Luke 24 1:12 – ‘One day to change all days’
Reflection by Anne Stewart
It seems that for most of my life the claims of Easter Sunday have been one of the most debated topics in the church, and even in wider society. What actually went on in that tomb has been argued over, disputed, disbelieved, and so on. Of course, what we know is that the passage of time has not enabled any better scientific proof to come to light. Would we believe it anyway, if it did? Philosophers demand that a miracle can only be allowed the status of fact, if it can be repeated. We allow a miracle to be fact if we can squeeze it into our pre-conceived idea of what constitutes a fact. Is this another case of ideology trying to contain and control theology, perhaps? God’s self-revelation; God’s message of ‘this is who I am’ pushed to one side in favour of our message of who we are. We do like to be able to explain things though, don’t we. In many areas of life explanations are a good thing, they help us. But they can also limit us; over-explaining can be death to mystery. The search for an adequate explanation in this case, would mean that God’s story is forced to find its way on our terms, meaning that it is likely to strip the story of all wonder. This week I came across this quote from Joy Mead from the Iona community, “Resurrection is not a story to explain, it’s a story to live by.” I like that, stories do not have to be proven on our terms in order to be transformative!
Personally, I am not looking for, or needing, an explanation as to what happened in that tomb. What I love is what the story leaves us with: the idea that this God will not be contained by us and our murderous intent, and God will be with us even into and through the valley of death. These are things that bring life to me. Life where and when I might least expect it. Josh mentioned on Friday that there is nothing about Easter Sunday that can be viewed adequately without the lens of Friday. I appreciated that because I have known people so intent on the positive that the real depth of Friday is skipped over. Friday is uncomfortable and it should be! It should rattle, move, and disturb us. It reminds us of the lengths we will go to remove discomfort and those things that don’t fit into our ideas of what is right. We’re invited to dwell fully in the depths of this discomfort in order to really get what Sunday, this day, means.
Friday is not a place to stay, though, becoming stuck there with no promise of Sunday to lift us from that place, is to deny the promise of life that God is fairly clear about, throughout the story of God in the world. I find the gap between these days one of the most fascinating places. Of course, some of the fullness of the in between is gone for us because we do know that Sunday is coming, but in the course of our lives, we can find ourselves in exactly that Holy Saturday place of despair with no idea of what could possibly bring us to new life. I can only imagine that this might be where many Ukranians are finding themselves right now; lost in that in between place of despondency, with little to no hope.
So, we approach this day having journeyed from a place of great pain and loss. The very being of God has been ripped asunder by the lack of faith of the world created by God. The irony is staggering! The created order has forgotten its place and has turned on the Giver of Life. I had a curious thought the other day that pulled me into what it might have felt to live in those times. I wondered if the way in which we view some of the fringe elements in our world today, those characters who have banded together in various camp occupations and who follow their newly appointed ‘sheriffs’; what if how we see them, was similar to how Jesus and his followers were viewed in his time. It scared me a bit. But it limited my ability to dismiss them so easily as a bunch of nutters. They may very well believe that they have found their ‘Messiah’ and that their way is the new way that the rest of us aren’t yet open enough to see. What if our reactions to them make us something like the authorities in the time of Jesus? As I was wrestling with this, I was reminded of the need to apply the resurrection litmus test which we need to have nearby for such occasions. I needed to ask myself, is their way of seeing things a way that brings life to all or is it simply a reflection of their own lost-ness? Does their way reflect the Jesus way of loving as they are loved, or are they seeking to escape a world they struggle to find their way in. And that right there stopped that silly idea in its tracks – there is no room in their elevation of individual freedoms for ones Jesus stood up for and stood by for, the little, the lost, the last and the least. There is no room for a day like this, a day that changes every day because life has prevailed against death. In the protesters way there is no life for those who get in the way of their freedoms, and nothing transformative is possible when individual autonomy is the rule of play.
I’ve also been thinking a lot, about the rise in anxiety, the ease with which people justify being rude to strangers, and the general weariness that is making people short-tempered and quick to react, at present. I get it! I feel it too. But the elevated tetchiness does tell a story about where we draw our moods and the management of them, from. If we are unchanged by Easter then we will be reacting out of our humanity, and that can be a fickle and dangerous beast. If we are drawing from a deeper well, one that is fed from outside of us, where bringing fullness of life into every day, one we know to have infinite reserves, then we might have that split-second in which to temper our reactions. A split second in which to think of what a resurrected Jesus means here, and give us a moment to stop before we react and consider our perspective before we do harm. Yes, there are some idiots out there, and naming them feels good, for a moment anyway, but there are also many, many people just trying to get by in strange and uncertain times, and even those idiots are loved by God. There are things to be genuinely concerned about, unprovoked attacks by countries with big arsenals and leaders with even bigger egos, financial worries, health concerns and so on. These things point to our need for bigger reserves of patience, kindness, tolerance and a capacity big enough to help others see with a wider perspective than what might come ‘naturally’ to them. Resurrection invites us into a wider view.
I wonder if this troubling season especially, is one in which those who follow Christ are being invited to step up. To be different, to stand up and speak up in passing on the love of God, graciously but clearly. Yes, the world around us is a hurting, and therefore a hurtful place right now. The feelings of Friday are close. But in a world where we can be left feeling a little bit irrelevant and where Christians can often be dismissed as ‘child abusers’, or hypocrites, or old fuddy-duddys, we just might be in a place now where we have something to offer. We are not a voiceless irrelevancy! We have a relevant and much-needed message, one of hope, one where the fruits of the Spirit can be shown in how we love one another, how compassionate we are to those not like us. The resurrection framework gives us choices, despite how inwardly disturbed we might feel. We can choose to be brave and be kind where we are seeing unkindness, patient where others are being treated with impatience, and point to a bigger picture where fear has drawn people into an ever-decreasing world-view. There is a moment is every interaction where we can take a different course, if we choose. It’s not easy, though; most of us are hard-wired not to offend, especially those close to us. Speaking up, with grace is a learned art which I find I am much better at after the moment has passed!
If this day is to change every day, then we have to get out of our own way enough and all that we get caught up in, to let it change us. There is a saying that is apparently erroneously attributed to eighteenth-century Irish philosopher and statesman Edmund Burke, that goes “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (people) to do nothing.” There is no proof that anyone ever said exactly this, and, of course, this is not the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, but it does speak to the idea that it is not always wise to keep your counsel when you are in a place where thoughts are being expressed that are not about bringing life. I am no longer prepared, for instance, to let blatantly racist or misogynist comments swirl around me as I sit quietly fuming but outwardly unaffected. Those things are not ok! Over the years some terrible actions have been brushed aside in the name of ‘boys will be boys’ – yes, they will be, but those dismissive comments can never be allowed to excuse blatantly bad behaviour. These things are getting named now and that’s got to be progress. It’s not ok to live in a country where massive disparity exists between the healthcare on offer to some people from that offered to others, where you can be stopped and questioned by the authorities because of assumptions made about your skin colour – assumptions that are not made about those with skin colour like most of us have. As followers of Christ, we know that all people, regardless of skin colour, gender, shape, size, sexual preference etc. are made in the image of God, therefore, surely, they are all to be respected and valued. As resurrection people we know that good can come from bad, life from death, we know that every day can be different because of this day – thus can’t we have some confidence to let this hope shape us and reframe what we stand for and stand up for?
Easter Sunday is not a day to leave stuck in the past; it changes all of our days now. It is not a story of an historical event, proven or otherwise. The story of Easter is not to be explained, it is to be lived, every day. What about trying to remember every day at some point, to say to yourself, life is for living. Just one small step to remind us of what this day means for every day.