I heard a story some time ago about Soviet-era Russia. A large rally had been arranged for Easter Sunday. A senior member of the Communist Party to speak to a large crowd about the need to leave religious superstitions and outdated myths behind and embrace a modern, atheist view of the world. He spoke for nearly an hour to a silent crowd. At the end, a voice from the crowd called out ‘Alleluia, Christ is risen!’ and thousands responded, ‘He is risen indeed, Alleluia!’
This story still moves me, speaking as it does of the resilience of Christian faith under persecution and the courage of faithful people in contexts where following Christ is a life-threatening activity.
The story speaks, however, of something else, something that is even more remarkable, the persistence of the rumour itself. Christ is risen. Really? He is risen indeed. No matter how many times we declare him dead, God’s life continues to spring up afresh. He is risen indeed, Alleluia! People all over the world this day will say these words. Their hearts will fill with joy, their minds with wonder. Faith that was hanging by a thread will be strengthened, hope that was beginning to fade will be brightened, and love for God and for one another will be refreshed and renewed as we witness again the truth that God’s love is stronger even than death.
As a Christian and as a Christian priest, for me the persistence of this rumour is explained very simply – it persists because it is true. Christ is risen indeed, victorious over sin and death. Alleluia! But how is this truth to be discovered? How is it to be understood? That Communist Party official did have a point – it is difficult for modern, secular people to get their heads around empty tombs and crucified men returning to new life.
I find it some comfort to notice that the very first witnesses of the resurrection found it hard to get their heads around it, too. They are slow to recognise the risen Christ. Their experiences of him are both embodied and transcendent. It takes time for the implications to sink in.
That is perhaps why we do not celebrate Easter on one day only. Today begins a fifty day season leading up to the Feast of Pentecost, and throughout that season we are invited to reflect, as Jesus’ first followers did, on these world-changing events. The tomb could not hold Jesus, and our minds cannot take in the wonder of his risen life without sustained reflection and prayer.
Today, though, is for rejoicing in wonder and delight. He is risen indeed! Alleluia, and may God bless you all,