I’m preaching on Easter Sunday, and I’ve been reading the Gospel accounts of the resurrection as I pray about what to say. And I’m struck by how very disturbing those accounts are.
Here’s the thing: we’ve made Easter a day of great celebration – Jesus has conquered death, for us. And that is, indeed, worth celebrating. But...I’m not sure it is Easter.
Here’s the thing beneath the thing: since the Bible was turned into a mass-producible and portable library of books (next year is the 400th anniversary of the Authorised Version, also known as the King James Version, and translations have multiplied ever since) it has become almost impossible for us to encounter the story.
We ‘read’ the resurrection accounts in the light of later theological reflection on the implications of that event, by the writers of the New Testament letters. And those implications are wonderful. But when Jesus rose from the dead, his disciples didn’t have all that stuff worked out. They didn’t know any of it; they didn’t even realise that Jesus would be raised like that; they didn’t even recognise him.
What we see on the first Easter are several people whose hopes and dreams have died. We see a series of death places, dead spaces, spaces where their hopes and dreams lie cold: an empty tomb, a locked hiding room, the road between Jerusalem and a nearby village. And it is in these spaces that they encounter the resurrection.
John looks into the tomb from the entrance, but it is when he enters into it that he sees (not Jesus, but the place where Jesus was) and believes. Thomas is not in the locked room when Jesus appears to the disciples, and so cannot believe - he will only believe if he can put his hand into the hole in Jesus’ side (another death space). Jesus appears a week later (what do you imagine was going on in the disciples hearts and minds over those days?) and responds to Thomas’ confession of faith by saying that Thomas believed because he saw Jesus in the flesh, but blessed are those who have not seen him and yet believe (like John in the empty tomb).
So perhaps Easter is not the day to celebrate the consequences of the resurrection. Perhaps it is the day to take the brave step into the space where our hopes and dreams have died, and there to ‘see and believe’ not all-that-Jesus-has-won but simply that he ‘is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name’ (John 20:31).