Text: John 20:1-9
We have, unwittingly, set a tempo with our current Easter celebrations that is quite contrary to the nature of the event. We have the longest of long weekends… A break… People go away… Switch off… Shift our focus from the everyday and escape into wall-to-wall footy, or family get-togethers, or a lounge-chair, chocolates and a book…
Our weekend, even if it is ‘busy’, usually lacks the sense of urgency that drives the story in the Gospels: secret plotting, finding the right moment to make the capture, money taken and then almost immediately returned, the repeated plea to “keep watch!”, a rushed trial full of movement between three courts (two of them uncomfortable and unwilling), a hastily considered trade-off for another criminal, and even a hurried crucifixion constrained by the Passover regulations and timetables, a nearby tomb procured quickly, and incomplete burial rites. It is an urgent business.
…and no less urgent on the Sunday morning, as today’s Gospel makes clear. At the first light, they run! The waiting during the Sabbath and the darkness has been an agitated waiting. They are not resting. They are disturbed. They are uncertain. They are distressed. They have been dragged—urgently—through the trauma of the previous days and they are unsettled about the “what next?”.
And…as you will know from hearing the Easter story over the years…when they are confronted by the fact and by the message—“He is risen!”—they do not calm down, or become less agitated. The urgency continues.
The implications of Jesus’ resurrection necessitate urgency.
This was not the first miracle. This was not even the first healing in which someone who had died was made alive again. But this was an event in which the worst of human injustice, oppression, hatred, and cruelty had been offered by religious and secular authorities alike, as a public statement, as an assertion of power and authority. And over and against this powerful, public statement Jesus had said, “Father, your will be done”; “Father, forgive them”; “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”. And the one who openly identified with the weak, the ill, the poor, the displaced, the outcast, the hated, the oppressed, the suffering, and the dying—the powerless—the one who openly identified himself with those who suffered the worst of sin and evil in the world—he didn’t assert power and authority, but offered himself over to the will of the Creator. He gave his life into the hands of the one who created all…in the beginning…and said, “It is good.” In the middle of the mess, of all the ugliness of sin, he handed it back to the one who said, “It is good.”
And to that, God answered with the resurrection.
And to that answer, they ran…with urgency. To that answer. To that declaration. To that new creation. To that new “it is good”.
We have developed a bit of a tradition in the Church—(and even if we don’t really ‘own’ it we will have to, at least, recognise that it is a perception held widely)—that the only time we get urgent about things is when we are facing the grave. Historically, we ‘evangelise’ (which means we ‘tell the good news!’)—we evangelise with some sense of urgency if we think that someone might miss out!
But the urgency of the first Easter springs from a much more immediate question: What are we going to do tomorrow? How are we going to live tomorrow? We, who have followed the one who serves, who keeps forgiving, who releases from guilt for sins past and into new opportunity, who is generous in time and spirit and gives all he has to those in need, who distinguishes not on the basis of ‘who belongs?’ or ‘who deserves?’ but on the basis of ‘to whom can I show love?’ & ‘to whom can I be neighbour?’—we who have learned the day to day reality of grace from God walking with us…how are we going to live tomorrow? As they ran to the tomb they wondered! Is it over? Is it gone? Or is he alive, like he said? Is he still loving, and giving, and forgiving? How are we going to live this next day? This is the immediacy and the urgency of Easter!
Those same followers of Jesus would, in the coming days and years, focus their Easter urgency into proclaiming a message of “hope”. The New Testament term “hope” has a very definite meaning: We know that God, in Christ, has forgiven us, and given to us eternal life. This is made certain in the resurrection of Jesus—his life for us. There are no ‘ifs’ or ‘maybes’. This is certain. Hope is the certainty of the fulfilment of God’s promises. Easter is the Christian foundation for hope. Easter is the moment in which the Christian says “I know that my Redeemer lives”—and because he lives, I have life, his life, my life, all bundled into the one. I am God’s new creation. Hope is the certainty that looks forward in life because God has demonstrated his absolute power and authority and victory over sin and death.
I think Easter should be our ‘moveable feast’. Easter should be the Christian celebration we have the day our family welcomes a new baby—a day filled with a sense of urgency over the fact of this new life, this new life created by God. Easter should be celebrated on the day a new marriage begins. Or the day we begin a new job, or a new course of study. Easter should be our celebration at the moment we buy a new home, or build one for someone else!
Easter is the celebration that marks our living in the presence of the God who has declared absolute grace, declared eternal love, declared that he is with us and for us in every circumstance and every stage of life—one with us from birth through all the realities of living, through death and the grave.
And we, like Mary and Peter and John—we can declare “Christ is risen!” with the joy of recognising that our neighbours, like us, have lives to live—and they can live them in the knowledge of God’s loving presence, today!
Urgency comes about at the point of intersection between a question or uncertainty, and an answer. In our world, in our society, and in our very local communities and families (and selves!) there is often much agitation and anxiety: Can we save the world from ecological disaster? Can we save the world from economic disaster? Can we survive on-going hostility and war? Can we survive on-going injustice? Can we survive our own individual weaknesses and the hurt they cause? Can we live past the next generation? Or the next day?
Today God proclaims again, and reminds us again, that he has heard our prayers, our cries, our dying breath, and has made his statement: I am the resurrection and the life. Believe and me, live, trust, hope, be certain. I am for you. And trusting in me you will always live.
Urgency comes at the point of intersection between a question and an answer. We are surrounded by a world with the question. You know the love of God and the life of God for the world.
I urge you to be urgent in celebrating and proclaiming the answer of life in God’s grace.