What do we do with the bigness of resurrection?

Reflection by Anne Stewart

If you were with us on Friday you will have heard Dan talk about how difficult it can be for us to fully enter the horror and emptiness of Good Friday because we sit firmly on the other side of the full Easter event and we know Sunday is coming.  We know Sunday is coming and we know what the witnesses tell us of what they experienced that day.  So, while we might have the advantage of knowing what happens next in the story, we have the disadvantage of having to work that little bit harder to enter the story in all of its fullness.  And, perhaps more importantly, we still have some work to do to fully comprehend what an empty tomb means to us, and for us.

This resurrection event is so outside of our understandings of our world that generally we need to pull it down into our own experiences to try and get our heads around it.  By this I mean we have to find ways in which we each experience a sense of resurrection in our lives and hold on to that as a way of pointing to the reality of resurrection.  And that’s not a bad thing.  I know that for me those times, when I have felt God lift me from some trauma that has threatened to consume me, that this is a very good thing to experience and to constantly remind myself of so that I am enabled to live into this resurrected life that God offers us and invites all of us into.  But there is more going on here than just our personal experience of new life.

Easter Sunday’s events, often seem to stir up conversations around whether resurrection can or did actually happen as the stories say.  Of course, this is only ever considered according to some preconceived idea people might have of what can and can’t actually happen.   We all, despite the size of our brains, operate out of a presumptive worldview.  We presume that things can only happen according to the extent of our understanding of what is possible.  Resurrection doesn’t easily fit into a scientific framework.  Scientific enquiry needs a thing to be repeatable and have controls in order to determine the criteria within which it might be possible to prove it happened.  Can you imagine demanding that of everything in life?!  Just think, for instance, of what that would mean for the process of falling in love.  You would need another similar experience happening to one side, as a control, to prove whether the first experience was real or not.  Maybe that is how some people approach finding a life partner!!  But wouldn’t we be in danger of missing a whole lot of deep and meaningful things if we headed down that particular rabbit-hole?  If we applied a scientific approach to something so unscientific.  Proof or non-proof that something can happen under scientific criteria doesn’t stop love doing stuff!  Love’s actions don’t stand or fall on our forensic investigations with their predetermined criteria.  Surely there are things that can and should continue to baffle us and invite us to see the world and life in all it colour and creativity.  Science isn’t God!

So, what I am interested in looking at today is how the resurrection of Jesus affects us on a wider, more structural level.  While we tend to want to look for stories of new life coming out of death; of return to life after trauma, or unexpected turns of events which leave us with new possibilities, what does the resurrection of Jesus mean for us as a whole creation?  If we can get past the need for humanly explicable proof of resurrection, we might be more open to searching for the ways that resurrection plays out in our lives, but also in our world and beyond.  It’s big, this thing is part of the story of God saving the world, the universe, and bringing about the fulfilment of Creation.  The ground shifts on Easter Sunday because we are invited out of old ways that have been allowed to die and into something new.  The resurrected life that is offered to us all is something that stretches beyond my personal story and into our collective story and of course is intrinsic to The Story.  It changes everything; because the curtain was torn and Love has made a window in the skies!

God’s story with us is a story of salvation.  Through the ebbs and flows of our lives, our collective life, and our world, God works redemptively to bring new life.  God takes the wrong and brings it to rightness; God takes what is deathly end and springs life into it.  God takes our small view of our world and its possibilities and offers a new way to live by a different ordering of things.  God calls a stop to our tendencies to divide and draws us into community together. 

As Dan said on Friday, ‘this new way of ordering ourselves will call us to be: intimate and vulnerable.’  This new way of being, where God draws all things together, will be one of humility, interdependence, of being open, not closed to one another.

Resurrection offers us this window of hope into a new way and invites us to step into its possibilities.  A new ordering that cares less for our old competitive ways and more for our collective breath.  This is what I believe is meant by God’s salvific purposes.  Jesus prays that we may all be one and resurrection brings that one-ness right to our doorsteps.  God wants to save us from who and what we become when we are left to ourselves.  God wants reconciliation with God’s creation – humanity, and everything else.  This is a vision of a new heaven and a new earth. This new hope is not beyond our grasp, but we have to be ready to enter into the spirit of it and let some of our old practices die.  For the world around us to be fully part of this resurrection process we will have to let go of the scramble to have more of it for ourselves.  Hope is not a magic wand; we still have to do the hard work, make the sacrifices, let some things go in order to allow a reorder, and so on.   But resurrection hope will draw us on; it will give us what we need to keep moving and growing – by the Spirit of the Risen Christ it has its own power and dynamism.  I often wonder if God still looks at creation and declares it to be good.  Or does God ask, what have you done with it?  The Created world itself needs God’s saving hand and our cooperation in order to be back on track according to God’s purposes.  Creation was given to us to help us thrive, not just the handful of the privileged ones but everyone, all races, genders, shapes and sizes.  All created equal until wilful, disobedience (what we call sinfulness) got its divisive greedy hands in the mix.

All too often we hear Jesus’ death on the cross depicted as a substitution.  This is the idea that Jesus takes our place and dies for us.  This is often followed by the understanding that he dies for us to appease God’s wrath.  Don’t get me started with that!  But the idea of Jesus death as a substitution only, leaves us with some sort of transaction (I’ll take this if you do that…) and something that God does and we don’t have any part to play.  But instead of this, if we think of Jesus dying for us in solidarity with the suffering of all humanity since the beginning of time, then we have something that can be transformational in our lives and in our world.  This is a Jesus who willingly enters and shares in our pain.  As the theologian James Alison puts it, it’s as if he is saying, “This is how I prove my love to you: by taking you at your very lowest and worst point and saying “Yes, you do this to me, but I’m not concerned about that, let’s see whether we can’t learn a new way of being together.” [1] I think that’s what is behind Jesus saying, from the cross, ‘Father forgive them, they know not what they do.’

A new way of being together…  We talk about a new way, but do you find that you are surprised at how glued you are to the old ways?  It’s not so easy to let go of what has supported and sustained us through our years.  I can’t imagine that this has ever been any other way.  I recall my parents’ expressing despair, at times, at the new ways they saw, and shook their heads over.  It’s only reasonable that we might also worry about how the world will be for our young people.  But actually, they might be the ones who can make the changes that are needed.  But we will have to listen to them and support them by letting go of some things we have become used to and perhaps too dependent on.  We need to be listening to the dreamers, those who have caught this vision of a new way. 

Resurrection gives us hope in God’s ability to turn things around.  It keeps us trying to work with God to make things better.  It shows us what can happen when we let go and rest in, and trust, the great flow of love that spills from God into God’s creation.  I read something interesting recently around God’s interactions in our lives being not about something we have to make happen – instead it’s something we have to watch for and see and attend to.  Bono, the main songwriter for U2 echoes this in the song we heard earlier, when he cries, “Oh can’t you see what love has done?”  We have no part in making the events of Easter happen, but we are surely called to see what love has done and live into it.  ‘Love has made a window in the skies; love has rolled the stone away; love has removed all debts; love has set us free.’  Watch, and see, and attend!

[1] James Alison, Jesus the Forgiving Victim: Listening for the Unheard Voice, book 3, The Difference Jesus Makes (DOERS Publishing: 2013), essay 5, part 7.