Second Sunday of Easter 2019
Fr David Ranson
Last Sunday morning we came together in the churches of our Diocese in the glorious April sunshine to celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord. So, too, did our brothers and sisters in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Like us, they came to their churches with a great sense of anticipation, the feast day filling their hearts with hope and possibility. We left our church streaming into the beautiful day with every sense of the opportunity that Easter brings us. Our brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka did not. They came to celebrate life; yet they found death. They came to share peace; instead they met violence. They came to be sprinkled with water; instead they left covered in blood. The juxtaposition between the hopes of our brothers and the sisters last Easter morning and the horrific reality of that day could not be stronger. Blessedness gives way to brutality; joy evaporates into despair; love dissolves into fear. The very order of Easter which ordinarily has Easter follow Good Friday was reversed. Heaven became hell.
The callousness of the attacks in Sri Lanka are beyond description. In the face of the trauma of last weekend, which cannot but be felt by all of us in some way, it seems that in one instant, the light of Easter is extinguished by the darkness of evil. How fragile the light of Easter seems against the force of evil. What meaning is there in proclaiming the Risen Life of Christ when the forces of evil so quickly and so easily seem to be able to destroy it so as to snuff out the lives and hopes of so many people. What meaning does the light of a simple single Easter Candle have in the face of the ignition of a bomb? What power can the story of Jesus’ resurrection have against the narrative of hate? Events such as last weekend cannot but raise the question of the futility of what we ourselves celebrated in our own church. Is it just all a strange pantomime that loses meaning when confronted with the harshness of reality? The power of evil is so strong what can withstand it?
And yet, the hope that lies at the very heart of the Easter celebration is neither naive nor sentimental. This is, in fact, the paradox of genuine Christian hope: it is most keenly experienced in the face of all that would seem to deny it. The hope that we have from within ourselves looks for its fulfillment and becomes discouraged in its frustration. But Christian hope is something quite different. Christian hope is not something that rises from within us. It is more than the realization of our own human aspirations, no matter how ardent they might be, and no matter how passionately they stretch out into the incomprehensible horizon of God’s mystery. The genesis of Christian hope is outside of ourselves. It is based on the conviction that through the history of salvation of our people we have been given a Promise, a Promise that cannot be thwarted. This is the basis for St Paul’s prayer of celebration,
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor power, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8: 35-39)
For St Paul, genuine Christian hope is exercised, not apart from the experience of evil, but in the midst of evil: it is the projection of the Promise over the absurdity of evil. This is why he wrote, “Affliction makes for endurance, and endurance for tested virtue, and tested virtue for hope. And this hope will not leave us disappointed” (Rom 5:3-5). The Promise we have received from the time of Abraham, culminating in the event of Christ’s Resurrection, changes the way in which we see our life and it changes the way in which we do things. It is the Promise that opens up for us new possibility even in the midst of what might be extraordinary limitation. The Promise we have been given, and the hope that springs ever new from this faith, enables us to celebrate even in the face of frustration, distortion or limitation.
The Gospel for this first Sunday after Easter confronts our ordinary reaction to evil. Evil alienates; it isolates. This is where the disciples find themselves in the face of the crucifixion of goodness they have experienced. They are locked away in fear. They are entombed within their own insecurities, their own anxiety, their own sense of hopelessness. They are at a dead end. The future presents without promise. All they have is the darkness of their situation. Evil seems to have had the final word.
But it is here that the life of the Risen Christ comes to them – yes, in their disillusionment, the failure of their hopes. And in that room the disciples are met by the Risen One who remains the Crucified One. The Gospel of John makes the wounded character of the Risen Christ graphically clear. This is altogether wondrous: the Resurrection has not removed the wounds of the Crucifixion. The woundedness of Jesus has not been eradicated. Rather it has been transformed. The Resurrection has enabled the Christ to bear his woundedness in such a way that those wounds now become a place of life and possibility.
In this lies the great Easter mystery for each of us. Living in the light of the Resurrection of Jesus, living the life of the Resurrection, does not take away our own vulnerability, our own fragility. Yes, each of us, like Christ hanging on the Cross, is pierced through with a lance – the lance of fear, the lance of anger, the lance of anxiety, the lance of despair. A wound opens up within us. This wound can become the place of a great infection in us. Or it can become a place where both blood and water flow – as the crucifixion account depicts it. In other words, it can become the place where the spring of new life flows. We are angry, and our anger turns to a new openness. We are embittered, and our resentment turns to a new receptivity. We are closed off, and we experience a new sense of companionship. As one writer puts it, it is only in the valley of many, very dry bones that the Spirit of God is known. “It is here in what first appears as dead, that hope rises against hopelessness . . . This is the new spirit and new heart that God promised. This is the new creation, the rescuing of life from death, the raising of the dead from their graves in order once again to cultivate the promised land. . . A new body. A new spirit. A new Eden. A new creation altogether . . . The Spirit accomplishes its most lavish task of re-creation, it would seem in a grotesque valley of death.”
This will be the lesson of Easter Sunday for our brothers and sisters in Colombo, Sri Lanka. It is ours, too.