As I write this, the country is beginning the third week of lockdown. Our Prime Minister is in intensive care. Despite the signs of spring and promise of warmer weather a shadow hangs over us. We wonder when the darkness will go and the clouds lift. We don’t know for sure. Nonetheless, we are pretty confident that this will pass. After all, Her Majesty the Queen has said as much!
But for Mary, Peter and other disciples of Jesus, Friday’s crucifixion had signalled the end of their hopes and dreams of better times to come. The darkness that had descended over the land that afternoon was now a gloom in their hearts. This would not pass. What could they do but accept the shattering, face the stark reality of the tomb and what it contained?
However, in a story that Christians retell every year at Easter, astonishingly and against all expectations the emptiness in their hearts was confronted with an empty tomb. Initial shock and bewilderment grew into joy and new hope. The light blazed in the darkness and the darkness could not overcome it. Love conquered hatred. Life triumphed over death; yes, even it too will one day be no more.
Significantly, the resurrection of Jesus was God’s work. No human hand devised or arranged it. Nobody laboured to make it happen. Human ingenuity, perseverance, cooperation and generous giving-of-self will almost certainly get us through this present pandemic. Restrictions will ease and we will slowly emerge from our tombs of isolation. Not a resurrection, although it might seem like it after weeks of lockdown.
No. The resurrection that Christians talk of is of a different order. A new creation out of the old. A transformation that is God’s work, not ours. And importantly, the promise of resurrection for those who follow Jesus isn’t simply a matter of life after death, something to look forward to, a ‘passport-to-heaven’ kind of faith. Belief in a resurrection post-death also signals a conviction and commitment to life before death. The anticipation of resurrection carries with it a responsibility to live here and now as Jesus would want, as a sign of the realm and rule of God: to aspire to healthy relationships with others, characterised by love and kindness, honesty and integrity; to do what we can to contribute towards a more caring, fairer and just society; to be bearers of joy, hope and light in a darkened world; to be people who witness to Jesus’ love and Lordship. Perhaps we will have a renewed resolve to be that kind of Christian during and in the aftermath of this lockdown.
So, on this Easter Sunday, in these times of shadow and death, of sadness and uncertainty, may we know something also of the joy, peace, hope and love of the Lord as once again we celebrate an empty tomb and a resurrected Jesus.
“Christ is risen. Alleluia! The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!”