I have found in my own life that God is often easiest to discern in hindsight. It is through reflection, prayer, and conversation with others that I find I can realize where God has been working in my midst. The reason for this is that in the moment, in the continual instance of creation in which we exist, we are too easily distracted. We are too easily overwhelmed by the magnitude of the mundane and the exquisite anxiety of the chaotic events, big and little, that continually shake our world. To have the clarity of sight and discerning focus needed to spot God in the great tumult is a rare gift, one that takes discipline and practice. So, for most of us, it is only in the aftermath that we are able to peel back the noise and clutter to find God at work.
In the first light of morning, the three women gathered together their supplies and set out. The air was still, the quiet punctuated only by the sound of the birds singing in the first light, blissfully unconcerned with the affairs and drama of humanity. The peacefulness of the world outside of the three women stood in painful contrast to the world inside of them. Inside, the three women were filled with despair and profound grief for the death of Jesus. It still didn’t feel real to them. They were filled with shock at the suddenness with which events had unfolded. They were filled with shock that one of their own had betrayed Jesus. They were filled with shock that their fellow disciples had, one by one, abandoned Jesus, denied Jesus. These three women were the last of the faithful, the only ones left standing. All the others had fled—some into hiding and others back to their families and their old lives.
The color of light in the sky, the feel of the ground beneath their feet, it all felt surreal. They did not know how to give voice to any of it, so they wondered instead to each other how they were going to roll away the great stone that stood between them and Jesus. Then, suddenly, they saw the tomb where Jesus had been laid. The stone had already been rolled away, and the tomb was empty. Next to it was a young man, whom they did not know. He told them that Jesus was not there. He told them that Jesus had been raised from the dead. He told them to go tell the others that Jesus had gone ahead of them and would meet them in Galilee.
But the three women did not. They were filled with fear and terror. So, they fled.
When we come together on Easter morning, we don our festive clothes. We fill the air with shouts of alleluia and joyous songs. We eat meals of sumptuous food with family and friends. We rejoice at the resurrection. This is a day of celebration!
But our reaction the resurrection is a privileged one. Such rejoicing is only possible for those who already know how the story ends. It is with the rarefied hindsight of two thousand years that we are able to discern the enormity of God’s activity in the events of that morning at the empty tomb. Two millennia have allowed us to glimpse God’s work in the resurrection.
The three women did not have that benefit. In the moment of resurrection, fear and terror are the most human response possible.
Fear and terror are indeed appropriate reactions to the resurrection, for the resurrection reveals that death has no power anymore. Now, admittedly, that sounds like good news to us. And it is. But that appreciation is one afforded us only by the passage of time and hindsight.
In the moment, death losing its sting is cause for fear and terror, for death is the ultimate power in human imagination. Indeed, every moment of our life is sustained by death. The act of eating to hold at bay the force of death requires that another must die. When we speak of struggling for life, the force against which we struggle is death. And when we fight for our lives, we do so wielding the power of death against others.
We use death not only as power over others, but also as power over ideas. When an idea challenges us, we can disagree with it, we can argue against it. But if that challenge is not abated, if it grows to a point that we feel existentially threatened by it, then we put it to death, figuratively or literally. We see it in book burnings. We see it in the absurd-sounding war on Communism or the war on drugs, or the war on homelessness, as if it were possible to declare war against an idea or use the machines of the battlefield against social problems. No amount of hand grenades will make drugs go away and driving tanks over tent cities will not end homelessness. But, in our imaginations, death is the ultimate power, death is the ultimate rejection, and we long to use it against the intractable problems of our world.
And sometimes we find ways to do just that very thing. It is why political dissidents in some countries face the possibility of death, for the ideas are deemed too dangerous, their absolute rejection necessary. It is why in our own country, the suggestion that drug trafficking be treated as a capital offense has been put forward.
But at a more fundamental level, the power of death is the underpinning of our whole society. The French philosopher, Michel Foucault, argues that the foundation of all sovereign power, from monarchs and dictators to presidents and councils, is the power to deal death, or even the implication of the power of to bring death. Without death, or the threat of death, it all starts to fall apart.
In the crucifixion, the powers of the world tried to reject God. They were the empire and the governors, the religious leaders and the ruling class, the judges and the military, the rich and the powerful of the world, and they brought out the greatest power that they could imagine. They conspired together to wield death against Christ.
But in the resurrection, death is shown to have no power at all. In the resurrection, the foundation of our whole world becomes baseless. In the resurrection, the social order is turned upside down and decimated. For though we humans can bring death, in the resurrection, we learn that the power of God is life.
The power of God is life, and against life, death cannot stand. The power of God is life, and in the life that God gives, we see at last that the powers of this world are nothing but human delusions of grandeur. We see that the powers of this world have no power at all.
What is more, at the resurrection, we are given the warning that Christ is on the loose. Christ is on the loose and has gone into the world ahead of us and he is breathing healing into the places that were broken in our world. Christ is on the loose and he is proclaiming good news to the outcast and the downtrodden, and the powers and principalities of this world cannot stand before him. Christ is on the loose, and he is bringing life to all the things we thought were safely dead.
Alleluia, Christ is risen! Alleluia, Christ is risen, and the world will never be the same again! Alleluia, Christ is risen, may it fill us with fear and terror!
Preached by Adam Yates