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Celebrating Easter in a Good Friday World
Specially commissioned reflections for Easter Week 2020 by Dr Paula Gooder, Biblical Scholar and Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral.
Called by Name: A reflection for the Monday of Easter Week
You may like to read John 20.11-18 before you begin.
I don’t know about you but I normally find it hard when the weather for the day doesn’t feel as though it matches the mood of a particular Christian festival: a bright and sunny Good Friday or grey and rainy Easter day just doesn’t feel right. This year, however, the thought of a few spots of rain on Easter day are as nothing compared to the isolation we are experiencing across our nation and round the world due to the Covid-19. This is the least Eastery-Easter I’ve ever known.
In some ways, this draws us close to the disciples on that first Easter day. Their world had been blown apart. Everything they knew or thought they had known had crumbled before their eyes. They arrived at Easter day desolate and despairing. One of the beautiful strands in the resurrection stories are the encounters that took place between those who were still grieving and the risen Christ. Jesus didn’t hurry them or tell them to snap out of it. He didn’t point out that they were wrong or should have listened more carefully. He waited with them. Listened to their sorrows. Until, at last, they were ready. This is never more true than with Mary Magdalene. Having found the tomb empty, she stayed in the garden sobbing, another worry – that Jesus’ body had been stolen – added to all her others. It was at this moment that Jesus called her by her name.
This Easter may we all hear the gentle call of the risen Christ, calling us by name and reminding us, in the midst of all our mourning and
heartache, that we are known and deeply loved.
Life is Stronger than Death: A reflection for the Tuesday of Easter Week
You may like to read Luke 24.13-35 before you begin.
One of the features that fascinates me most about the resurrection accounts is the reaction of the disciples. Jesus had told them that he would rise from the dead on more than one occasion. They then heard reports that the tomb was empty and he had, in fact, risen as he said he would. But the disciples don’t seem to be pleased. We see it most clearly in the story of the road to Emmaus where the two disciples are leaving Jerusalem miserable and downcast. Everything about their demeanour and subsequent conversation with the stranger – who was Jesus – tells us that they thought Jesus’ ministry had ended in failure.
The reason for this seems to be that the world was as awful as it had ever been: the Romans were still in power and God’s people were still oppressed. The peace and prosperity proclaimed in Isaiah’s glorious prophecies seemed as far off as ever. They expected the resurrection to transform the world and they thought that it hadn’t. What they needed to learn was how to live the resurrection, not as they expected in a world made suddenly easy and peaceful, but in a world fractured by heartache and sorrow.
This Easter we face a similar challenge. How do we celebrate Easter in a Good Friday world, when the very last thing that anyone wants to be
told is ‘Be happy, Jesus is Risen’? The risen Christ comes to us as he has always come, bringing into our broken, grieving world the gentle
but persistent reminder that, in the words of Demond Tutu: ‘Good is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than
darkness; life is stronger than death.’ He doesn’t ask us to feel joyful, just to hold on to the fact that this is true.
Peace to You: A reflection for the Wednesday of Easter Week
You may like to read John 20.19-23 before you begin.
Something that comes through all of Jesus’ resurrection encounters is his patient gentleness. We might have been tempted to declare that everyone should be joyful immediately or to ask them why they hadn’t understood everything yet, when he had already told them what would happen. But Jesus didn’t. In each encounter he came alongside, listened to their woes, and responded to them where and as they were.
In John 20.19-23 when Jesus appeared to the disciples he didn’t ask them what they were doing cowering behind locked doors. He didn’t even ask them why they hadn’t listened to Mary Magdalene who had just told them she’d seen the risen Lord (20.18). He said simply ‘Peace be with you’ or more literally ‘Peace to you’. In Hebrew, the word peace – shalom – means to be whole, complete, at one, well. He knew in that moment that what the disciples needed more than anything else was peace.
The risen Christ still comes to us in the same way – with patient gentleness: not demanding from us what we are unable to give, not asking why we are not this or that, not insisting that we have everything worked out in our heads. The risen Christ comes and says ‘Peace to you’.
This Easter may we find a way to give ourselves a break and to hear and then to feel deep within the greeting of the risen Christ to each one of us
– peace to you.
What do you need? A Reflection for the Thursday of Easter Week
You may like to read John 20.24-29 before you begin.
Everyone has their own favourite Easter story about encounters with the risen Christ. While it is very hard to choose between them, if I had
to I would probably choose the story of Thomas. Thomas is so immediate and passionate and, maybe, a little crass – suggesting that you’d like
to put your hand in the gaping wound in someone’s side lacks delicacy, to put it mildly. But Jesus understood him. He understood not
only who Thomas was but also what he needed at that moment to help him believe.
While we might want to say ‘ewww’ to Thomas’ request to stick his fingers into Jesus’ wounds, Jesus didn’t. He even invited him to do so when they met. The story doesn’t tell us whether Thomas actually did – though it implies that he didn’t. The whole point of the story is that Jesus was prepared to offer Thomas what he needed to help him respond, no matter how ludicrous it might seem.
The risen Christ still meets us as he did with Thomas. And asks, in this moment, at this difficult time what is it that you need? We shouldn’t worry about how absurd our response may sound – it seems that Jesus didn’t.
The Long Road Back: A Reflection for the Friday of Easter Week
You may like to read John 21.15-19 before you begin.
Although each of the four Gospels in their own way tells the story of Peter’s forgiveness and re-inclusion by the risen Christ none does it so movingly as John’s Gospel. It tells the well-known and well-loved story of the conversation between Jesus and Peter in which, three times, Jesus asks Peter if he loves him and, with increasing irritation, Peter responds three times that he does. Jesus responds by pointing him to his ‘sheep’; those who are in such great need of that love.
The point that is made so eloquently yet subtly is that Jesus was offering Peter the opportunity to unpick his three-fold denial. It is clear that Jesus has already forgiven Peter – that wasn’t the issue – what needed to happen was for Peter to forgive himself. The road back from a dark and despondent place can be a long and difficult one to tread. It is not a process that can be hurried. All John tells us about timing is that it was ‘after these things’ (21.1), the surprise of the disciples suggests it was quite a long time afterwards when they no longer expected to see him.
The image remains a lovely one. At the right moment, when and only when we are able to look forward once more, the risen Christ meets us on
the way, asks us ‘do you love me?’ and then invites us to pour out that love on those around us.