Easter Day

12 April 2009 09:30 Eucharist

It took until about the fourth century before the Jerusalem Tourist Board realised that they could offer a week-long package tour to pilgrims wishing to 'do' the events of Passover AD 30-ish. Before then, Christians had squeezed everything into the hours between nightfall on Saturday evening and sunrise on Easter Day - from the Triumphal Entry through the foot-washing and the Crucifixion and on to the Resurrection (and into the bargain fitted in baptisms as well), but the dramatic possibility of opening things up, especially as Christianity became increasingly respectable, was too good to be missed, and great devotion and great insight came from the eight-day drama we now call Holy Week and the Great Three Days.
But it does come with a disadvantage, that it's easy to lose the connecting thread over the course of the week, especially when time's pressured. And I think the greatest loser is not, like you'd expect, Good Friday, but Easter Day itself. It's not hard to think ourselves to Calvary, to a world of corruption, malice, frailty and crowed-pleasing, for it's all within our own experience. It causes us no great stretching of the imagination to witness the brutalised death of an innocent man. But to be present at the Resurrection - now that's a different thing altogether because it takes us to places we have never, ever been. So it's not surprising that we often fumble with Easter, and come up with a cross between a lawyer arguing his case and a 'happy ever after' fairy tale.
I wonder whether this is a failure of the Church's teaching over the years, as we've got caught up in using the Resurrection story as ammunition in the fight against unbelievers rather than making the story our own. And because we have separated Good Friday and Easter Day, perhaps we have inadvertently created a gap which means that the one story has become two, one describing a world we know, the other a world about which we know nothing.
So what if we take Good Friday into Easter. Not Mel Gibson style, with bloodied corpses, but Gospel style, where the story runs one into the other. What if one side of the story presents us with the world we are all too used to - the world of failure, betrayal, violence, weakness and death - so as to invite us to a world where this is all not merely neutralised but completely undone? Resurrection not as re-awakened body, but as undoing of all that is evil or broken or wounded, everywhere, in all time and transfiguring it to good, to wholeness and to beauty.
For centuries Christians have dared to think this way, especially by meditating on the person of Judas. The early theologians Irenaeus and Origen were among the earliest to do so, but perhaps once more it is time to turn not to arguments and reasoning - which is always based on our experience and knowledge - but to literature for an insight into the unimaginable and incalculable.
Dorothy L. Sayers draws on English tales that after death we have to cross a moorland by lantern-light. Judas has neither light nor companion, and when he approaches first the Good and then the Bad thief and owns up to who he is, neither will walk with him. Despairing, he comes across a grey-clad figure. Judas dare not own up to who he is, but the other admits to Judas that he carries more sin even than he, and they agree to journey together to Hades. The poem ends:
Satan looked out from Hades gate,
His hand upon the key,
"Good souls, before I let you in,
First tell me who ye be."

"We be two men that died of late
And come to keep Hell's tryst,
This is Judas Iscariot,
And I am Jesus Christ."
For she saw that a Resurrection which excluded Judas was no triumph at all, for Judas would remain forever a betrayer, and the Resurrection would not be complete, forgiveness not absolute, for a child of God would still be lost - and that is not good enough.
And the poet Edwin Muir, in his work The Transfiguration writes of the triumph of Christ like this:
In our own time,
Some say, or at a time when time is ripe.
Then he will come, Christ the uncrucified,
Christ the discrucified, his death undone,
His agony unmade, his cross dismantled -
Glad to be so - and the tormented wood
Will cure its hurt and grow into a tree
In a green springing corner of young Eden,
And Judas damned take his long journey backward
From darkness into light and be a child
Beside his mother's knee, and the betrayal
Be quite undone and never more be done.
Today we celebrate that wild, foolish possibility that all that Good Friday represents - grief, death, failure, betrayal - will not only be undone, but is undone and will never be done again. And that the wood of the cross will burst into leaf, blossom and bear fruit.

Rev. David Rowett (web page by Adrian Worsfold)