What is this all about? It’s difficult for us today to believe – all this about a man being resurrected from the dead. How can I believe that?
The problem is that we seem to think we are presented with a story and we’ve got to find a way of swallowing it. We tend to assume that belief in Christ rising from the dead asks us to screw ourselves up into believing that this happened. We assume we have to make a leap and say OK – I believe it, then. But no – that’s not a good place to start at all. Think of music. You hear somebody’s description of some beautiful music – from the description can you say you like the music? Impossible – you need to hear it. Even if you wanted to believe what the person was saying, you won’t in fact enjoy the music at al, unless you actually hear it. What is the music of the Resurrection? Where do we hear it?
First of all, it’s there in life – in life all around us all the time, and all we need to do is recognise it. For example, last year I met a nun whose small community of sisters spend their time rescuing trafficked girls from the Mafia. They set up safe places for them to go, which they can run themselves and so take responsibility for their lives. This work is full of terrible risks, but these nuns of full of a joyful businesslikeness that for me is one of the characteristics of life in the Resurrection. What is the Mafia, compared with the resurrection of Christ? That is just one example of the risen Lord playing his music in the church, the music of a confidence that is simply joyful.
Is this a monopoly of Christians? Not at all. We have enough examples of it before our eyes at the moment – the dedication of so many NHS staff in the face of suffering and danger. Christ is present wherever people are living selfless and loving lives. Where love is, there is God. The Resurrection is about the sources of life abundant. What is the Christian story about then? Firstly, the gospel puts a name to this wonderful thing in human lives. It anchors it in a person, Jesus Christ our Lord. Once you have the name of a thing or a person, you can then begin to delve deeper. The gospel takes off the wrapping and shows this music for what it truly is. When we hear it, when we take more notice of this wonderful thing to be found everywhere in daily life, it can open our eyes to see it is to do with Jesus and with the stories about him. The Acts of the Apostles depicts a community of apostles and believers intoxicated with the resurrection. This is about more than simply a body being resuscitated – it’s an explosion of life at the fullest it can be.
Following in their footsteps, here we are in an act of worship. This is not any old act of worship (not that any worship is) – it is the Paschal Vigil. There is an ancient belief that when Christians gather as the Church to worship, a veil is taken away. It’s as if we heard our neighbour’s music faintly through a door, and now, here, in worship, the door is opened.
Why do I believe in the Resurrection? I believe because of the beauty of a selfless love that can naturally and cheerfully well out of people, and give a vigour to their selflessness which speaks of the deepest sources of real life. But I can only take the leap of coming to believe because I have heard the music. I believe in the resurrection of the Lord because of what I find in Christian worship. I believe because of the Paschal Vigil. This ancient service we are at this moment celebrating says everything. Then I go to the stories in the gospels about the empty tomb, and I see – it all rings true, with the pure clarity of a bell. I have heard the music, and now I read the stories describing it. The authors of the Gospels and the Epistles in their funny and slightly muddled way are wanting to show why it is that there is this music. It is inseparable from these events – the women at the tomb, the disciples meeting the Lord again. The authors are trying to tell us of their excitement, that all they hoped for bout life is real. Death is overcome, Christ is not dead, he has Risen. Whatever life can throw at us, this music dwarfs it. Whatever darknesses we are plunged into, this light dispels them. I believe because I have been taken hold of and made alive. Never despair – never be downcast – never lose the God’s gift of joy, which (will repeatedly issue in a sense of humour). The resurrection of Christ, the empty tomb, his appearances to his followers, have effected a permanent change in things, and they change how everything looks. We have every reason to be so grateful. Christ is risen. Alleluia.