If, after the pain and grief of Jesus’ passion and death, we are looking for a happy ending, then the gospel accounts of the resurrection might seem like a bit of a disappointment. There is no triumphalism here, no promise that everything will be alright now. What there is instead is a dizzying whirl of experience and emotion.
Mark’s gospel ends with terror, amazement, and fear. John describes the beautiful but bewildering encounter between Mary Magdalen and the risen Jesus in the garden. Though her tears may have turned to joy at the sound of her name from the lips of one who knows her like no other, still there is an incompleteness here. “Do not hold on to me” says Jesus. That pain of being unable to hold, to touch, the beloved is one to which we can all surely relate more closely now than ever. Resurrection, at least in these gospel accounts, is not necessarily the uncomplicated resolution to every pain and sorrow.
As we rise to greet the dawn of this Easter day, whether we are singing triumphant Alleluias or barely daring to whisper them, the grief and lament in our own lives too is not resolved. We mourn all that we have lost in this last year, we bear the wounds and scars of this time, and our Easter joy does not take them away. Nor should we expect it to. The risen body of Jesus still bears the scars of crucifixion and we – the church, Christ’s body in the world – we too still hold within us our own woundedness even as we rise.
Resurrection is not the salve for all our ills, it does not promise unending, untroubled happiness. Not because the gift of life and love which Jesus brings into the world in his rising is too small, but because it is something greater than that, something different and more complex, deeper and more lasting, than the false hope of “it’s all going to be ok”.
The joy which is kindled on Easter morning, ‘while it was still dark’, is a joy which burns slowly and deeply, which burrows into the very depths of our being, into the very substance of the universe, and can never be extinguished. This is not the false optimism which wants to dismiss our grieving, or smooth over the hurts and injustices of the world. This is the deep-rooted hope of resurrection life which knows that death will come and grief will hurt, but still steadfastly says that death cannot have the last word. This is the light of love which burns so constantly and steadfastly that it cannot be overcome.
And all around us we can catch glimpses of this resurrection glory. Not only in the obvious joys – the blossoming trees, the familiar faces – but also in treasure more deeply buried but there for the seeking. It is there in the resilience of communities and the love of neighbours; in resistance to injustice, and refusal to look away; in dissatisfaction with the world as it is and dreams of what it could be.
The whole creation is shot through with resurrection glory, if only we will have eyes to see it. This is the great revelation of Easter, the great truth of our faith: that a different world – different from the one which will crucify its saviour rather than bear to hear the truth of who God is, different from the one which will crucify again and again those who dare to resist destructive power and embrace another way of living – a different world is not only possible, but is already here. Underlying all our hopes and fears, joys and sorrows, guilt and shame and grief, underlying all that makes us human in all our messy complexities and contradictions, underlying all that we are and all that the universe contains, is the unending, immeasurable, incomprehensible love of God – deeper and wider than our imaginations can contain, infinitely merciful, and totally freely given.
It is this that the resurrection reveals. Not the triumph of good over evil, or the end of suffering and death – even the most cursory glance at the world could tell us that that is not the case. But something both less heroic and more pervasive – a paradigm shift, a new way of looking at the world, a transformed and transforming change of perspective. In his rising Jesus flings open every imprisoning gate and door to reveal the sheer, overwhelming grace in which God holds all time and space and all eternity. And once we have caught a glimpse of it, once we have seen – even in our anxiety and uncertainty – the underlying, all-encompassing love of God as the foundation on which the whole universe rests, then our way of seeing the world, our neighbours, and ourselves, is forever fundamentally altered. This is the great rupture which the resurrection brings, both in Jesus’ rising on that first Easter day, and also in every resurrection moment in which we catch sight – however fleetingly – of that sure and steadfast joy.
Easter is not the ‘happily ever after’ of a fairy tale ending. It is so much more than that. For a start, it isn’t an ending. Resurrection is much more a beginning than an ending: far from neatly rounding off the Jesus story, it opens it up and points ahead, into a vast, expansive reality of joy and hope, love and new life. This reality, this realm of resurrection, is often hard to catch sight of, often obscured, but it is always present, ready to bubble up in new and unexpected ways, ready to invite us with the whole creation into new and abundant ways of living.
This reflection is part of Hodge Hill Church’s ‘Trees of Life’ series: https://treesoflifehodgehill.blogspot.com/