Readings: Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Psalm 118; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-9
This homily was first preached on Easter Sunday 2003
The most powerful and enduring image from the invasion of Iraq is the picture of a little boy who has lost everything. His arms are gone, his parents are gone, his brother and sister are gone. In place of his arms there are stumps, his body is covered with grease and dirt, he is terrified. A Christian looking at this image in Holy Week has to see Christ, on the cross, arms seeking to reach out.
Two judgements on the situation of this little boy amazed me. One was from a journalist who said 'it was a price worth paying'. By what measure of worth? By what standard of currency is such a judgement made? How many killed and maimed children are equivalent to one toppled dictator? Ten? A hundred? Hundreds? When does it become too expensive, a price not worth paying? Where there are too many? Or perhaps when the children are 'ours' rather than 'theirs': then we might make a different evaluation.
The second judgement about the boy was from a doctor caring for the little boy, this one coming out of pity for him: 'he would be better off dead'. It is a judgement we might make ourselves from time to time when we cannot bear the suffering of a loved one or cannot help them any more to bear their suffering. But again we can ask the question: how can any of us make such a judgement? by what standard of value or currency? how do we know someone would be better off dead when we do not know what being dead means? Perhaps it is an end to our own suffering we want, the difficulty of being in the presence of so much suffering. Let's change channels, put on some sport or music, and forget about the terrible things that some human beings experience, that some human beings are experiencing this Easter.
Easter: what has all this to do with Easter? Everything. As we celebrate the paschal mystery of Christ - his suffering, death, and resurrection - this little Iraqi boy brings home to us the reality of sin and evil and death in the world, and the fact that there is no final judgement about what happens in this world until we stand before the throne of God. Irreparable harm has been inflicted on people, through war, rape, abuse, neglect, betrayal, lies ... harm that cannot be undone, wounds that can never be healed.
Faith in the resurrection had grown strong in Judaism by the time of Jesus. It emerged through comparing the justice of God with the injustices of human life, and believing that the innocent who do not find justice here, will be vindicated by God in the resurrection of the dead.
The new thing in Christianity is the belief that the resurrection to judgement has begun with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The innocent one, unjustly and cruelly done to death, has been raised up by the Father's power. God's judgement on this world is the cross of Jesus Christ. Here is the deepest, most enduring, and definitive standard of judgement for us. If you want to weigh sin, look at the cross. If you want to evaluate evil, look at the cross. But likewise if you want to measure love, look at the cross. If you want to assess the weight or significance or relevance or reality of God, look at the cross. It is our criterion of judgement, the gold standard for sin and love, for human need and divine grace.
Curiously, God then seems to agree with the journalist in the case of Jesus, 'it was a price worth paying'. Much of our language about the cross is of this kind - it is a ransom paid, a means of redemption, the sheep are ransomed by the Lamb, we are bought with the blood of Christ. The difference is that it is a price freely paid, emerging from the heart of Jesus as he conforms his will with that of His Father. It is a price worth paying because it gets its value from the obedience and love of Jesus, God's Son.
And, curiously also, God does not agree with the doctor's verdict, 'he would be better off dead'. On Easter Sunday we celebrate God our creator saying of his Son, 'he would be better off alive', 'he would be better off fully alive', 'he would be better off eternally alive'. The Easter sequence speaks of 'Life's champion slain yet lives to reign'. Death itself has been overcome, not by some magical trick on the part of God, but by God entering fully into the middle of sin and injustice, of ambiguity and compromise, of hatred and bitterness, of fear and isolation - from within our hell, Christ has risen. And he has given us all a share in his glory. This, and this alone, is the basis of our hope. This, and this alone, gives us a standard of value for justice and truth, for right living and for love.