My churches aren’t in the habit of having Easter vigil services, so the 8am on Easter morning is the first time in the Benefice that we light a paschal candle and roll away the stone from the Easter garden’s tomb.
On Easter Eve this year I was at home, and browsing twitter – I wasn’t sure how to feel about the numerous tweets from people returning from evening services proclaiming ‘Christ is risen!’ and ‘Alleluia’ – it almost felt like ‘spoilers’ for the liturgy in which I’d be taking part in the morning.
I told the 8am congregation this – we’d said the Easter Anthems, we’d lit our paschal candle, and in the sermon I reflected that as a vicar I ‘do’ Easter many times on Easter day. No one service can be argued to be the moment of resurrection – the 8am doesn’t have priority as the real Easter because it’s earlier, and nor does the 10.30am because there are more people there.
In the end I found the fact of multiple Easters more helpful and more theologically profound than confusing, because it’s a model that’s truer to the Biblical accounts that we read in the gospels. On the very first Easter, there must have been a ‘real’ moment of resurrection – the moment when Jesus stopped being dead and started being alive again. But nobody witnessed it. I love the fact that in a church with no Easter vigil, we sleep through the resurrection, just as the first disciples did, and then each of us comes, one by one or two by two, or in larger groups, and has our own ‘moment’ of realisation of the new life of Christ.
For Mary in John 20, the moment of resurrection is not when Jesus comes to life, it’s when he cuts through her grief and speaks her name. For the disciples in the upper room, it’s not when Jesus comes to life, it’s when he walks through the locked door of their fear and breathes his peace on them. For Thomas, it’s a week later, when Jesus touches away his doubt and by his wounds he gains his faith. For the disciples at Emmaus it’s the moment when Jesus breaks the bread, and for Peter it’s the offer (in John 21) of a threefold commitment to balance his threefold denial.
None of these resurrection stories take place at the very moment of the resurrection, they are all afterwards, by varying degrees – perhaps only by minutes in Mary’s case, but for the others it’s hours, maybe days before the resurrection becomes real for them.
And this is still happening now. The resurrection was a historical moment, but the very fact that it went unwitnessed at the very moment it took place means that each encounter with the risen Christ today is just as potent as the encounters that the disciples experienced. We did not miss out for the fact that we are living almost 2000 years after the event, for it is fresh every Easter, every Sunday, potentially every moment of every day. For every moment could be the moment when we will find that Christ has spoken into our grief, or walked through the locked door of our fear, or touched our doubt into faith…..
So, happy Easter! Not just today, but tomorrow, and the next day – whenever something enables you to grasp the new life that God offers us in the risen Christ.