Holy Week & Easter 2017 (click on link to download PDF)
The Rector writes…
A tabloid report last week offered the insight that Easter is becoming even bigger than Christmas! Clearly the reference was a secular judgment on the commercial balance between these two great Christian festivals but the reporter had, of course, got it right. The wonderful mystery of the Incarnation is a means to an end. God assumes a human identity in order that his creation can be reconciled to himself and this will only be effected through Calvary and an empty tomb. Saint Paul understood the crucial nature of the Paschal Mystery: “if Christ has not been raised then our preaching is useless, and your believing it is useless … if our hope in Christ has been for this life only, we are the most unfortunate of people” (I Corinthians 15:17). Christianity is not some fuzzy belief in a nice Fatherly figure who looks on us all with a beneficent and rather distant gaze: he is, rather, the One who manifests himself in Christ in the blood, sweat and tears of a ghastly death in order that humanity can be re-positioned and pointed towards its salvation. God’s choice means that our consequent choices attain a significance and a poignancy which we rarely wish to accept. Christian faith is serious business: it is all about the difference between life and death. “Anyone who knows Easter cannot despair” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer).
The distinction between the beginning and the culmination of Christ’s mission can be judged by the difference in time set aside for their celebration: four weeks of Advent preparation in the case of Christmas and six weeks before and six weeks after for Easter i.e. a quarter of the whole Christian year is spent concentrating on the Paschal Mystery. In these days until Pentecost the daily Scriptural readings record the post-Easter events as Jesus returned time and time again to his disciples, and they pondered the significance of these different appearances. Benedict XV1 has some interesting thoughts on the mind-set of those who ate and drink with the Lord after his resurrection: “the apostolic preaching with all its boldness and passion would be unthinkable unless the witnesses had experienced a real encounter, coming to them from outside, with something entirely new and unforeseen, namely the self-revelation and verbal communication of the risen Christ. Only a real event of a radically new quality could possibly have given rise to the apostolic preaching which cannot be explained on the basis of speculations or inner mystical experience. In all its boldness and originality, it draws life from the impact of an event that no one could have invented, an event that surpassed all that could be imagined”.
In Saint Mathew’s account of what happened on the first Easter Day, Jesus appears first to “Mary of Magdalen and the other Mary”. When they hear Jesus’s voice greeting them, the women prostate themselves before him and clasp his feet in a gesture mixed with shock and disbelief – it is as though they need to touch to verify the reality of what appears before their eyes and to assure themselves that this is no dream or figment of their imagination. Jesus’s command to the women – “go quickly and tell” – sums up the apostolic preaching as it has been ever since. It is the responsibility of the Church in every age (and every one of the Baptised constitutes that Church at any given time) to testify to the fact of Christ’s new life as he transcends the grave. “We proclaim your Death O Lord, and profess your Resurrection, until you come again”.
Missionary activity, evangelisation, has marked Christianity from its beginnings – we have a Gospel, “good news”, which has to be shared. But how do we introduce others to the wonderful mystery of what God has done, and continues to do, in his Christ? There can be no better starting place than the New Testament record. Someone coming to these texts with an open mind just cannot fail to find in them the ring of truth: the apostolic witness is as clear as it is filled with conviction. “The Resurrection accounts speak of something outside our world of experience. They speak of something new, something unprecedented – a new dimension of reality that is revealed. What already exists is not called into question. Rather we are told there is a further dimension, beyond what was previously known” (Benedict XV1).