It can be quite difficult to offer any thoughts on Easter beyond the bland and the commonplace because we are all familiar with the story, and the life of the church is the experience of Jesus’ resurrection in our own time, writes Rev Sydney Maitland. The fear of death is overcome and we now look forward to eternal life in the knowledge of Jesus’ resurrection and in the reassurance that He died for us. In this sense, we may wonder what it was like to live in an era where there was no hope of the resurrection and only the here and now mattered.
But look again: for we also live in a society which is largely estranged from the knowledge of Jesus Christ, except perhaps in the abstract, and which by and large does not have the comfort of the resurrection of Jesus. It may be accepted as an aspect of Christianity, but it may go no further than that: significant to the church but irrelevant beyond that.
This I believe is where the fallacy creeps in for it was in total and yet unrequited love for the world that God sent His Son into it. Jesus did not come to save Christians or to establish the church but for all of humanity that would receive His life and turn to Him in repentance and faith. In short the resurrection of Jesus is for all who live and breathe. To restrict it to the church is to miss the point for what Jesus did was of global significance and was not of local or sectional or even of confessional interest alone. In rising from the dead, Jesus rose for all who have been or will be born, and those who receive Him will find that there are others – millions of them, who are one with them in this respect: this is the church.
For many the institution of the church with its history, theology, order, ministries and sacraments comes across as overbearing and inflexible. In addition like most people, none of us really likes being told what to do or how to live our lives. More to the point we are all averse to having our faults and shortcomings pointed out, even if with certain parts of the media, we are willing to gloat on those of our neighbours. Looked at this way the church can indeed seem remote and self-satisfied. But there is another way to look at it, if we see the church as consisting of the body of those who have put their trust in Jesus Christ, and have found that they belong to Him and that their identity is now taken up in His. This is far less about being in an institution and far more about being found and renewed in Him. It is about being in and belonging to Him. It means that His life is not only given for us on the cross but is given to us in His resurrection. We are drawn into Him by His gift in a way that we could never contrive or achieve on our own.
Now the resurrection really does grow arms and legs. More to the point we find that we give it our arms and legs – our lives and hopes and futures. We find that far from being a doctrine taught by the church and memorised as part of a catechism it is a living reality into which we are invited to immerse ourselves.
There are of course alternatives: we can ignore it or reject it. We can determine to live our lives by our own lights, in a self-contained morality in which we set the rules and then judge ourselves by them. This can lead us either into permanent self-condemnation, isolated from the forgiveness of Jesus Christ or into permanent self-obsession, even narcissism, in which we become the centre of our own universes, and so isolated from all others. We can resolve ourselves into self-sufficiency where none may intrude, and where relationships become functional and shallow, subject to whatever passing mood takes us at the time. To me this is all a recipe for an eternity of a knowing and deliberate self-isolation from the love and mercy of God. It is not necessary and it is not inevitable – and that is probably what makes it worse.
But eventually even rejected love has to draw a line and let the future develop from one degree of glory to another.
May I wish you all a very happy Easter.