Stations: Resurrection (Easter Sunday)

25033732033_99aa455ce0Christ is risen!

That’s today’s great proclamation, but in the sunrise of the first Easter, resurrection is breaking news. But now we live in the light of ancient news, it’s sometimes hard to picture what that means in a world of barrel bombs and climate change. We try to imagine everything around us changing, we write books about the Second Coming. But maybe the purest expression of life after Easter is those first few hours after two days of darkness.

For someone like Peter there’s the resurrection of hope; his last memory of Jesus was a crucifixion and a cock crowing, but with the news of an empty tomb, maybe memories of Jesus’s promise to rise again start to break through the guilt and the remorse; maybe chains of his own making start to loosen, start to break.

For others, the empty tomb is judgement, condemnation, a grenade rolled into a toxic environment, the divine sabotage of a religious machine so that we can be liberated, jubilee through the jamming of gears. For those in the path of religious dreadnought, the empty tomb might even be an underground railroad.

And then there’s the iconic moment outside the tomb: Mary, crippled by grief, lost in the mourning, hears a voice; nothing more is said, other than her name, but in two syllables hope and love, grace and the future are resurrected within her, and she turns towards the voice, every nanosecond reshaping and recreating the world entire. And yes, she’ll go on to live the rest of her life, good and bad, but here in the garden she’s reborn.

Maybe this is the Easter we need; in the deepest depths, in our darkest hours, to hear a voice whispering our name, a whisper that raises us to new life, shoots of green breaking through cracks in the pavement, a moment in which all the things we thought lost are found again, in which chains are broken and prison doors kicked open, unexpected words in a garden that hold hope and grace enough to create a future.

In the dawn of Easter morning, a voice whispers “Let there be light” again, and Jesus steps out of the tomb. And a whole new Kingdom silently explodes into life.

The other posts in this series can be found here.

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Doubting Thomas (John 20:24-29; John 11:1-16)

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Some people are doomed to be labelled for as long as they’re remembered. Ethelred will always be unready, and while Alexander will always be great, Vlad will always be an impaler. And the disciple Thomas? Always going to be the doubter.

Which isn’t entirely fair.

Here’s the deal – on the evening of that first Easter Sunday, the resurrected Jesus appears to the disciples, who are obviously overjoyed. Thing is, Thomas isn’t there – maybe he’s gone to ground, maybe he was held up somewhere, but he wasn’t there.

That’s important, because no-one was expecting a resurrection. John’s gospel tells us that Mary, Peter and John, when faced with the empty tomb, thought they’d been victims of grave robbers. It’s only when they later meet Jesus that they truly believe. So why’s Thomas the one who’s known as the doubter? He’s the victim of 2,000 years of belief in the resurrection. He was on the first wave of the clean up crew, I think we can forgive him a burst of initial scepticism.

Maybe it’s the way he expresses himself. He comes across as a bit blunt, a bit dark. A week after Easter and he’s back with the disciples, although he’s not that receptive to their good news:  “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

He’s probably not all that different from his friends in that regard, but he was doomed to be last, the eternal sceptic.

Or the eternal pessimist? He crops up earlier in John’s gospel – Jesus has been threatened with stoning and they’re laying low. However, they’ve heard that their friend Lazarus is dying. Jesus wants to go to him; the disciples don’t want to go back into the dragon’s maw. Which of the Twelve thinks they should take the risk and follow Jesus?

It’s Thomas – “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” It’s not the cheeriest expression of loyalty, but loyalty it is – he thinks he’s going to die, but he’s still willing to follow Jesus. It’s an act of downbeat bravery. And, given what happens with Lazarus, it’s interesting that the guy noted for doubting the resurrection is the catalyst for the disciples going with Jesus and thus witnessing another resurrection.

It’s also interesting to note how Thomas reacts to seeing the risen Jesus. The offer is given for him to touch the scars in Jesus’s hands and feet, but here’s the thing – there’s no evidence that he actually did. He sees Jesus, believes and cries out “My Lord and my God!” He’s really no more of a doubter than any of the others, he just wasn’t in the right place at the right time. Jesus tells him to stop doubting and to believe but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d already had ten similar conversations.

But then it’s easy to label people. One act, one trait, one mistake can become your epithet forever, and your reputation can be boiled down to one word. It’s a terrible thing and I don’t think Jesus wrote Thomas off as the eternal doubter after this. I don’t think God does that to us either. Easter, after all, is a time for new starts – for Thomas and for us.

The Resurrection and Forgiving Peter (Mark 16:1-8) – #BigRead12

There’s a moment, a very quiet moment, in Mark’s account of the resurrection, that speaks volumes. It’s Easter Sunday, and a group of women, including Jesus’s mom and Mary Magdalene, have made their way to the tomb. The rest of the story is so well known we take it for granted – the tomb is empty, Jesus is risen. But here’s the bit that jumped out at me when I reread the passage:

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

Wait a minute – why the distinction here? Peter is a disciple; heck, he’s the leader of the disciples. He’s the one who first confessed that Jesus was the Messiah and, as a result, became the guy on which the early church would be built. Peter’s a disciple.

But then Peter was the one who, rather than just running away, actually denied knowing Jesus three times. There Jesus is, on trial for his life, and one of his best friends is outside telling a kid he’s never heard of this alleged Messiah from Galilee.

Now, we can… Well, maybe not excuse this, but we can understand that people are capable of crumpling under pressure and panic. For all his boasts, Peter couldn’t handle the fear and confusion Jesus’s arrest and, frankly, the possibility that the same thing could happen to him.

What makes it worse is that Jesus prophesised this betrayal. And, on remembering that, Peter broke down and wept. It’s probably a fair bet that, right at this very moment, Peter is at the lowest point he’s ever been. The other person who betrayed Jesus ended up committing suicide – who knows what mental state Peter is in at the moment?

Well, the angel knows.

“Go and tell Peter that Jesus will see him in Galilee.”

There are two ways Peter could end up taking that message, I guess.

You could take it as a veiled threat – “You sold out Jesus and now you’re going to face the consequences.” Not Jesus’s style in any way, shape or form, but when you’re wracked with guilt, paranoia can take over. Would you want to look into the eyes of the one you betrayed? You could hear this as a message of judgement.

Or there’s another way to take it – “Come home Peter. You thought I was dead and gone and that this great adventure was over. It’s not, the gang’s going to be reunited. Come on home.”

It’s a message of hope. The women need to carry this back to Peter so he can be forgiven and healed. All the things Jesus said about him being the rock among the disciples are still true. Yes, Peter’s messed up royally, catastrophically, but his story isn’t over. Restoration is on the horizon.

And yet there’s an edge to this – the angel gives the women a message that specifically seems to over an open hand to Peter… And they don’t deliver it, not immediately: “They said nothing to anybody, because they were afraid”. In other words, Peter’s healing and restoration is potentially delayed because of the fear of other people.

There’s a message there somewhere, right?

But let’s not leave it there, because the message did get delivered. Let’s leave it on the shore of Lake Galilee, where Jesus forgives and reinstates Peter. Because that’s what Easter is all about – forgiveness, hope, restoration.

Resurrection.