Homily of Bishop Donal McKeown for Easter Sunday 2020

12 Apr 2020

Throughout his life, Jesus shocked people with his radical teaching. He dragged his audiences and disciples beyond a very human-centred picture of God and a very limited dream of what we humans could become. Today, in the Resurrection, he shocks them even more. And there is more to come with the Ascension and Pentecost. God wants to re-make us in the divine image and likeness – and to rescue us from the narrow faith that can think of only a God made in our image and likeness. So, what are we to make of this strange event called Resurrection?

Firstly, it is clear from the Gospels that the apostles did not know what to make of it. It wasn’t just that the stone had been removed from the tomb. Somehow, they knew that a hole had been blown in reality as they saw it. They could dare to believe in something beyond what the five senses allowed them to know. Somehow, they knew, as the song says, that all the dark won’t stop the light from getting through. So, they struggled with how Jesus appeared to them, ate with them – and then was not there. Inevitably, then, we have a range of different stories about Jesus’ apparitions. The women and the apostle knew that something had happened that changed everything forever, but that they were too close to the unimaginable to make sense of it. The Resurrection is too hot to handle. How do you write about an experience that shatters the capacity of everyday language? It is tempting to reduce it to one more merely historical event, rather than a burst of the divine into our narrow world. Tonight, sit in amazement before the mystery of life and love and death and truth – and dare to believe in a God who shatters any comfortable one-dimensional picture of God that you have.

Secondly, we have Resurrection stories of Jesus appearing in a room or disappearing from the disciples in Emmaus after he broke bread with them. He tells Mary not to touch him. But then later he invites Thomas to touch his wounds, which are still visible but no longer bleeding. This Risen Jesus reveals something of who we are as Church. We are not merely a worthy group offering religious-themed entertainment for specific events and seasons. We are not those trained to offer pious words that help manage the pain of being human. Nor is the Church a body of people who try to do charitable deeds in society, craving to be relevant. St Paul is audacious enough to say that we are the Body of Christ – wounded and living, scarred by our own stupidity but daring to dream of being born again. The Church in every generation has had to die to part of itself and be reborn, raised from the dead where our sins have laid us. Otherwise, we remain a human organisation, afraid of dying for fear of living. Thus, this Easter night, I have no problem in asking pardon for my mistakes and for those of the institutional Church. We stumble along trying to make good decisions and often failing. Our confidence is not in some notion that we have to pretend we get everything right. God can work though the scarred Body of Christ because we are not trapped in a one-dimensional world that depends on us. Remember, Jesus has broken that bond and freed us from being buried by what has happened in the past. Jesus is risen – and we are risen with him, if only we can dare to believe in the risen life that he wants his body, the Church, to share.

Thirdly, we celebrate Easter in 2020 when – as a famous historian said – we walk on a volcano where the lava of history is still glowing beneath our feet. We had no idea that this virus would or could happen. We have no idea how or when it will end. All we know is that this pandemic has caused huge distress. But it has also shattered our cultural assumption that we are in control of everything. This little virus laughs at what we thought was our enormous power. The Resurrection asks us not to dream of going back to where we were. There we knew that so many things were very superficial – but we were being pushed into believing that Love Island was as good as it gets and that we should be grateful for having escaped from silly old beliefs of the past. Resurrection tells us that we can dream of being reborn after this Calvary.

Jesus’ risen body challenges us to believe that we can do great things and dream great dreams. Resurrection challenges the sad earth-bound view that the body is just a tool to be embellished, played with and served. It breaks into the lonely little world that says everything is just about me. It invites us not to believe that I am my own Lord and Saviour. The events of Easter tell me that we can believe in a truth beyond my whims and notions. Christianity does not merely say that there is life after death and that our ultimate destiny becomes a superior class celestial retirement home in the sky . As one author says, there is a tendency to conceive of life and death in terms of peace, repose and a reunion with loved ones. But Resurrection actually says that our transformation starts here, not beyond the grace. In Jesus we are told that we are capable of great love, great generosity, great heroism. Faith in the Risen Jesus is a great adventure, not merely a series of moral obligations. Resurrection is not just about some guy two thousand years ago. It is about me. It is about us. It is about what happened then and what can happen now.

On this Easter day, I wish you the blessings of the Risen Christ. I encourage you to continue praying for all who are working hard on our behalf. But I suggest that Lent is not over and that we still need persistent ongoing prayer and sacrifice that this pandemic might meet miracles, little ones and large ones. Easter tells us that God is great and not everything can be explained within our technological mindset. We are not trapped in a tomb of our own making. The unimaginable can happen. The stone can be rolled back. Face this pandemic as people who believe in resurrection then and now, in Jerusalem and in this land. With God all things are possible. If you don’t believe that, why bother celebrating Resurrection? Dare to believe that Easter is immeasurably more that bunnies and chocolate eggs.