I received a Text message from a schoolteacher, the other day. “This`ll make you smile”, it said, “I asked a little boy what happened at Easter” and he told me: “God died, because he got swallowed by a whale”!
Now, there`s something interesting going on there because in fact Jesus had quite an affinity with the story of Jonah and the whale… But of course, the little boy`s confusion does make us smile. But if we think he has issues. If we think he is a bit wide of the mark when it comes to Easter then what are we to say about Rabbits and lambs and Daffodils and chocolate eggs…..? All of which seem to be elbowing their way into our consciousness as symbols, at least, of what this time of year is supposed to be about?
Well, I`m really not sure and I`m not going to waste our time speculating about this; I simply want to begin by making the point that the surrounding culture and half-remembered assemblies and RE lessons seem to have conspired to leave most of us in the same place as that little boy: a bit confused.
The best `stab` that most folk can make of it is something along the lines of “Jesus died on Good Friday, his tomb was empty on Easter Day (we don`t know quite what happened after that) but it`s got something to do with maybe going to heaven when we die…? We hope?”.
This is better than most and at least it gets the bare facts right (or two of them at any rate… the death and the empty tomb) but it`s real significance; why Easter matters and what difference it might make in the here and now are largely I think, confined to wishful-thinking, wistfulness and speculation.
If we make any connection at all it seems to be something to do with a bit of optimism… the feeling you might easily get from a beautiful spring day; or the prospect of some more chocolate. Of course, there`s nothing wrong with that necessarily… But it doesn`t begin to resemble the earth-shattering news that is Easter Day.
I say, “Earth shattering” because that`s the very point Matthew wants to make in his account of the story that we heard a few moments ago: “After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.” (Matthew 28.1-2)
Let`s look at this more closely. Firstly, I just love the way that Angel “rolled back the stone and sat on it” ….. There`s a real sense of defiance about that! But secondly notice, ”There was a great earthquake”. THAT`S THE POINT! Something, objectively happened that day which means that nothing has been the same since. It`s got nothing to do with whether you can muster any warm feelings or optimistic thoughts. Something happened.
So, what was it? Well yes, this Jesus who died, was raised to life again. Amazing enough we might think. But we won`t begin to get the significance of this unless we look at the whole story. You see, what folk normally do (if they`re inclined to believe this resurrection stuff), is reckon that it probably adds up to a sort of proof that “well, there might be life after death…” and so on.
Now, that`s obviously important but that`s not the conclusion we`re meant to draw. That`s not what Matthew`s saying. That`s not the key to what Easter is about. No, you don`t get the real message unless you remember who Jesus is. Who they proclaimed him to be and what they killed him for. He was the Jewish Messiah… The one through whom the Lord God would put the world to rights… Just notice again how Matthew tells the story: “After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb”.
You see Matthew goes to great lengths to tell us what time it is, doesn`t he? It`s “just after the Sabbath…. as the first day of the week was dawning.” Just after the Sabbath on the first day of the week was the first day of creation. So, when we hear this, we`re meant to remember the Genesis story; the Book of beginnings… In other words, Matthew is telling us that what`s happening here is a “New Creation”. It`s the Lord God finally setting things to rights, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Let`s put it another way… All the clocks have now been re-set haven`t they? We did it last weekend. Here at St. Mary`s our friend Tim kindly re-set the Church clock for us. Now, because we wouldn`t reasonably expect him to do it at Midnight the clock was actually re-set in the early evening (and we`re very grateful). But the point is that for those few hours (around tea time) we were actually telling a different time. Anyone going by would obviously know what was going on but if they didn`t know about the `Summer Time` thing they`d have thought us a bit strange…. out of step; eccentric and so on. And that gives us a clue as to what Easter really means.
The hope we have that God will put the world to rights; the thing we call `heaven` or God`s space ….. are not things we aspire to. No, they have come out to meet us. It`s as if the clocks have been re-set. We`re objectively now in a different time-zone. Resurrection marks the arrival of new management…. Under the world`s rightful King: King Jesus. That`s what Jesus Christ means. Christ isn`t his surname… it means `King`.
The consequence is that we who are his people… are now called to live these truly eccentric lives; in a different time-zone… strengthened by his Spirit. That`s what the first Christians looked like. Like people who couldn`t tell the time… But they lived as those who had died and come to life again… Resurrection began in the here and now! Because when you live in a different time-zone you live differently; oddly…. eccentrically. The first Christians doggedly believed that it was everyone else who was out of step. And that`s as true today as it ever was.
Charming as they are, the majority of the Springtime emblems which adorn this season are merely a shadow of the earth-shattering news contained in the Easter Message. Jesus who was crucified is Risen. He is vindicated as being the one in and through whom God was `reconciling the world to himself …..` Death has been defeated; your sin has been forgiven… You can begin again. And strengthened by the Spirit of God we`re each called to announce: “New Creation. New Management. A new world with Jesus as King”.
Easter is far more than a bit of wishful-thinking, warm feelings and all the rest. It is engagement with a new way of being a world… a new way of being human… as part of a community called `Church`. God`s prototype new humanity; with a mission to live cross-shaped lives… and announcing the earth-shattering news: “The Kingdom reign of God has come and it`s time to get in step. You are Baptised. In Christ. So, re-set your watch. Because you now live in a very different time-zone”.
Alleluia. Christ is Risen!