read of a beautiful city, but one with trees and fruit and a flowing river. It’s an image of Eden restored; the journey of the Scriptures is a return to the garden.

So it’s no surprise that the Easter story is full of gardens; they’re present even at the darkest moments. Gethsemane is the place where a choice has to be made – the place where Jesus wrestles with his mission. Both Gethsemane and Eden present a choice between human desires and God’s; Gethsemane is where the right choice is made and Eden’s curse starts to be undone: “Not my will but yours” is a powerful enough prayer on its own, but praying it in a garden is a hint of where this story is heading.

And we head there almost immediately. On the agony and blood of Calvary, a dying man asks Jesus to remember him; Jesus tells him that they’ll go into Paradise together. The word ‘Paradise’ has very specific connotations; it means ‘garden’.

So the drama of that first Easter morning is played out in another garden. Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb at the break of dawn, finding it empty. Wracked with grief and thinking that Jesus has been subjected to yet another unthinkable humiliation, she doesn’t recognise the hidden Christ.

She mistakes him for a gardener.

It’s the most profound mistake in the Bible, because God has always been a gardener. Eden and the prophesied City of God are evidence of that and through the death and resurrection of Jesus, access to those sacred gardens is restored. And so is hope and life and forgiveness.

It’s impossible to discuss Easter without talking about new life. Sometimes that’s the sudden, miraculous revival of what once was dead, but often it’s a slower resurrection, a cultivation carried out by a loving and patient Gardener. Sometimes resurrection takes longer than three days – the death of hope or love isn’t always reversed overnight. But new life is coming.

Mary didn’t get it wrong. Jesus is a gardener. He’s the Adam who got it right; the one who reopened the gates of Eden and shows us the way inside.

Happy Resurrection Day!

Easter Sunday 2013

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Sometimes I think I’ve been a Christian too long. That’s nothing to do with doubt or boredom; rather it’s the familiarity with which I approach the scandalous miracles of my faith. Christmas becomes shopping and hospitality and turkey instead of God weaving himself into history and nature and politics, his story dancing with our own.

And then that miracle of incarnation finds its fulfilment in Holy Week, the terrifying vulnerability of God on Friday, the controversies of God washing feet and getting crucified… They’re easy to take for granted now, two thousand years later, and it’s easy to forget how revolutionary and radical it all was.

And then Sunday; the tomb is empty. And despite the hints and prophecies, no-one seems to have expected what happened. We’re too used to it; it’s hard to put ourselves in the shoes of those who were there at the time, the people dealing with the pain and heartbreak and fear of current events. To them it was life, not a festival.

And we can’t just view Easter as a festival; it’s the finale of a story. We see some of this in John’s determination in reminding us that Jesus was buried and rose in a garden. The epic that started with Eden, with the Fall, with the introduction of pain and death and conflict into the human experience is resolved here, the two gardens acting as cosmic bookends. Adam falls, Jesus rises… No wonder Mary mistook him for the gardener.

Mary. There’s another controversy. The first witness to the resurrection was not only a woman, which immediately made her suspect to the power structures of the time, but a woman with a past. The story of Easter is passed on through the marginalised and broken, and not only are lives restored but they’re sanctified and made greater by the presence of God. This isn’t just compassion for the marginalised, this is taking the marginalised and making them saints.

We can’t forget this part of the story. We can’t forget any of it, or lose it amid bunnies and familiarity. This Easter, let’s pray that we’ll see the season with new eyes; let’s pray for a greater vision of resurrection.