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Love is stronger than death, fiercer than the grave

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Readings: Acts 10:34,37-43; Psalm 117; Colossians 3:1-4 or 1 Corinthians 5:6-8; John 20:1-9

What are we celebrating on Easter day? What broke the numb silence of Holy Saturday? The resurrection of Jesus is the central mystery on which our faith is founded; yet it is mystery, it surpasses our attempts to grasp its full meaning. We are all of us not so far, maybe, from the hapless supermarket employee who was recently reported as supposing that the Easter eggs crowding the shelves were for celebrating Jesus’s birthday.

Some time ago the then bishop of Durham, David Jenkins, provoked a similar furore when he remarked that the resurrection was not “a conjuring trick with bones”. Jenkins’ concern, crudely and cruelly caricatured by the media, was to stress the difference between resurrection and resuscitation: Jesus has been raised not just to life, as was Lazarus (John 11: 41-44) or the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7: 11-17), but to new life, to life in God. The earliest descriptions of the resurrection emphasise that this was God’s action: God has raised Jesus. To assert this, as we do every Sunday when reciting the creed, is to assent to a particular understanding of reality and history: God has created our world, and acts in our history to save us. And, as Paul insists to the Romans, he saves us through Jesus, on whose behalf he has acted “because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10: 9).

In grappling with the meaning of the resurrection we need to avoid two extremes, firstly, seeing it as something that happened to Jesus in the past and does not especially involve us - yet we “who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death” and to the extent we remain an organic part of the Body of the Lord, in communion with Him in the church through the Spirit, we, too, “might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6: 3-4) The second might be to think that our resurrection will happen after our death. Rather, it is happening now, to the extent that we are living out the life of the Spirit; we can think, as Herbert McCabe suggested, of Christ’s resurrection and ours as the victory of love over death, seen either within history (that is Christ’s resurrection) or beyond history, in the fullness of the kingdom (that is the general resurrection).


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