In her first Easter Message, Bishop Joanna Penberthy (St Davids) urges us to be terrified by the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection:
These are some of the most important words in the gospels. They save the narrative of the trial, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus from being domesticated. They save the central facts of the Christian hope from becoming a story in the same vein as the Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter when, against all the odds and evil doing it’s worst, good comes through in the end. The resurrection is not the happy ending of Jesus’ life story.
It is startling, amazing and utterly terrifying. The disciples, the pupils of Jesus, scandalously female as well as male, were ordinary people. They are not characters in a story or a drama. They are real people, just like we are, with hopes and fear, personal and political, who were getting on with their ordinary normal lives when John the Baptist and then Jesus captured their attention.
John and then Jesus were people who couldn’t be ignored, people who proclaimed the kingdom of God. Jesus was a Rabbi, but one who connected with all sorts of people, even those who were usually dismissed by the religious teachers of their day.
People flocked to Jesus to hear him teach, hoping to see a miracle. Some became his pupils who lived alongside him day by day as was normal with a Rabbi’s inner circle.
Jesus had an unusual message, was blessed by God in ways other teachers were not. He was an unusual Rabbi but a Rabbi nevertheless and, sad and heart breaking though it was, he was not the first to run into trouble with the authorities and end his life on a Roman cross. “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” Luke 24:21.
The resurrection of Jesus was not the happy ending to this tale that had ended so badly: it is the startling, terrifying and life changing beginning of something new.
To put it starkly: up until Easter morning, dead people stayed dead. Jesus had raised Lazarus but Lazarus would still die in the end, as we all will. Jesus dying was horrifying and awful. Those who loved him mourned; those who had hoped in him felt let down. It shouldn’t have happened but it was utterly normal.
The resurrection is the polar opposite of normal and those who were confronted by the empty tomb and the message of the angel, those who met with, talked with, ate with the risen Jesus would never be the same again. They could never return to normal. They could no longer be players in the drama of Jesus because they had been confronted with the sheer reality of the living God.
As we celebrate Easter may we be terrified by the fact of the resurrection and, God willing, may hope in the living God who raised our Lord and Saviour, the flesh and blood Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth, from death to life be born afresh in our hearts, minds and lives.
+Joanna St Davids