Sunday, April 04, 2010

Easter Sunday : Don't Skip Forward

In 1439, something happened that changed the world forever: a German goldsmith and printer, Johannes Gutenberg, invented the moveable type printing press.

A hundred years later, in England in 1539, King Henry VIII had a Bible, printed in the English language, placed in every church in his kingdom. Known as the Great Bible for their size, they were chained in a prominent position in the church, so that anyone who could read could come in and have access to the word of God. For those who couldn’t read, the vicar was supposed to read from the Bible each morning and evening. The Bibles were chained, as a security measure: they had significant monetary value; and even greater theological value - there were those who did not believe that the Bible should be translated into English...

But books were not yet household items. In 1611, King James had a Bible produced. Printing had moved on. Bibles could be mass-produced, small enough and affordable enough for the home. The King James Version was so influential, it is still printed and widely available today, four hundred years later.

Bibles have become smaller and cheaper ever since.

And as a result, it is almost impossible for us to see, to hear, to enter-into, the resurrection.

You see, we don’t come to the events of the first Easter in its time, days after the crucifixion. We skip forward – just a few pages; it’s hardly cheating – and look back on Jesus’ resurrection in the light cast on that event by years of deep theological reflection on the significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We look on what took place through the filter of Paul’s reflections, some thirty years later; Peter’s reflections, again, some thirty years after the event; and an elderly John’s reflections, some sixty years after he stepped into the empty tomb...

And these things are all important, these reflections are true. But in throwing light on the resurrection, they also blind us to the event. They blind us to the experience of the disciples, meeting the resurrected Jesus in strange and disturbing encounters they have not yet looked back on.

Instead, we are (too often) forced to celebrate Easter, in all its fullness, in one day. And in so doing – by insisting on uniform, triumphant celebration - we violate those among us who are in the middle of great loss, and who just need to encounter the risen Lord in that place, nothing more, nothing less.

The family who, since last Easter, have gathered at a funeral to say their last goodbyes...The couple who, since last Easter, have finally given up hope of having children...The person whose marriage has, since last Easter, ended in divorce...The child who, since last Easter, has moved schools and left all her friends behind...

Don’t get me wrong: we ought to celebrate. But sometimes we celebrate through our tears, with questions unanswered (indeed, encountering the risen Jesus can raise more questions than answers). And though we can meet the risen Jesus anywhere, perhaps until we have met him in the place where our hope has died, we cannot meet him anywhere...

In her wisdom, and led by the Holy Spirit, the Church decided that Easter deserves to be not a day but a season – a season that lasts for seven Sundays. To ‘do’ Easter in a day, and then move on again, is to not grasp its significance at all. But Easter as a season gives us space to look back, to reflect deeply, with Paul and Peter and a much-older-than-he-was-then John...and space to not have to begin there, but to let the reality of the resurrection gradually dawn on us, its incomparable consequences grow in us over time.

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