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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Easter: The Never-Ending Surprise! Bishop Tom Wright

When Easter stops being a surprise, it stops being Easter. The trick Christians pull off year after year is to so immerse ourselves in Lent and Holy Week that we actually screen out what we know comes next.

We reflect on, and mourn, the ruin of the world and the folly of humankind. We look in the mirror and see our own shame and sin. And then we contemplate Jesus's suffering and death at the heart of the whole thing: the place where the arrogance of empire, the frenzy of religion and the betrayal of friends all rush together and do their worst. Faced with all that, it's not hard to bracket out Easter. After all, that's what most of the world does anyway.

"Wait without hope," wrote TS Eliot, "for hope would be hope for the wrong thing." If you frame Easter in the terms of the perceived problem, you belittle it. Whether you think in terms of pie in the sky (at best a thoroughly subChristian concept) or a better society, all you get is a happy ending after a sad or sinful story.And whatever Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were doing in writing the final sections of their books, they were not telling the story of Jesus's resurrection as a happy ending. They were telling it as a startling new beginning. Easter morning isn't a slow, gentle waking up after the difficult operation. It's the electric shock that brings someone back to life in a whole new way.

That's why the Easter stories tumble out in bits and pieces, with breathless chasings to and fro and garbled reports - and then, stories like nothing else before or since. As the great New Testament scholar EP Sanders put it, the writers were trying to describe an experience that does not fit a known category. They knew all about ghosts and visions, and they knew it wasn't anything like that.

Equally, they knew the risen Jesus wasn't just a resuscitated corpse, still less someone who had almost died but managed to stagger on after all. They had the puzzled air of people saying, "I know this sounds wacky, but this is truly how it was." They were stumblingly describing the birth of new creation, starting with Jesus but intended for the whole world.

It sometimes seems that the church can hardly cope with this any more than the world can. Perhaps that's why, after 40 days of Lent, many churches celebrate Easter for a few hours and then return to normality. But nothing can be "normal" after Easter. New creation has begun, and we are summoned to get on board. We should at least have an eight-day party, or even a 40-day one.

And if Easter is all about the surprise of new creation, there is every reason to suppose that it will ripple out into the world in ways we would never imagine. Gangsters and drug-dealers get radically converted and set on fire with God's love, while pale churchmen drone their disbelief and warn against extremism.

Extremism? What can be more extreme than God raising Jesus from the dead after the world has done its worst to him? Supposing the power of that event were to be released into the world, into local communities, into ordinary lives, here and now? What might that look like?

We don't know, of course. That's the point. But I do know this. As our politicians go round the tracks this way and that, fudging and dodging and hedging their bets, and as our culture lurches through the sneers and the whims of postmodernity, it looks as though we all know we need new creation but nobody knows where to find it. Easter offers an answer so striking that most mock at it and even the churches often don't know what to do with it. Forget the eggs and the bunnies. Read the story again, say your prayers, and watch for surprises.

The Rt Rev Dr Tom Wright is Bishop of Durham.

From the Guardian

1 Comments:

Blogger Bobby Jackson Kennedy said...

"Wow" is all I can add to that.

3:09 am  

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