Reflections for Eastertide

What’s the point of Easter? In a way the question took me aback: I think that’s because, as it were, I’ve always lived with Easter, it’s been a fact of life since childhood days, and then, suddenly to be asked why, makes you think. But then we need to think about these things, because if one thing is certain it is that for most people outside the church there is little point to Easter: it’s, to quote the song, just another day. But is it? The population at large are fast losing whatever tiny grip they still had on Christian truths: I’ve taken many funerals, and time after time it has been obvious that many people there don’t even know the words of the Lord’s Prayer.

And what of the other great Christian festivals? Pentecost was never much of a goer. Perhaps a little more when it was called Whitsun and there was a Bank Holiday following, but of course all that went years ago. Christmas? Well, people may get misty eyed and sentimental about it, but they’ve lost all notion of what it means – the birth of God in man, and of course the fact that the supermarkets are pumping out full blast O come all ye faithful from September onwards doesn’t help. All this was really summed up for me by that brilliant comic creation of Sacha Baron Cohen, Ali G, who went round interviewing the great and the good, and asking them silly questions, but questions that nevertheless reflect the level of understanding of many ordinary people. And the great and the good were so overawed by this spurious example of youth culture that they took it seriously: so it happened that one Christmas Ali G interviewed a prominent non-conformist minister, and said something like “So tell me about Jesus. It’s really your Dad dressed up, innit?” We may laugh, but it still tells us much about people’s understanding. What’s the point of Easter? For the person in the street, nothing much at all, except perhaps to moan that Easter’s very late this year.

But for the Christian, Easter is everything. You can’t really separate it from Good Friday, because the one leads to the other, as sure as night leads to day. One of the great saints of the Christian church, Augustine, said “We are an Easter people, and alleluia is our song.” Why are we an Easter people? Because if there had been no Easter, there would have been no Christian church, and we would not have been Christians. We find it difficult to imagine the religious ferment of the times that Jesus lived in. Today, as any fool knows, religion is only for cranks and the soft in the head, but then people really expected God to be at work in the world, and to do great things. Many saw Jesus as the embodiment of that hope, though the historians tell us that there were other charismatic preachers around at the time preaching similar messages. But to put it that way in a sense makes the point: historians tell us. All the other preachers are just a curiosity of history. And so would Jesus have been as well, but for Easter, when he rose from the dead. If Good Friday had been the end of Jesus, it would also have been the end of the movement he began. Why put yourself at risk preaching an unpopular message, when the man who started it all is dead and gone, in spite of his promise that, though he had to suffer, he would be back? What would you have done? Probably written off the whole exercise as the delusions of just another religious fanatic. Best to get back to your previous lives, fishing, collecting taxes, whatever, and pretend it had never happened. Make no mistake, that would have been the situation if Jesus had not risen from the dead. But that’s not what happened, is it? He did rise, and though, from that day to this, the cynics have done their best to write it off, to disprove it, they’ve never succeeded. What’s the point of Easter? Maybe the most obvious is that quite simply if we follow Jesus’ example, if we live the kind of life he told us to, then we too are going to beat death, we too are going to live for ever, we too are going to reign with him glory. For many, that in itself is answer enough, because it gives hope in a world where, let’s face it, there’s plenty of despair, there’s plenty of “What’s the point?”, there’s plenty of “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”

But we need to take it a bit further than that, and ask “What does Easter tell us about God and the world?” First, it tells us that God is trustworthy: if he promises something, he is going to deliver: it was promised that though Jesus had to die, his heavenly Father would raise him from the dead. This has to be the work of God: no human being has the power to restore life when it has been taken away. God is trustworthy: what he promises, he will deliver. It also tells us that in the darkest moments, God will be with us. He did not allow his Son to remain mouldering in the tomb: in the midst of death, he was still there for Jesus; and he is there for us too, when things go wrong, when all seems black, when the little voice inside says “There is no God”, and he will be there for us in our own dying as well. Yes, he is there for us, he longs to be with those who love him, to support them, and keep them safe, even if the world does seem to be collapsing about their ears. But Easter also tells us about the power of love, about the triumph of good over evil. It is easy to get depressed at the evil which seems to surround us, and feel that evil always seems to have the last word. It would be difficult to resist that, except for Easter. If Good Friday was the last word, it would be a message of despair. But Easter proves that, however all-pervading, however powerful evil seems to be, it will not have the last word.

Without Easter, frankly, there would be no point, and we might as well indeed just live as though there were no tomorrow. But Easter proves that love, God’s love, conquers all. Maybe when you were a teenager you suffered the pains of unrequited love: the person you had set your affections on just didn’t want to know. Have no doubt that that is how God feels too when he looks at the state of the world and at individual lives lost in sin and despair, because quite simply it doesn’t have to be like that, it’s not meant to be like that. God says to the world, and he says to you and me – just look at all I have done to prove that I love you, even to the extent of permitting my Son to suffer all that: I love you: now, will you love me in return?

Blessed Easter greetings

Fr Edward Bryant

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