Sunday, 20 April 2014

Easter Sunday

Readings: Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Ps 117; Colossians 3:1-4 / 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8; John 20:1-9

The resurrection is an act of God's anger. I think this is the most important thing to be said about it this year. We know that all the attributes of God, are God. God's mercy, justice, love, and whatever the Bible is getting at when it talks about God's anger: all of these are one in God, all of these are God.

Why talk about God's anger? One reason is my own reaction to the fact that somebody, somewhere has decided that Easter is about daffodils, bunny rabbits, and butterflies. It is very good to hear from family and friends for Easter but the 'virtual world' in particular seems to have determined that Easter is some kind of sentimental paganism, a sort of springtime festival. It is not even muscular paganism. There is no blood along with the daffodils and the rabbits. For muscular paganism you can go to the great painting of the resurrection by Piero della Francesca, at San Sepolcro. Iris Murdoch was very taken by that painting, Jesus as a powerful pagan god with his foot on the side of the tomb, his banner of victory, and his extraordinary sphinxlike face.

But we are not pagans, whether sentimental or muscular. At this moment, as we pray, and I talk, and you listen, children are dying of starvation and cancer, women are being raped, lies are being told, injustices are being perpetrated, and corruption is being strengthened. If the only thing we have to offer in response to all that is daffodils and bunny rabbits then the whole thing is absurd. If the only thing we have to offer is a kind of fatalistic paganism in which the gods eventually demand their dues then it is equally absurd. That cannot be the Christian faith in the resurrection, the faith for which so many people have died, and prayed, and struggled at the greatest cost. That cannot be the faith that inspires the love we call charity that is stronger than death.

So let us think of the resurrection instead as an act of divine anger. Did we really think that the Father would stand silently by as we killed the Son? That there would be no response from heaven? The resurrection is the roar of God's anger, his act of power and vengeance in response to the murder of the Son. Today is dies irae, the day of God's wrath, great and terrible. And look at what it reveals about God. Here is God's anger, here is the power of God's vengeance. This is how profoundly angry God is with what has happened to the Son. This is the God in whom we believe, whose anger is beyond destruction, reducing the powers of this world to nothing, and replacing them with the realities of a newly created kingdom. God expresses his anger by establishing a new creation.

It is easy for God to remove a physical stone. At Santa Sabina the tradition is preserved that the Devil threw a stone at Saint Dominic as he was praying in the basilica. You can see the cracked tombstone where the stone landed and you can see the stone itself. If the Devil can do it, so can God. But there are other, much more resistant, stones that need to be removed. Think about the 'thoughts' referred to in the reading from Colossians. There are stones difficult to shift, the thoughts we have, the prejudices we cherish, the things we have become convinced about. Who is ever going to shift them after we have embraced them for a time?

The final Old Testament reading at the Easter Vigil talks about the heart of stone that needs to be replaced with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36). We can think of that stone as the ego, our own self-centredness which is so resistant to change, so powerful in preserving itself, so accomplished at turning everything to its own interest even when it thinks it is being concerned for the other. We even think that whatever God does must be for us! And so that same reading from Ezekiel has this extraordinary statement, extraordinary at least for a shocked human ego: 'I am not doing this for your sake, House of Israel, but for the sake of my holy name'.

So the resurrection is not in the first place something God does for us. God does it for the sake of his holy name. He does it so that his holiness will be displayed among the nations and they will come to learn that he is the Lord. It is the roar of God's anger at the murder of the Son. And because God is God, and his ways are not our ways, and he is God and not man, his anger takes the form of a new creation. The implications for us are extraordinary, of course, world-shattering, and mysterious beyond our imagination. But only because what happens is in the first place something happening between the Father and the Son, in the Spirit.

All we can do for the moment is be witnesses of this. We cannot claim to understand it. We cannot claim to have experienced it. The apostles themselves don't know where they are, they are filled with fear and apprehension. They need time to be educated and to learn that the scriptures were pointing towards this. We need time to be educated and to learn that the scriptures are pointing towards this. The whole subsequent life of the Church is this education, an on-going realisation of the depth of sin, the anger of God, and the power of the resurrection.

How could the Eternal Father not be angry at the treatment of his Beloved Son? His anger is so deep that he raised him from the dead. This required a new creation and this is what God has done. That is the terrifying message of Easter Sunday, the message of God's anger. It is the basis of our hope because if God's anger does this, what must God's love be like?
 

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