8th April 2023, Holy Saturday.
What is resurrection? Its literary meaning is to rise again or to reappear, and more particularly, to rise again from the dead,
In Greek the word is ‘anastasis’ which is also the title used for pictures depicting Christ ‘harrowing hell’. Between his burial on Good Friday and the empty tomb on Easter morning, Jesus is believed to have gone to the place of the dead – variously known as hell or hades – where he triumphs over death as a force of dominion. In pictures Jesus is shown breaking open prison doors or coffin lids, and reaching out a hand to pull out or pull free those trapped by death. Typically it is Adam and Eve who are the first people that Jesus resurrects. This story is called ‘the harrowing of hell’
It seems as if there is no resting in the tomb for Jesus on Holy Saturday, but rather there is the work of salvation to be done. Matthew’s gospel describes an earthquake at the moment of Jesus’s death which breaks open tombs and that in Jerusalem some of those who had died were raised and were seen by others. Perhaps time has a different speed or becomes a different after the physical death.
So again what is resurrection? Is it about new life as in completely new, or renewed life that is a remaking or reusing – or even re-membering – of pre-existing life. Is it reincarnation which implies being refleshed, or is it the born again of Jesus’s conversation with Nicodemus with the implication of a spiritual birthing? From the Old English æriste, the word is sometimes translated as again-rising, which to my mind has a nuance of a constant rising and rising and rising, like the waves of the sea. This latter is reflected in the constant cycle of birth and death in the natural world, the repeated recycling of atoms and molecules to maintain an ongoing source of flow of life – a river of life. Evolution is the name we give to describe the means by which life has appeared – and continues to appear – on earth. The raison d’être of evolution is to fill the world with life, despite what ever obstacles are set against this. In this sense evolution is similar to salvation, as both seek to ensure everlasting life.
Is resurrection just about the physical body? I hope not as the physical constraints of the universe we inhabit makes that impossible. The scope for ongoing life on earth relies on the ongoing recycling, reusing of atoms and molecules. There has to be a process of letting go that enables this.
In John’s gospel, Jesus tells his listeners, ‘Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.’ (John 12:24)
Whilst one seed dies, its very existence is then enabled to continue and to flourish. There is an eternal continuum of life in the natural world to which Jesus is drawing our attention. We can see another view of this continuum, this everlasting life in the story of salvation. Every generation receives the story from its forebears and inhabits them in their own lifetime, before passing them on in a new retelling to the next generation. In each retelling the core character of God is constant – for each generation God is a living presence and each generation is alive in God. ‘in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” (Luke 20:37-38)
Resurrection is about the ongoing existence of life that becomes independent of its physicality. It is both about letting go and moving on, of dying and living, of death and birth, of former ways and new beginnings. Easter is a time for launching out on to the river of life, of catching the flow of the current, of being carried into a new era which has no finite beginning and not finite end but rather is eternal.
And this makes Easter a time for letting go of the past so that it can be reborn as a new future. It is about not clinging on to how things used to be, but reaching out to a new way of being. It is about being open to encountering Jesus in new ways, and being ready to follow him along new paths.
The climate crisis is one of the many obstacles that challenges the process of evolution, that disrupts the practiced cycles of the natural world. It is a first in terms of the scale to which humanity has been the cause of the disruption. But can we this Eastertide find in our re-entering and reimagining the resurrection story, find new ways being Christ’s people in this world, and new ways of being Christ’s agents sharing in word and deed the gospel of salvation?
What can we let go so that new resources are freed up to serve our brothers and sisters, to cherish and care for the natural world? How can we retell the stories of faith so that they are relevant to a new generation? How can we adopt new lifestyles that are sustainable, that support the common good? How can we find ourselves reborn again? Will this Easter be as transformative as the first Easter?
For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 1 Corinthian 15:22