Anastasis fresco in parekklesion of the Chora Church (Kariye Museum) in Istanbul. Fresco date 14 century.
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This vision glorious

Let us allow the glory of Easter to touch our daily lives

“And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8).

This is the description in Saint Mark’s Gospel of the response of the women at the empty Tomb on the first Easter Day. It is, scholars think, the earliest of the four Gospel accounts of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We might think that it lacks Easter joy. “Fled … trembled … amazed … afraid”: these are not words that immediately come to mind when wishing someone a “Happy Easter”. Indeed, the fact that these women were initially silent in the face of the empty Tomb — and, for good measure, an angelic vision declaring “he is risen; he is not here” — overturns any assumption that the Resurrection of Jesus was received as a straightforward “all is good, no need to worry” affirmation.

As we realise when reading Saint Mark’s account of the Resurrection of Jesus alongside those in the other gospels, there is nothing straightforward, easily comprehended about the Resurrection. The accounts by the four Evangelists do not at all neatly, comfortably sit beside each other. The timelines, the characters, the events cannot be straightforwardly pieced together, as if we were watching the concluding episode of a television series, or reading the final chapter of an airport novel. 

The various timelines, characters, and events in the accounts given of the Resurrection in the four Gospels are infinitely richer and more demanding. They are witnessing to and seeking to convey to us something of the explosion of divine presence, light, and life that occurred at that Tomb on the first Easter Day. Little wonder that the four Gospel accounts are anything but straightforward; little wonder that they can appear confused, even contradictory. Language, experience, recollection — all these are stretched far beyond what they can possibly contain on the first Easter Day. The One who is eternal Light and Life, the mighty Creator of all that is, touches and fills the Tomb with creative, life-giving power. 

Neat, comfortable, easily comprehended accounts of the empty Tomb would utterly fail to convey the explosive outpouring of this creative, life-giving power. No straightforward affirmation, the Resurrection of Jesus brings us, with those women at the Tomb, to be silenced in awe and reverence before the revelation of God’s life-giving presence and saving purposes:

And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said any thing to any man; for they were afraid.

This happened at a Tomb. At a place of death, disintegration, and darkness. It is here, in the place of bitter defeat, failure, and fragmentation, that the purposes of the One who is eternal Light and Life are revealed: this becomes the place of restoration and renewal, of Resurrection and Life. “He is risen; he is not here.”

There is little that quite so undermines the proclamation of the Resurrection of Jesus, the Easter faith, than regarding it as an affirmation of a political or cultural project. Neatly fitting the Resurrection into political or cultural visions, as a convenient, helpful prop, is to profoundly misunderstand (if not deny) the faith of Easter. It is to entirely set aside Saint Mark’s account of the reaction of the women at the empty Tomb, rendering their reaction unnecessary and inappropriate rather than the authentic witness to God’s presence and act in the Resurrection. 

Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, has said of the Resurrection, “The retellings of the story by both conservatives and radicals have so often been bland and facile”. Whether as a convenient introduction to tediously predictable support for a progressive cause or as a useful tool for a supposedly conservative crusade for Western civilisation, the Resurrection becomes little more than bland illustration, devoid of power, hope, and challenge: not the event rendering us silent and full of awe, not the means of drawing us — mortal, frail, fallible — into the divine life.

On this Easter Day, let us not give our attention to the bland and facile retellings of the Resurrection, bland and facile retellings that rightly bring to mind the words of the Apostle Paul: “If it is for this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable”. Rather, let us heed the response of the women at the empty Tomb, recognising in that response the witness to the out-pouring of Eternal Light and Life, bringing to humanity — broken, confused, and foolish as we are — participation in the Resurrection life, anticipated now and having its fullness in the life of the world to come.

In the Book of Common Prayer, at Morning and Evening Prayer each day, the Apostles’ Creed is said, an ancient confession of the Christian faith. Day by day, amidst our frailties and failures, our frustrations and disappointments, our fears and uncertainties, we confess of Jesus Christ, “I believe … The third day he rose again from the dead”. Flowing from this truth, the Creed then concludes, “I believe in … the life everlasting. Amen”. This is the Easter faith, its glory touching our daily lives, sustaining us in hope, glimpsing what it is for humanity to share in the life and light of God.

May Easter Day renew us — amidst whatever tombs, whatever defeats and failures and fears we know

To use the words of John Donne, it is to behold in the Resurrection of Jesus – with the reverence and awe of the women at the empty Tomb – “the house of God, and the gate of heaven”, into which we are called:

… and into that gate they shall enter, and in that house they shall dwell, where there shall be no cloud nor sun, no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light, no noise nor silence, but one equal music, no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession, no foes nor friends, but an equal communion and identity, no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity.

May Easter Day renew us — amidst whatever tombs, whatever defeats and failures and fears we know — in this enduring hope, this vision glorious.

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