Thought for the Week: April 21, 2019
Today is Easter Sunday. This is the highlight of the Church’s Year. It is the day when Christians all around the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It all began when, nearly 2,000 years ago, a group of women who had followed him went to the tomb where he had been buried after his crucifixion by the Roman authorities. They found it empty. One of them, Mary Magdalene, claimed that Jesus had appeared to her.
His closest male disciples also claimed that he had appeared to them and other appearances followed. It wasn’t long before the disciples were telling everyone that Jesus was alive and people were believing them. The fact that the authorities couldn’t produce his body, which would have shut everyone up, only gave added credence to the reports that he was alive.
The rest, as they say, is history and the Christian Church was to go on to greater and greater success, eventually becoming the dominant force in the growth and development of western civilization although its influence has been felt all over the world and the Church today is strong in both Africa and Asia.
It’s a great story of success and the Church is right to celebrate it. It’s just the sort of story for this time of year as well when, in the northern hemisphere, we are enjoying the arrival of Spring and looking forward to Summer. In my own Church today, the Church will be decorated with lots of flowers as we celebrate Jesus being alive.
So far, so good; and far be it for me to say anything to spoil it. However, it’s one thing to celebrate Jesus being alive and another thing altogether to understand what it means. And this is where even Christians have some difficulty. In the Bible, Jesus’ resurrection is linked inseparably to his death, not in the obvious sense that you can’t come back from the dead unless you first die, but in the sense that his death was for a purpose: it achieved something, something more than someone dying for what they believed.
This may be why Christmas, for most people, is the more popular Christian festival. What’s not to like about celebrating the birth of a baby? We can all get our minds around this and get together because of it. And this too may be why Christians prefer to focus on the events of Easter Sunday rather than the events of Good Friday. My Church will be full today. It wasn’t full on Friday.
This isn’t just because death is something that we don’t want to think about – although there is that in it – but because of the Bible’s unremitting message that the responsibility for Jesus’ death isn’t down to those like Pilate and the governing authorities who arranged it, but because of you and me. How on earth can we be held responsible is the obvious question? The answer lies in the earliest explanation of Jesus’ death given by his first followers. Their message quite simply was that: ‘Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures’. In other words, that Jesus’ death was an event designed and determined by God to bring forgiveness for sin: yours and mine.
The universal symbol of Christianity is a plain Cross. Jesus may have died on the Cross, but the Cross is now empty. Christ is alive! At the front of my Church, however, is a large Crucifix – a wooden Cross with the figure of Christ nailed to it. A reminder that there is no escaping the death of Christ as much as we might like to. The Risen Christ who Christians celebrate today is the Christ who died for us and who now today invites us to find forgiveness through his death for us.
And that really is something worth celebrating.