Easter Sunday April 16, 2017
Did you hear about that woman in Melbourne who recently went around to her parent’s home for an unannounced visit. She found the front door open, her parent’s car missing, a half drunk cup of tea on the kitchen bench, but no parents. She rang the police, they came around, called in the forensic experts, who all spent the afternoon combing over the place, the daughter was getting ready for the worst. Then early evening the couple turn up, rather embarrassed to declare they had on a whim gone away for the weekend. And there it was on the front page of the paper and in the evening TV news. Back from the brink. The woman had the wit to announce that if she had to die at least they had chosen a nice photo of her to release to the press.
Those who wrote the gospels were acutely aware that such things can happen; mistakes and misunderstandings and occasionally deliberate deception can occur in this matter of life and death. They were acutely aware that opponents of the Jesus movement would report all nature of things – Jesus did not die, he was in a swoon, it was someone else who was there upon that wooden instrument of condemnation and death, someone may have stolen the body and started a rumour. All these things they were writing against as they created their gospels, and so they are at pains to insist – it was Jesus and he had the nail marks still in his hand, he was dead, they thrust a spear into him and he lay in a sealed tomb, and they all agree; and this is the gospel message right here – no-one had any right to expect anything like resurrection, and then on the third day people again encountered him, met him, talked with him, were fed by him.
And so the compelling, disturbing, transformative meetings with the risen Jesus began and Jesus has been a presence in human history ever since.
Michael Leunig is a person who has thought long and hard about God, life, love, suffering and hope. He has had a long fascination with Jesus and in a recent article published for Easter he traces much of his captivation with Jesus back to his father… and his earliest memory of hearing about Jesus – when his father an earnest, if untalented, handy man was building an extension onto the chook house and taking aim at a nail head let fly with an almighty swing and missing the nail smashed into his thumb. Rather than scream and yell and swear his father froze in pain, closed his eyes, held his breath and with exquisite timing and intonation that only deep passion can produce he enunciated the astonishing magic words, “Jesus wept”. Followed by a reflective silence – all this made a deep impression upon the boy Michael.
The hammer, the father, the nails, the hand, the wood, the agony and this mysterious person Jesus with his tears. All very Easter the adult Michael realizes as he gazes back upon it.
And so he had retained a lively and at times, quite critical of organized religion, approach to this most captivating of all human figures. And Leunig like you and me has come across many representations of Jesus, many versions, a lot of them fairly unappealing. Cheap mantelpiece plaster statues with the burning heart, the cold metal crucifix, the raving American evangelist Jesus, the Uniting Church Jesus who only drinks non alcoholic grape juice, the entire Hollywood Jesus selection, the hillbilly snake handler’s Jesus, the whooping gospel music Jesus and all the different ones hatched by academics and script writers trying to distinguish themselves by getting a new angle or a bold twist. All of this is to recruicify Jesus, it is the ongoing universal crucifixion that we all partake in.
Easter is about not recrucifiying Jesus but letting that resurrection power loose and us getting out of its way as it bursts the confines and seeks to flow into our sin ravaged world.
See, no-one is convinced of the resurrection of Jesus simply from an empty tomb, or a missing corpse. By an absence.
That only confuses and creates chaos according to the gospels. The life transforming conviction that Jesus is alive, that his life has broken the power of death only comes when the risen Jesus is met outside the graveyard. We carry so many dead things, lashed to our lives. Habits and ruts and routines and fears that need to be purged. A graveyard that needs to have the gates thrown wide open, the stone rolled away so we can emerge once again into the land of the living. Why persist in looking for living among the dead?
The single most powerful thing the Christian religion proclaims is resurrection – the victory of life and love over death and hate. God’s love is indestructible. It does not take away the pain and it does not protect us from tragedy, but it does promise us the power and life of Christ can never be killed off and flung into a cave and locked away. No, it will burst out.
No-one was there to see and describe the resurrection. We do not know what or how it happened. All we can do know is to try and describe what a life of resurrection looks like. And that can only be by pointing to the lives of the followers of the risen Jesus.
A story I came across recently. Some years ago, a sociologist dropped in at an African-American church in Philadelphia. When he related his experience later, the astonishment he’d felt that day was still palpable. “For an hour and a half,” he wrote, “the minister preached one line over and over. For an hour and a half, one line— “It’s Friday. But Sunday’s comin’!”
He started softly by saying, “It’s Friday; and Jesus was dead on the tree. But that was Friday, and Sunday’s comin’!” Somebody yelled, “Preach it, brother!’ It was all the encouragement he needed.
“It was Friday and Mary was cryin’ her eyes out and the disciples were runnin’ around like sheep without a shepherd. But that was Friday, and Sunday’s comin’!”
“It was Friday. The cynics were looking at the world and sayin’, ‘As things have been so shall they ever be. You can’t change anything…’ But they didn’t know that it was only Friday… and that Sunday’s comin’.”
“It was Friday, and on Friday Pilate thought he had washed his hands of a lot of trouble. The Pharisees were struttin’ around and pokin’ each other in the ribs. They thought they were back in charge. But it was Friday! And Sunday’s comin’!”
“By the time he finished,” the sociologist reports, “I was exhausted. At the end he just yelled at the top of his lungs, ‘It’s Friday!’ and all five hundred of us yelled back, ‘But Sunday’s comin’!”
Sunday is here. The day of resurrection is every day; every day when the risen Lord is released into our world and into our lives.