April 2015 – The Challenge of Easter

“Look around you: Winter is over… Spring flowers are in blossom all over. The whole world’s a choir – and singing!”

So says The Song of Solomon (2:11, The Message). This verse, with a picture of a beautiful green field, graced the page of one of our recent Church Council agendas. (It was mid-March at the time, and no one was surprised when some said “better look again!”)

Can it really be Spring – if it still looks and feels like Winter? Starting off with a load of post-consumption items destined for the compost heap I maintain in the woods, I’m suddenly made aware as I reach the edge of the parsonage yard that I’m wearing street shoes. Back inside, I hasten to pull on high-top snow boots – reminded yet again that the snow pack in the yard is still a foot-and-a-half deep, with chest-high-plowed-snow still ringing the church parking lot, as I write.

Yet the calendar assures me it’s been Spring for five days, and the weather report says it will be in the fifties tomorrow with rain. Which will make Spring much more believable.

Some kind of metaphor like this may be in play with the resurrection of Jesus. As bible scholar and retired Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright says, “At the heart of the Christian faith lies the question of Jesus’ resurrection. Why did Christianity arise, and why did it take the form it did? The early Christians themselves reply: we exist because of Jesus’ resurrection. There is no form of early Christianity known to us–though there are some that have been invented by ingenious scholars–that does not affirm at its heart that after Jesus’ shameful death God raised him to life again,” Wright continues.

Yet often our lives – or at least the life of the world around us – sometimes looks more like Ash Wednesday or Good Friday than Easter. And for at least the past century-plus since Darwin, many, even in the church, have questioned this centerpiece of traditional Christian faith.

In his booklet, The Challenge of Easter, NT Wright argues that many in the early church personally experienced the risen Christ, and the church’s teaching can stand up to historical criticism. But the main point of Wright’s book is about exploring the implications of resurrection – what it means, and how we ought to live because of it.

Jesus and all his first followers were of course Jewish, and for Jews of that age the concept of resurrection came mostly from biblical texts such as the famous ‘dry bones’ narrative of Ezekiel 37, where God breathes life into the dead dry bones of Israel. “Resurrection” for Israel was, Wright says, always a term that meant the coming of God’s kingdom of righteousness, peace, justice, and steadfast love on earth. Heaven is not a disembodied spiritual condition. We will have a new body, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, a transformed body, to be sure, but a body. And God’s eternal passionate commitment to love and right relationship will continue uninterrupted in resurrection life.

Jesus is the firstborn from the dead, the forerunner for the rest of us (Romans 8:29, Colossians 1:18, Revelation 1:5). His resurrection marks the fulfillment of God’s promises and biblical time, and also the continuation of all God’s work, in a new time… With the resurrection God’s Spring has decisively begun.

Which can sometimes seem as far away and hard to believe as the assertion that this year’s earthly Spring is here… while snow is still piled high…at least if we consider only the daily news of the world.

Thus the challenge of Easter for us is to continue learning from Jesus about how we are to live here on earth – in good times and in bad times – in preparation for the fullness of resurrection life – with deepening assurance that the Spring of heaven will indeed come in due season…and that our calling is to help God make this new reality known to all.

But how then are we who are trying to follow Jesus to communicate with friends, family, neighbors and others, about this rather strange concept of resurrection life? A concept that’s surely strange for those who don’t already believe it – and strange also for many of us who believe it heartily.

Starting the Sunday after Easter (April 12) we’re all invited to a discussion of Wright’s booklet, The Challenge of Easter. We’ll meet in the Perry Room of the Bourne church at 12:30 (for an hour or less) for five weeks. The book has five chapters, each about a fifteen minute read. Copies of the book are available from me (no charge). All warmly welcome.

May God who has revealed his plan for all the ages in Jesus Christ grant us a Blessed Easter, and bless you abundantly with his peace beyond measure,

Pastor Tim