Three years ago at Easter, we had a shock. Our little Norfolk terrier died quite unexpectedly. He wasn’t ill. He did seem a little morose and unwilling to go for a walk, but otherwise there seemed nothing unusual. Then, after a busy day, we noticed him panting, we took him to the vet and a few hours later, he was dead. Of course, we were devastated. As all dog owners will know, a dog is very much part of your life. They are like a shadow; always there, always ready to please, always at or under your feet. In fact, a dog is the only animal that will apologise to you if you tread on him. It seems a dog’s only enjoyment, other than food, is to be in the presence of an owner; an owner for whom a dog will have an inflated and undeserved regard.
Well, what has this to do with Easter? Not much, I suppose, except that the passing of an animal, much loved, is a reminder of the pain and heartache of death. Easter has no meaning without the death of Jesus. And the death of Jesus was a shock to his disciples and a trauma to his friends and family. We tend to forget that this was not an ordinary death; the result of illness or an accident. This was a horrific execution, which took place on a highway after a severe beating and a public humiliation. It left a lot of people traumatised. ‘How could this happen to one who went about doing good and healing people?’ Disbelief is common after bereavement and we can’t help agonising over the question ‘Why?’
Well, Jesus seems not to have been surprised by what was happening. He somehow knew that it was ‘necessary for the Son of man to suffer and to die’ before a resurrection could take place. It was something to do with a new beginning, a fresh start, and even a new creation leading into a ‘living hope’. Those who doubt the resurrection are as St Paul says ‘to be most pitied’. The evidence for the resurrection is you and I. We are witnesses to these things. As a witness you need to have experienced Jesus, lived alongside him, grown up in his presence, felt him as close as a shadow, known him in and through prayer and the fellowship of other Christians. If you have been with Jesus in his suffering and pain, if you have understood his death to mean the beginning of something new then the Resurrection should not be a surprise. Those who believe in a good and loving God cannot doubt that good will triumph over evil but only if we will allow it through a willing co-operation. It is in God’s nature to save and to rescue his creation from the self-destructing principle. A God of love has to overcome hatred and violence not through retaliation but by absorption. God absorbs all the hatred and venom that put Jesus on the cross in order to show us the full extent of his love. The disciples had to learn this the hard way. If they were traumatised by the crucifixion then they were bowled over by the resurrection. Matthew’s account makes that very plain. The women come to the tomb and suddenly ‘all hell is let loose’ an earthquake, the dead raised and seen walking about in Jerusalem, an angel rolling away the stone. No wonder the guards run off. The women stand their ground because they are told not to fear. The angels tell them this so does the risen Christ. The Easter message in Matthew is don’t be afraid you can do it. Do what?
Make a difference. Become a living person radiating life and hope. If the Resurrection is to make a difference to our world, we must learn to die to self and rise to new life in Christ. This is what we proclaim in Baptism. The Christian life is only fruitful if it is crucified with Christ, buried with him, planted like a seed to grow into a new fruitful organism. ‘Unless a grain of wheat fall to the ground and die it cannot bear fruit’. We are ‘to bear fruit unto Eternal Life’. In other words, we are the advertisement, the publicity for the Resurrection. So learn a lesson from a little dog. Love your Lord so much that you become a part of him. Don’t be afraid fear not he is with you. Reflect Christ’s nature to the world, rejoice in his company and revel in his presence. Be faithful to your calling and learn to come out of your wintry isolation. Break out of your ‘living hell’ into a ‘living hope.’ Be warmed into life by God’s love, burst out of the tomb of suspicion, fear and greed. ‘Why are you weeping?’ Jesus asks of us. We need never fear that God will abandon us. ‘Whom are you seeking?’ says the risen Lord with incredulity. If we really were Easter people, we need look no further. We would have no doubts about God’s ability to save, transform and reconcile us to himself ‘for by his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’. Live as though you believe it. ‘See yourselves as dead to sin and alive to God’. If people are looking for the evidence of the Resurrection let them see it in our behaviour; in our love for one another. Then others might share this hope and live a risen life.