Yesterday saw a group of people discovering that they weren’t as big as they thought they were. James and John, preoccupied with their own status have gone. Peter (or ‘Rocky’ to his friends) has contradicted every pretension and disowned his friend. And Pontius Pilate, a man with only the vocabulary of violence and power, of threat and of fear, stands in feeble judgement on the man who, silently refusing to play the Empire’s games on its own terms, stands in judgement on him. That was yesterday – the day hope lay bleeding in the dirt of Calvary.
Today is empty. The end of the story is unknown. A world has collapsed and only darkness beckons. Maybe Pilate was right: only power, domination, violence, destruction, threat, fear and death actually do matter in the real world we all know.
But, this will not be the final word.
Tonight, with the fires lit and the candles burning, we will be surprised – a surprise bigger than the Bradford West by-election result. Good Friday and bleak Saturday have been an experience of crisis (literally, from the Greek meaning ‘judgement’). We all – along with Pilate and the Empire – stand judged by the tortured man who looked to have been getting it all wrong, missing the point about real power. Surely God should look a bit bigger and a bit stronger than this man from the hill country of Galilee? Surely the ‘liberator of his people’ should make a bit more noise and, at least, collect around him some powerful people? But, Jesus collects around him a ragbag of ordinary people who, most of the time, have little idea of where this is all heading. He takes people like us and through them changes the world.
This Easter we face huge challenges in our own society. Economic struggle is accompanied by fear for the future… which looks uncertain for many people. Many people question the basis on which we are building our common future – a moment of crisis, a moment in which we are being judged according to what truly drives us. But, even in this context, the surprising Easter message is one of challenge and encouragement:
- On the cross Jesus opens his arms, embracing the world, absorbing all that we can throw at him and not throwing it back at us.
- Death, violence and destruction do not have the final word: God does – and that word will be ‘resurrection’.
- God is in the business of bringing new life out of what is dead.
- In the empty tomb God quietly points to the power of love and hope and new life.
God has come among us, as one of us, and nothing in this world holds any surprise for God; the world might be wobbly, but God calls his people to hold those who wobble; we are loved to death and beyond.
No wonder the risen Christ says to his frightened friends: ‘Do not be afraid.’