In years gone by, it seemed to me that Easter was not just a day, but a season, one in which peace and joy seemed to predominate despite suffering and tragedies here and there we heard of but did not witness. Today, Easter seems to have been shrunk to a few hours of merciful respite from violence and death and reports of them on every news channel.
Difference in perception aside, the world is the same kind of place it has always been for many of the world’s people — conflict, destruction, sorrow, and death — the usual stuff of news broadcasts. But there is another perspective, another story that is both more ancient and more contemporary than all the others. The good news is why we are gathered together today. The story we have just heard seems to many today to be too good to be true, in fact. The reign of sin and death has been broken, the world has been redeemed, faith has triumphed over skepticism, doubt, and despair.
The Resurrection we celebrate today reminds us of this: death is not the victor, not the dismal end of the adventure, not the worst possible scenario. This story is about the triumph of life, the victory of God in Christ, who embraced the worst that hatred and evil could do to him and absorbed it in the love, peace, and joy that filled his life and which he left as his gift to us.
That would be my message to my friends in Cairo, Beirut, and Baghdad, as well as to the people weeping outside hospitals in the United States, England, Sweden, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Afghanistan, Colombia and the vast reaches of Africa, where there are no hospitals: death is real, but not final. God does not “allow” bad things to happen to good people — or anyone else, for that matter. They happen, like everything else does, often because someone made a terribly bad decision. But God — and in the ultimate analysis, only God — can transform tragedy and suffering, just as God can transform us — if we let God do it. It’s the same thing, really.
That is what we mean by faith, and why Easter is a feast of faith. John’s gospel especially centers on faith in the risen Jesus as they key to understanding the meaning of his life and teaching, and more than that — to the release of the Holy Spirit into the world. Faith is the miracle of miracles, a lesson that we will revisit soon in the story of Thomas the Doubter.
Faith is not just belief; it is also trust — probably more trust than belief. Despite all the bickering and debates about religion in public places, I am always reassured, somehow, that every piece of currency, every coin of the United States, still proclaims that original act of public faith – -“In God we Trust.”
Faith often goes untroubled until tragedy or suffering strikes someone directly and personally. Then faith as trust is revealed, a deeply personal commitment, an act of the will to rely on another, ultimately on the power of God to bring light from darkness, life out of death. No one can trust for you; faith is a choice as well as a gift.
It is not always easy to trust in God, and I can assure you that it is most important to do so when it is hardest to do. Jesus trusted God to the end of his life, even in the darkest moments of betrayal and abandonment. He showed us the way. Only to the extent that we follow him, do we deserve to be called Christian. That way lies Resurrection and Life.
So, as the angel and Jesus himself said to the faithful women on that first Easter morning, do not be afraid. For at least a few minutes, forget about the Easter bunny, forget about chocolate eggs and brunch, and all the other peripheral decorations of the season and remember this: Christ has died. Christ is Risen. The world has been reborn in hope.