Easter: the original tale of the unexpected
What a shock it must have been to be told that the first shall be last, the meek shall inherit the earth, it’s more blessed to give than to receive, and adults should learn from children, not the other way round. No wonder these words of Jesus repelled some of His hearers and attracted others. They still do. The ultimate challenge was His message for success: “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”
All this began to make sense to His group of disciples when they encountered Him unexpectedly, after He had been crucified. On Friday they had seen Him die the despicable death of a criminal. That was a tragedy, a huge disappointment, another hopeless, lost cause. Then Sunday’s massive contradiction: a corpse transformed into an indestructible body. Christ was alive with renewed vigour, breathing confidence into His disciples. It was the vindication of everything He had taught and done. They began to spread the emphatic message that God brings life out of death. This was an announcement, not an opinion; a declaration, not doctrine.
It divided the hearers. Some believed it and some didn’t. St Paul acknowledged this in his usual uncompromising manner: “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”.
More contradictions were to follow. The early missionaries described their experiences as “honour and dishonour, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”
In 1945 the German Pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged for his part in a plot to assassinate Hitler. He was 39. His last words were “This is the end – for me, the beginning of life.” Today, the ‘Open Doors’ charity reports that every month 322 Christians are killed for their faith. At the same time it’s estimated that every day there are 33,000 new Christians in Africa alone.
Easter is God’s pledge that evil is impermanent. The final contradiction is asserted by the 16th Century poet John Donne in his sonnet, “Death be not Proud:
“One short sleep past, we wake eternally, And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die”.
So let us celebrate this contradiction, this tale of the unexpected as we proclaim “Alleluia! He is Risen!”, Christ has conquered death.
Wishing you and all those whom you love a very Happy Easter