Easter Sunday: What do you believe?
Easter means many different things to many different people. A sign of new life. The defeat of darkness. The Spring Equinox, with all the promise of new life - chicks and eggs. Or, perhaps, the single most important event of all history!
What do you believe?
Let's first review the claims made about Jesus, which we demonstrated just now in the signing of the new Pascal Candle. He is the Alpha and Omega. The Beginning and the End. He is the one who has the power to make all things new...and who promises a new heaven and a new earth. C.S. Lewis spent some time in his book, Mere Christianity, thinking about what it meant for Jesus to come and live as a human being. He wrote: “The Eternal being who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man, but (before that) a baby, and before that a foetus inside a woman’s body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug.”
Jesus, having emptied himself of his divinity, came to live among us as a human being. It’s worth remembering that. Sometimes, when we struggle to live like Jesus, it’s tempting for us to think “Well, it was easy for Jesus – he was God!”. But that is not the message of the Gospels. Jesus emptied himself of all Godly power. He became fully human, to show us what a truly full, human, life looks like. As a human being, he lived and he loved, and he gave up all that he had for others. He taught us what God was like, and offered us the chance to choose God’s way of living.
But if it wasn’t for Easter...these remarkable actions on the part of God would quite probably have gone unknown, and un-remarked by the rest of humanity. Jesus wasn’t the first man to die in a horribly painful way...and he wasn’t the last. His disciples knew that, and the historical records of the time - the Gospels - tell us that after his death they thought that the whole thing was over. They hid in an upper room - terrified.
But the fact is that Jesus shrugged off death! Taking back the Divinity he had laid aside as a human, he rose from the tomb! And what a dramatic impact that had! It transformed the lives of Jesus’ friends, and from there it transformed lives throughout the whole world.
It is sometimes said that it doesn’t really matter whether or not we believe in the Resurrection. Some people have suggested that Jesus didn’t actually rise from the dead...it was just that his presence with the disciples seemed to live on with them, after his death. Some people suggest that Jesus was only alive in the sense that any dead person is alive to us...in our memories. But I don’t think that interpretation matches the facts.
First of all, people don’t give up their own lives for a memory. We know that many - if not all - of the disciples were persecuted, hated, tried and martyred for their assertion...their absolute certainty...that Jesus had got up from the grave. They could not deny what they had seen with their own eyes...no matter how much they were threatened and beaten. Now in these days we know that people will give their lives for religious dogma - for what they’ve been brainwashed with by the mad mullahs of Al Quaida. But the sacrifice of the Disciples was something quite different. For them to have denied that they had seen Jesus rise from the dead, would have been like us having to deny that grass is green.
Secondly, if Jesus had not risen from the dead, why didn’t the Roman or Jewish authorities simply produce his body to disprove it? That would have quickly stopped the resurrection rumour in its tracks. But there was no body to produce.
As you know, probably, I’m a pretty liberal Christian. I’m happy to allow a great deal of latitude in the interpretation of all sorts of theology! But on this one issue, I am steadfast to the faith we have inherited, in the precise formula that we have inherited it. Jesus calls us to follow him, not only because he died for us...not because we feel grateful to him (although of course we should). The message of Easter is that Jesus calls us to follow him because he lives!
As one of us, Jesus not only died, but was raised from the dead and now lives with the Father. And he says that he wants to share his joy and his life with us. Jesus isn’t looking for our sympathy; he’s inviting us to get involved. He’s looking for us to join his followers in proclaiming that there is another way than the way of war and violence and hate, of greed and consumerism and poverty. And he’s inviting us, ultimately, to come home to the love of our heavenly Father. That’s why he died...to give us life, and to call us home. Not to illicit our pity.
So it does matter what we believe. If we believe that Jesus only lived in his disciples’ memories...then he died there too - when they died. And our faith is based on nothing more than a vague wishfulness - a unproveable hypothesis that maybe God exists, and maybe we have somewhere to go after we die.
If, on the other hand - as all the evidence suggests - he really rose from the dead, still lives today, and calls us to life and to heaven...then that is worth something. That is a truth worth hanging on to. That is a fact worth telling our neighbours about. That is something worth celebrating.
Alleluiah...Christ is Risen!