Sunday 15th April 2017, Easter Vigil

by Revd Kate Tuckett

Many of us will have heard about the Cadburys furore concerning the egg hunts around various National Trust properties. The bunny trails hit the headlines when the Archbishop of York criticised the decision to name the events ‘Cadbury egg hunts’. Theresa May joined in the row, interrupting a Middle East tour to express her concern. The Bishop of Salisbury was quoted in The Guardian today as saying there were rather more important things in the world to discuss than the title of the National Trust’s bunny hunts, and most of us here may agree that Christians would do better to focus our energies on talking about mental health care for young people, or chemical attacks in Syria, or the US flexing its muscles, or the destruction of the most basic safety nets for people who cannot afford curtains or sanitary products or shoes.

But I suspect that neither Cadburys nor the Church of England are not the only people who have missed the point. We’ve had a holiday club in church this week and fielded some searching questions about the place of Jesus and the devil and the Easter bunny. The story of Easter bears little resemblance to the secular and commercial imagination, without a single mention of bunnies or bonnets or painted eggs or chocolate.

As Christians we sometimes miss the point as well. Easter is a time when we pull out all the stops. We make the church beautiful, we have lovely liturgy music and flowers – and this is right because beauty can touch us and help us to enter into the mystery of these days.

But we can lose sight of the fact the gospel story is not fancy and beautiful, it’s messy. It’s a story about flesh and dirt and bodies and confusion and a story about how God never seems to adhere to our expectations. In just about all the accounts of the resurrection, the disciples are afraid. Resurrection is not pulling rabbits out of hats, not relentless cheerfulness or relief. As the women go to the tomb, their expectations of what was possible collide with the God of salvation history. Their certainty that this was how the Jesus story was ending slammed right up against the full force of God’s suffering and redemptive love.

As the women and then the disciples encounter the risen Jesus, I’m not sure that it looked very impressive. It’s something fleeting – Jesus won’t let them hang on to him. In another account he appears as the gardener, and he can’t have been looking that shiny and glorious with dirt under his fingernails and in his oldest clothes.

It’s very easy to tell the Easter story with no dirt under the fingernails, to clean up the resurrected Christ to make him look a bit more impressive, to go straight from Palm Sunday to Easter Day, or indeed straight from Christmas to Easter, from the sentimentality of the baby to the glory of the resurrection, from Santa to the Easter bunny. Resurrection in the church calendar takes three days ---- actually a day and a half if you’re counting – but all who have lived any story of grief, of loss, of brokenness, of disappointment and failed hopes – as we all have in our own ways -- will know that resurrection may take a lifetime.

If we make the resurrected Christ too glorious, we can forget the messy bits in between, how he lived and the horror of how he died. So a glorious resurrection Christ means we forget about the teenage pregnancy, the birth in straw and dirt; we forget about the rather unimpressive characters he hung out with; we forget about all the crazy destablising things he said; we forget about the wounds he bears.

A glorious and clean resurrection is easier good news that the resurrection we have, in the darkness, out of sight, something that we can’t hold onto. It means that we have to revise our projections of what we think God should be --- angry, defensive, insecure – and encounter instead a God who is ridiculously indiscriminate about his friends, who would rather die than count our sins, who would not lift a finger to condemn those who put him to death bur rather went to the depths of hell rather than be apart from his betrayers. A God unafraid to get God’s hands dirty for the ones he loves.

A resurrection in which we see what we have done to God and in which we hear that still he loves us means that we have to acknowledge our share in what the cross is and represents; to learn to see ourselves as caught up in a world where the innocent are scapegoated and killed and where we are all unwilling, to a greater or lesser degree, to face unwelcome truths about ourselves; to see that we cannot by our own strength cut ourselves loose from the tangle of injustice, resentment, fear and prejudice that traps humanity in conflict and pain.

To recognise God in the crucified risen Jesus alters what we think about God and where we look for God in the human world. It suggests uncomfortably that God is likeliest to be found among those we have, like the religious and political establishment of Jesus’ day, dismissed or shut out; it suggests that our models of success and failure have to be turned upside down; and that our eternal future and life abundant is whether we are able to turn to those we have hurt, and seek forgiveness.

All of which is very hard to do. So it’s perhaps not surprising that the gospel and the cross provoke fear and we reduce them to hot cross buns.

The God we see in the cross, the God who lives through and beyond torture and humiliation and death and still promises mercy, renewal and life, that God may well be too much of a menace to be mentioned or shown on an Easter bunny trail. And maybe we should fear – not for ourselves or our faith, or for God, because one suspects that God can probably look after himself, but for a society that cannot cope with the realities of unspeakable human tragedy and cannot cope either with the hope of ultimate healing and reconciliation.

The human condition is terribly damaged and the world is terribly damaged, and we need to hear the risen Jesus saying ‘Don’t be afraid’. But the resource of God’s self-emptying love is greater than we can ever truly know.

But here’s the good news. While we want to make Jesus very impressive, the God of Easter, the God who brings life out of death, doesn’t want to make us impressive. This God isn’t bothered about how shiny or good or nice we are. God is about making us new. And new doesn’t always look like the Easter bunny, because like the Easter story and the whole story of Jesus, new can be messy too.

This sermon uses material from:

Williams, R. (2013), Choose Life, London: Bloomsbury