Glynn Cardy, Easter Sunday 2022
Easter can get confusing.
Some think Easter is a great gift, courtesy of Christianity, of a four-day weekend. And for those tired, needing a break, indeed a great gift it is.
Some think Easter is about yummy food. In particular hot cross buns, chocolate bunny rabbits, chocolate eggs, chocolate anything. And all the family friendship feasting on offer. And it is.
Some think Easter, knowing of the goddess Eostre, is about a solstice. A change of seasons. In the north, heralding Spring and Summer. Here in the South, the opposite. And it is.
Some think Easter is a great mix of blossoming flowers, uplifting music, fun and festivities, and the delight of celebrating joy. And it is.
Some think its about an event, involving a man called Jesus who lived, told stories, upset the wrong people, and was murdered. Then three days later (however long that actually was) came back to life. And, yes, it is.
Easter is holy days, holy feasting, solstice, celebration, and Jesus alive. For some, it’s some of that. For others all of that.
Of course, ‘Jesus alive’ is a metaphor. There is not a 2,000-year-old Galilean wandering around the planet! And to say ‘Jesus is alive forever in God’ is statement about how Christians understand God, not a statement about Jesus’ chronological age. That forever in God is saying, ‘If you want to know about God, look at the life and teachings of Jesus – at his love, his inclusiveness, his upsidedowning stories’.
But more importantly, this Jesus is alive metaphor isn’t about metaphysics and theological doctrines, or about what happened way back then in the Golgotha ‘hood, or whether you believe in physical resurrection apologetics, and all that and all that. No, it’s about now. And it is about how we live now.
St Paul put it succinctly: ‘We are the body of the Anointed (Christ)’. Jesus lives on in us, and nowhere else. In a partial sense, that is to say an incomplete sense, he lives on in us individually. But in a fuller sense, that is to say a complete sense, he lives on in us collectively. We are the body of Christ.
And when I say ‘us’ we need to be careful not to presume Paul is talking about the church. There was no church when Paul was writing. There was no Christianity. Paul was talking about, and talking to, those who found inspiration in Jesus, met together for eating and social support, and sought to live in the way Jesus had pointed to. Paul was not talking about a group of people who assented to a creed, who had the right beliefs, sung the right hymns, and all that and all that.
I would suggest that Paul if he was asked today who is part of the body of the Anointed might identify all sorts of people, of all sorts of religion or none, who love, serve, and at times suffer for the wellbeing of the whole planet and its species, even, especially, when it’s not in their own self-interest to do so.
Yes, such who love, serve, and at times suffer, are ‘angels of our better nature’ (as in the first reading today), but they are also us. For on our good days, we look to brighten others’ lives, even if our own isn’t shining. On our good days, we give, help, share, even if we don’t think we have or can offer anything useful. And on our bad days, we are held in the knowledge that others are having good days when we aren’t, and together we belong.
The body works together, the weak helping the strong, the strong the weak. Together the body is Jesus alive.
So, what does it mean to ‘live in the way Jesus pointed to’, to be his body? To paraphrase John Caputo:
Jesus is alive
– every time an offence is forgiven
– every time a stranger is made welcome – every time an enemy is embraced
– every time the least of us is lifted up
– every time the law is made to serve justice
– every time a prophetic voice is raised against injustice
– every time the law and the prophets are summed up by love.
Every time each and any and all of these things happen Jesus is alive.
This is the truth that the survivors of Golgotha came to realize: if Jesus is to live, he will live on in what we, his fearful followers, his body, do to bring about his vision.
So, when we help another, especially one who can’t pay us back, Jesus comes back from the dead. When we cry out for justice, and work to make it happen, Jesus comes back from the dead. When we care for the earth and its creatures, hold gently the damaged and suffering, Jesus comes back from the dead. When we look after a child, nurture a child, encourage strength and resilience in a child, Jesus comes back from the dead.
Do you want to find hope? Do you want to give hope? Do you want to be hope?
Then the Jesus programme (following Isaiah 61) is simple:
Firstly, be good news to those who are poor. Whether that poverty be from injustice, alienation, disability, violence, or whatever. Give a fish. Teach how to fish. Resource how to fish. Teach how to cook fish. Befriend, encourage, give, receive, and be patient.
Secondly, free captives. Restore people. Forgive. Give second and third and fourth chances. Encourage those who are failing. Build structures to support them, empower them. Dismantle or reform structures that don’t.
And lastly, let the oppressed go free. Even, especially, when it costs to do so. Oppression comes in many forms – physical, mental, spiritual. And it takes more than opening a cage door. It takes companioning. Which can be hard.
When we do these things, especially when we join together to do these things, we become as a body, a body with all our frailties, the body of Jesus alive again. Jesus is not alive unless we embody him.
If you like, and I often like, to think of ‘Jesus is alive’ as a song, then it will remain a dead song, buried like countless other scores in the graveyards of music archives, unless we sing it. Unless we sing it loud, sing it long, and sing it strong. Sing it not as soloists, but as motley choirs. Sing it as a body, as a marching song, a redemption song.
And ‘Jesus is alive’ is one of those strange redemption songs that celebrates arrival while we are still travelling. That celebrates overcoming when we actually haven’t. That encourages us who are living in the despair of our darkened Fridays to see a wider vista that, in the words of Lady Julian of Norwich, ‘all will be well and all manner of things will be well’, even, especially, if they are currently not. And remember Julian, the first female author in the English language, wrote in the midst of 21 years of plague.
‘Jesus is alive is like Marley’s redemption song unleashing us from the mental slavery before our eyes, in order to see it differently. To see life as it is with all its hardship and suffering, but then to see it again with the eyes of faith, passion, anger, and resolve. To see life shot through with redemption.
So, at Easter we join together to sing lines like ‘The strife is o’er, the battle won’ when it isn’t and hasn’t. But we imagine, reimagine, a future where the present is different, is changed, is redeemed, and we are different, changed, and redeemed.
And then we join with others to act. To forgive, and, yes, even ourselves. To make welcome, and, yes, even those we find difficult. To embrace, to lift up, and, yes, even when we don’t think we have the strength to. To serve justice, stand against injustice, to let love be our guide and our critic; and, yes, even when the cost seems overwhelming.
Then we will know, and the world will too, that Jesus is alive.