Easter Day. The day when Christians rise early, watch the sun come up and join together in numbers to celebrate the resurrection. We belt out those great Easter  hymns, listen to those breathtakingly dramatic Gospel readings, and, in my case, hold back the tears as the cathedral choir sings the Gloria from Mozart’s Coronation Mass.

Not this year. Today our churches will be empty and silent. There will be no cry of “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” to which the congregation should always be tempted to respond “What?! You must be joking!” Instead, we will be in our homes, joining together remotely or in distant prayer.

In other words, the church of Jesus Christ will be living the Easter faith for real. What we really believe will be seen in how we, bearing the wound marks of sacrifice, offer hope to a weary world. For we are not afraid and we look at how to love our neighbours by keeping our distance from them. And we will learn whether we really do think prayer is worth the effort.

Wherever we are and however we worship today, we will be confronted afresh by the shocking and outrageous “proleptic invasion of the end times in the present” (in the words of Wolfhart Pannenberg, if I remember them rightly). It will only come as a shock, however, if we first have lived through the bewildering agony of Good Friday and the empty fear and disillusionment of Empty Saturday. Only then can we experience – imaginatively – the disorientating irruption of the extraordinary into the normality of life.

We appreciate the light when we have stayed with the darkness. We can be surprised by joy once we have loved with the loss and the pain.

The thing about the resurrection narratives is that they don’t do propaganda. Surely the risen Christ would have put everything right, wiped out the pain, turned disfigurement into glory. But, no, the gospel writers clearly lacked that sort of imagination. For, the risen Jesus still bears the wounds, the scars of torture and violation. A reminder of the past, or a glorious statement of the present reality – that this risen Christ is still earthed, no stranger to the horrors of human existence for too many people.

(I recall the late Dennis Potter, in his final interview, saying that “religion has always been the wound and not the bandage”.)

And, as Mary discovers in the garden, this risen Jesus cannot be held onto. He can’t be possessed or commodified. He can’t be corralled into my own securities or illusions. He can’t be appropriated to make my life happier or better or safer.

Yet, he knows Mary’s name. He knows our name.

Easter whispers to a world that isn’t expecting or waiting for him that violence, death and destruction do not have the final word in this world – or in our broken and seemingly fragile lives. God does, and the word is ‘resurrection’. Which is why, some years ago when wondering how to condense the mystery of Easter into a tweet, I wrote that “Easter means … being drawn by hope, not driven by fear.” Why? Because Christians, if they have truly been grasped by the resurrection, put their hope in the person of the God who raised Christ from real death, and not in some formula for guaranteeing personal security.

And that is why I can wish everyone a Happy Easter. To do so is simply to invite anyone to be open to the surprising possibility that the world is more than meets the eye.

Berliner DomI have just launched myself into a series of five conferences (one ended today) which will keep me away until 2 October – though I hope to keep blogging. I leave early tomorrow morning for Rome and then Blackburn (!) followed by Kassel (Germany) – and end up preaching in Berlin Cathedral before returning for the final blast at Swanwick. Roll on October…

At the residential conference which ended today the recently-retired Bishop of Thetford, David Atkinson, shared his great wisdom with his usual quietly-spoken humility. While answering a question about the most pressing agenda for the Church of England at the moment, one of the things he identified was climate change. I have to confess that I am a bit worried about ‘climate fatigue’ setting in – there is so much being said and written about it that I think many people are beginning to glaze over instead of waking up. I hope I am wrong.

What woke me up was David asking: ‘Will we let future generations speak to us?’ In other words, will we have the imaginative courage to hear the blessings or cursings of our children’s and their children’s generations as they suffer the consequences of our refusal to change our costly lifestyle? Will we simply bequeathe to them a broken world with a broken climate because we are too greedy and selfish to hear their cry?

This struck me because it reminded me of a verse from the Old Testament book of Proverbs that says:

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.

An older version of this formed the title of a remarkable book I read years ago when studying German political history – particularly about the failure of the Church in relation to the Jews during the rise of Hitler and the Nazis in the early 1930s: ‘Open thy mouth for the dumb.’ It is a potent demand.

Auschwitz gateThe prophetic challenge has always been that people who bear God’s name should see through God’s eyes and speak on behalf of those who have no voice. I have always simply assumed this could refer to those who have no voice in contemporary affairs – the poor and the marginalised. It had never occurred to me that it could be a challenge to listen to the voices of those as yet unborn who will one day – long after we have moved on – pay the price for our greed and complacency.

This also resonates with Wolfhart Pannenberg‘s understanding of the resurrection as the ‘proleptic invasion of the end in the present’. Big words, but a simple concept: the resurrection of Jesus by God is the ‘end’ being brought forward into ‘now’ and enabling us to live now in the light of the end. So, Christians live in the here-and-now in the light of having seen the promised end – resurrection. And this actually goes to the heart of Christian hope. For Christian hope is not wishful thinking and does not lie in an anticipated series of events taking place (all that ‘End Times’ nonsense from the USA). Rather, it lies in the person of God who raised Christ from the dead and thus invaded the now with his final word. We trust in God, not in heaven.

Now, I cite this bit of theology because there are those who think the climate change stuff needn’t bother us on the grounds that God will soon intervene and bring it all to a glorious end anyway. And it is precisely this sort of stupid theology that needs to be firmly knocked on the head.

earth_mainThe prophetic challenge mentioned earlier has always been dismissed by those who spiritualise themselves out of responsibility. But the simple equation cannot be avoided: our faith in God (as well as our theology) can only be seen in how we live now in the light of the future. And that means that our ethics now must be shaped by our imaginative and informed understanding of what future generations might be saying to us if only they could speak for themselves and if only we could hear them.