Posted by: mikebackup | April 6, 2012

There’s some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for

John 20.1-18

The Resurrection of Jesus

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Christians have to be very careful at Easter and at Christmas that the real message isn’t lost in familiarity or that well used phrases simply paint a caricature. There is great power in the phrases He is not here, he has risen! The stone has been rolled away, the grave clothes are folded, and the tomb is empty’ but there is also the real danger that they become no more than yearly repeated sayings. We need to get past that and be able to dwell in the monumental, doesn’t get bigger, more profound or important than this, which is the reality of what we celebrate today.

Mary and the disciples were broken, as broken as you or I have ever felt in our worst despair. The person they loved more than anyone else had not only died in a horrific way, now his body was gone, robbing them of the dignity to grieve in peace. We don’t know who the other disciples was,  who in desperate disbelieving grief runs ahead not wanting to believe what Mary had told them.  When they turn around and start to walk home, leaving Mary at the grave, what must that have felt like? You can feel the numbness of grief and the asking of ‘why’.

Then the seemingly impossible happens, Mary sees the resurrected Jesus. The idea of being resurrected was just as absurd in the 1st century as it is today in the 21st Century. We can’t ignore that, we’ve got to explore the tension as the majority of humanity just don’t buy it. Many people believe in some notion of a historical Jesus, prophet and teacher, but resurrection, the incarnate Son of God? Come on don’t pull my leg! We all have friends and family that respect the Christian faith, but for them today is the ultimate leave your head at home day. To say it’s a stumbling block is an understatement it’s a 100 foot stone wall with barbed wire. Even as a committed Christian you may in faith go along with it, but you know deep down it’s something you really struggle with. If a close family friend says to you ‘go on explain the resurrection, convince me that it wasn’t just a desperate idea made up by the disciples, because to me it’s the stuff of Harry Potter, not reality’. What is your response?

In a situation like this we turn to John Polkinghorne, a brilliant scientist and a brilliant theologian. He is keen to point out that the resurrection does not represent an absolute conflict between the rational scientific mind and Christian belief. Firstly, usually dead people stay dead, we’ve always known that. However, if there is a God (and even extreme Atheists like Richard Dawkins admits he can’t rule it out),  and that God is the creator of the order of nature, then God cannot be denied the possibility of using divine power in a way that displays deep aspects of nature that are not found in normal experience. Action of this kind would then result in consequences lying beyond the limits of science and rational thoughts expectation of normality. The real problem here is divine inconsistency – God cannot be a celestial show-off.  But God doesn’t need to be constant like gravity, but can do particular things in particular circumstances, even unprecedented things in unprecedented circumstances. If it is true that God was present in Jesus in a unique way, then it is a rationally possibility that the new regime that Jesus represented would give rise to something new, even so far as to be raised from the dead and live in eternal glory.

Science has a great example of the idea that in certain circumstances a given can change radically. Ohm’s law is one of the most verified laws of nature, relating current, voltage and electrical resistance. It has been checked and checked and checked again, always the same. Then in 1906 Heike Onnes found that for some metals at very low temperatures Ohm’s Law no longer holds, resistance vanishes. The laws of physics don’t change, but at a certain point the consequences of those laws change radically. Whether you understand the science isn’t the point, the point is that just because something always seems to happen in a certain way doesn’t mean that in unprecedented circumstances the unprecedented can happen. If the Creator God was in Jesus in a unique way then that uniqueness could have allowed the resurrection to happen. Today is not leave your head at home day.

So we’ve reflected from a wide perspective, now let’s look at it from the personal, what today gives us to hold onto in the deepest part of our soul.

I actually began reflecting on this quite randomly on 27th February this year after being moved by an unexpected source. This year Josh and I have watched Peter Jackson’s intricate and amazing portrayal of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings – all 12 hours’ worth. On that particular night we watched the end of the second instalment ‘The Two Towers’. Out of the blue I began thinking about Easter as we watched it. Then I was taken aback with a brilliant speech made by the character Sam at the end of the film. Wow I thought quite choked up.  In Tolkien’s story there are great battles of good versus evil going on all around and two small unlikely Hobbits have a critical role in trying to make good win out. Frodo the ring bearer feels defeated unable to go on, and then Sam delivers powerful lines.

Let’s ponder on those words for a moment and see how they speak into today:

I can’t do this

How many times in your life, this year, this month, and this week have you said that? The times you have felt so overwhelmed with despair, grief, depression, anxiety, pain that you have not believed it possible to go on? We all face times like this through our lives, but the most challenging time it happens for most people is when we are faced with our own death and those we love the most.

I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.

How can this life have a happy ending? The evil in our world is so shocking that it appears that darkness has won. But there is still something worth holding onto.

What are we holding on to?

That there’s some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.

God saw that there was some good in the world and it was worth fighting for. When we feel defeated, unable to go on, we have to remember to hold on to that good, that good that God in Jesus was prepared to die for and emerge victorious. That’s what Easter Day is about, that it is all worth it, that we have hope in a love that cannot die.

He is Risen – a poem for Easter by Gerard Kelly

Because He is risen
Spring is possible
In all the cold hard places
Gripped by winter
And freedom jumps the queue
To take fear’s place
as our focus
Because He is risen

Because He is risen
My future is an epic novel
Where once it was a mere short story
My contract on life is renewed in perpetuity
My options are open-ended
My travel plans are cosmic
Because He is risen

Because He is risen
Healing is on order and assured
And every disability will bow
Before the endless dance of his ability
And my grave too will open
When my life is restored
For this frail and fragile body
Will not be the final word
on my condition
Because He is risen

Because He is risen
Hunger will go begging in the streets
For want of a home
And selfishness will have a shortened shelf-life
And we will throng to the funeral of famine
And dance on the callous grave of war
And poverty will be history
In our history
Because He is risen

And because He is risen
A fire burns in my bones
And my eyes see possibilities
And my heart hears hope
Like a whisper on the wind
And the song that rises in me
Will not be silenced
As life disrupts
This shadowed place of death
Like a butterfly under the skin
And death itself
Runs terrified to hide
Because He is risen

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