Without Easter, without the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, there would be no Christian Church.
All that we do, all that we are as Christians springs from this stupendous event in which the love of God in Christ leaps from the grave to the heights of heaven and draws us into the hope and joy and eternal life of a new creation.
In a powerful phrase the great seventeenth-century Anglican bishop, Lancelot Andrewes, writes that “his resurrection was a second birth, Easter a second Christmas.”
Our baptism is our Easter, our being born again to this new life which Christ shares with us. As we live out our baptismal life our prayer must be that Christ will indeed Easter in us.
In St John’s Gospel the risen Christ surprises his despondent and sorrowing disciples with joy as he appears to them as they are huddled in a room in which fear has locked the doors. He greets them with the ancient Hebrew greeting, Shalom! Peace! — a peace which is the opposite of fear, which calls us into that love and communion with each other, which is the mark of the kingdom of God.
The Lord then breathes upon them, as in the ancient story in Genesis God had breathed life into Adam, so that he became a living being. He breathes on them the Holy Spirit, the breath and breathing of living holiness, for the Greek word pneuma means both “spirit” and “breath.”
This is the resurrection gift, the life-giving energy of God’s new creation, a transforming power to shape each one of us in the likeness of Christ.
Easter can never be just an event in the past; it is the heart of Christian life in the present; and it is our hope for the future. The German philosopher Martin Heidegger spoke of human life as a “being towards death,” and that is of course the horizon towards which the lives of each one of us move. But Easter transforms that horizon, for the Christ who is raised to new and eternal life is the same Christ who embraced death, and bore the weight of human sin on the cross.
Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us, is God-with-us in all the distorting darkness, and sin, and inhumanity that we know in our world and in our own lives. He is God-with-us in our dying and in the desolation and nothingness of the grave. As St John recognizes, God’s generous self-giving love is displayed most fully and powerfully in Jesus’ lifting up on the cross.
There we see his glory, the glory which is the fullness of love and grace. On Good Friday that love, that life, and that glory were blotted out in an agony in which the powers of darkness seemed victorious, when Jesus’ own life might be said to be no more than a “being towards death.”
But the Easter Gospel, the Easter life of the Church, reveals to us that through that darkness, that agony and that dying, the love of God was victorious, and in the resurrection of Jesus death becomes the gate of life immortal, and the redeeming love of Christ is given to us to transform our lives and to transform the life of the whole world. The mission of the Church is an Easter mission. The Gospel is a gospel of victorious and transforming love.
When the Church is introverted, marred by petty squabbles, failing to live by the Easter life which is its true identity, then it denies the very gift that through it God longs to give to the world. We have to preach and to live that life.
We have to pray in the Spirit and for the Spirit for each chaplaincy and congregation to be places of Easter life. In a world in which there is much fear, much depression, much seeking of salvation through every kind of addiction, the Easter Gospel comes as good news, as light in darkness, as the assurance of forgiveness and the healing of wounds.
I pray that the deep and transforming joy of Easter may touch the hearts and lives of each and every one of you so that you may be renewed by the life of that Holy Spirit which the Risen Christ breathed on his disciples on that first Easter day.
Rise heart: thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him mayst rise:
That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more just.
— First verse of “Easter” by George Herbert (1593-1633)
Geoffrey Rowell is the Bishop of Gibraltar for the Diocese in Europe (Church of England).