Well, a number of folk among us have certainly dyed eggs for today: just one of the many wonderful symbolic traditions which have grown up over the centuries around Easter. Indeed, some of these are perhaps as curious as the little boy’s spelling and grasp of language. They are certainly diverse, rather like the variety of ways in which the Gospel writers and St Paul speak about the Resurrection. Does that matter, do you think? My sense is that that is precisely as it should be. For the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is like an explosion, the impact and implications of which can never be understood and lived out by one tidy account or explanation. Rather the meaning of Easter is only something we grow into, day by day, year by year, as we reflect upon the different ways our Bible and Tradition speak of it, and, crucially, as it comes alive for us in our own lives and times…
Now, what do we make of all this? Some sceptics might say that Matthew’s account is so full of elements which cannot have been historical that it must simply be dismissed. It is certainly hard, for example, to find credible grounds for a literal earthquake, or for the guards, in the historical information we have about those days in other sources. Some might also even suggest that, because the accounts of the Resurrection differ widely, they must therefore all be untrue.
In contrast, the very diversity of the accounts, would suggest to me that the Resurrection was indeed very much a historical reality. If all was neat and tidy, we might suspect a fabrication and a conspiracy. Instead, the diversity of what we have is confirmation that we are dealing with an astonishing event which cannot be understood in any simplistic or straightforward terms. For, as a beloved former bishop of mine once said, in words which were twisted and deliberately misreported: ‘the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is much, much, more than a conjuring trick with old bones.’ It is absolutely the most important event in human history, redeeming the pain of our past and present and opening the doors to a transformed future. It is light bursting out of darkness, trust re-merging out of doubt, new life breaking forth from the worst that the powers of death can ever inflict upon us. So how can anyone put that into one story? We need all the different ways we have. Some of us may indeed want to gun die eggs!
So which is your favourite Easter story? Probably, for me, it is St John’s account of the encounter of Mary Magadalene with Jesus in the garden, or perhaps Luke’s account of the disciples slowly coming to new faith and life on the road to Emmaus. For Luke’s story speaks well to me of how becoming Easter people is a journey for us all: even when we have had profound experiences of God, each of us can lose heart on the road, fail to see Jesus among us, until we are renewed in new ways as Resurrection people. Perhaps that may indeed be the case for some of us today, as some of us carry with us pain, or grief, or stones that seem impossible to roll away? Well, that is all OK. That, our Resurrection stories tell us, is exactly how the first disciples also experienced the risen, living Lord. No one grasped it all. Everyone had their blindness, their fears, their doubts. Everyone, in one sense, was still on the journey to fullness of life. Yet something had profoundly shifted.
Flash, bang, wallop – what a picture! Matthew’s story of the Resurrection is so dramatic, melodramatic, precisely because he was not seeking to give us a neat, historical, account for our little human minds to grasp. Rather he was trying to God-centred character of the Resurrection and its profound implications, not just for one historical body, the human being Jesus, but for all of creation, and for all of what we call time and space. Yes, he knew that not everything had changed. The oppressors of the day, the Romans, were still in power, and suffering and death were still so real. Yet the ultimate reality of all things was now revealed. For, in the Easter story, all things are transformed. There is hope. So Matthew, more than any other evangelist, gives us the true ‘big picture’ of our lives and world.
So let me, very briefly, offer three ways in which this ‘big picture’ is conveyed by Matthew, and how it matters.
Firstly, Matthew tells us about an earthquake. Did this actually happen literally? It is unlikely, but that is not the point. For the Resurrection is truly an earthquake in so many other ways. To believe in the living Lord, to let go of fear and death, to trust that God will re-create, is to share in this earthquake. It is to be part of the cosmic transforming love of God which shook the world then, and continues to do so now, if we will let it. Maybe another name for Christians should indeed be earthquake people?! For, note well, when Matthew uses the metaphor earthquake, this is not to express a transformation which simply affects individual human lives, but one which affects every aspect of God’s creation.
Secondly, if Matthew’s account tells us that the Resurrection is about the transformation of place and space, it also tells us that it is about the transformation of time and eternity. For his story of course complements his story of the Crucifixion, at the end of which he tells not only of another earthquake, but of the tearing of the temple curtain from top to bottom. Jesus’ death thus breaks down the separation between eternity, symbolised by the temple Holy of Holies, and our ordinary time. Life and death, he is telling us, are not divided in Jesus Christ. God breaks down every wall which separates. So then, in his Resurrection story, Matthew similarly shows us the angel, as a symbol of God’s love and power, alive and active among us now.
Why then would we fear? This is the third, ultimate and major message of Matthew’s story for us, and for everyone, and all things, in time and eternity. The guards fear and quake, and even become like the dead, as we all do when the unexpected or undesirable strikes us. Yet the good news is clear: do not be afraid. This is the heart of the Gospel story, amid all the flash, bang, wallop. It is why that message is repeated twice in Matthew’s story, by the angel and then by Jesus himself. For fear is not the true picture, Matthew is saying. Rather it is indescribable joy, which we can taste a little of now and which will grow in us whatever we come to face. What a picture indeed!
So how do you spell, and tell, ‘resurrection’? Like the little boy at the beginning of my sermon who was struggling to tell his Easter story, we won’t always find it easy. When we ask for help, we might even get the wrong answers or perplex others. But so what - let’s rejoice with Matthew and not be afraid: flash, bang wallop – what a picture!
by Jo Inkpin, for Easter Day, 16 April 2017