Easter – looking out of the tomb

As most of us will be feeling entombed on Easter Day, I thought that I would write some reflections on the resurection looking out from the other side of the tomb. As we are confined to our homes during this period of lockdown, what does this looking out feel like, and what would resurrection look like? As I read the verses from today’s Old Testament reading from Jeremiah 31, I couldn’t help but identify with those who Jeremiah says are under the curse of the sword, or those still wandering in the wilderness. The virus feels like a cruel sword hanging over us, and being in the seclusion and isolation of our own homes feels a bit like being in the wilderness. Into this situation, Jeremiah says, God speaks the following words:

“Thus says the LORD: The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, the LORD appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you”. (Jeremiah 31: 2 – 4)

Finding grace in the wilderness is what we are all trying to do right now and that grace – the promise of love – gives us hope that one day again, like the people who were in exile in Jeremiah’s time, we will take up tambourines “and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers. Again you shall plant vineyards…the planters shall plant, and shall enjoy the fruit” (verses 4 – 5). Resurrection in this context would be about returning to life after the wilderness and isolation, our exile – returning to life after the scourge of the viral sword. Resurrection is about coming out the other side of our trial and tribulation to a life of merriment and laughter, rejoicing and planting fruit that will make us happy and strong.

We have all been anxiously waiting in these times for signs of good news. We are all looking for those first signals that our curse is over, that this unforgiving epidemic is coming to an end, and that our lives can be restored to some semblance of order and peace. We are looking for relief and deliverance, and that puts me in mind of the second reading for Easter Sunday from the book of the Acts. Peter says that he has a message for anyone who will listen to God and do the right thing, and he tells an assembled crowd that deliverance has come in the events he and his friends have witnessed in Jerusalem concerning Jesus:

“We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging from a tree, but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name”. (Acts 10: 39 – 43)

Whatever happened on the first Easter Day, and it is impossible to speculate after two thousand years have elapsed, Jesus’ followers obviously believed they had received God’s deliverance – his peace, grace, mercy, forgiveness and love – in the new life they were experiencing, and that is what matters. This is why Peter could be so fervent in his witness, and why so many others throughout history have testified to the transformation this sense of deliverance has made in their own lives. Resurrection, in this context, is about being delivered from the burdens that often weigh us down – our faultiness, self-centredness, our guilt and lack of care. Resurrection is about being delivered from the limitations of our fleshly life, our weaknesses, and don’t we all have anxieties about these and want to hear the good news that they can be overcome?

Perhaps the most worrying anxiety that we have at this present time is that we ourselves may catch the virus, or that those nearest and dearest to us will get it. We worry about our nurses and doctors, those doing essential jobs in our shops, our supermarkets, our postal services, our farms, our transport companies, our essential manufacturers and our refuse services. We worry about our Prime Minister and about the homeless, about the elderly in our care homes, the patients in our hospitals, as well as those who flout the government’s guidelines. We are afraid, and we are particularly afraid of death. In the reading for Easter Day from Matthew’s Gospel, the angel says to the women:

“Do not be afraid: I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples. He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him”. (Matthew 28: 5 – 7)

These are not just words of comfort, but words that point to the most important message about the resurrection; that it is about replacing the fear of death with the joy of new life. The angel gives the women the task of telling Jesus’ closest followers to go back to Galilee, to their homes and their work, because it is in the context of their ordinary, everyday lives – the life after all those terrible events they have witnessed in Jerusalem has been put behind them – that they will see and know Jesus with them again, We know from the other Easter witness accounts that most of the encounters with the risen Jesus were within the context of everyday life – at a meal, by the lake, in a quiet room – and, throughout Christian history, that presence has been particularly encountered in the Eucharist. The stories that we read at Easter remind us that the encounter with the risen Christ is not an encounter with a ghost or a revivified corpse, but with the God who meets us in ordinary, everyday things that have become holy and special because they have brought us the love, comfort and grace of God. The first followers of Jesus found that grace in the assurance that Jesus was with them as they returned to life after their curse. Resurrection, in this context, is about learning to live without fear, and learning to receive the new life God grants us wherever we find it – in a word of comfort, a sign of grace, or the sacraments of nature and the church.

Looking out from the tomb there is new life on the other side. May God grant us the grace to come out the other side rejoicing, having been set free, and unafraid of all that lies before us.

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