“And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make
all things new.”
We are accustomed to think of Easter as the most joyous
of festivals, and certainly all the texts of today’s liturgy, and all the
Easter hymns, fill our mouths with words of rejoicing:
“Come ye faithful, raise the strain
of triumphant gladness;
God hath brought his Israel
Into joy from sadness.”
“Come ye sad and fearful hearted
With glad smile and radiant brow
Lent’s long shadows have departed
All his woes are over now
And the passion that he bore:
Sin and pain can vex no more”
“Death is conquered, man is free
Christ has won the victory.”
In light of all this joy perhaps it is not easy for us to
realise that the first Easter was not, for the friends of Jesus, a very
happy occasion. If you consider carefully the Gospel accounts of those
events following the Resurrection, I think you will see that the immediate
response of the disciples was not one of triumphant joy, bur rather, one of
fear, and bewilderment, and despair.
One of the most poignant of those stories is the one
about the two disciples walking sorrowfully along the road to Emmaus. As
they walked along, a stranger joined them, and asked them what it was that
they were talking about so sadly. And they told him about Jesus’ death and
the empty tomb. “But we trusted,” they said (and hear the bitter despair of
the words), “we trusted that it had been he who should have redeemed
Israel.” So blinded were they by their grieving that they did not then
recognize that the stranger who walked with them was the Risen Lord. “O
slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!”
Perhaps their blindness surprises us. But consider what
had happened. The shameful death of Jesus upon the cross of suffering had
spelled for his followers the end of all their hopes. The triumphant
procession into the Holy City only a week before, when the crowds had hailed
Jesus the Messiah with their cries of “hosanna” must now, after Calvary,
have seemed nothing but a farce. Something had gone wrong, terribly wrong.
For how could this Jesus, cruelly executed, dead, and buried, be the
redeemer of Israel? Could God create life out of death? And now even the
body was gone.
They did not understand. They were confused and
disappointed and afraid, and they ran away and hid.
They did not understand because they could not see beyond
all their own shattered expectations - “We trusted that it had been he who
should have redeemed Israel.” Despite all that Jesus had said to them about
his dying and rising again, and all the peculiar nature of his kingdom, it
was simply impossible for them, while he was still with them, to see beyond
their own rather limited hopes and ambitions, and their own expectation that
they had found in him a leader who would restore the ancient kingdom of
That God’s way of redemption could be something very
different and altogether greater than their own cherished hopes, they could
not comprehend. It was only in the devastation, the shattering, of their
own expectations, only in such pains of travail, that they would give birth
to faith – that their eyes would be opened to see God’s new and living way.
It was only by sharing in Jesus’ dying, in themselves, that they would share
also in his new life.
For it is not God’s work to support and confirm our
complacencies and conventions. It is God’s work to make all things new. And
there is no new birth, says Jesus, without those pains of travail.
We all have our own plans and hopes and ambitions. We
all have our own expectations, and we are disappointed and frustrated when
they are unfulfilled. “We trusted that it had been he who should have
redeemed Israel.” We all know how God ought to manage things. We want him
for a partner in our plans, and we are bitterly disappointed when things
seem not to work out that way. We worry and fret and even despair.
But all that is so pitifully wrong – for it is God’s
truth that if we would live, we must first die. “You are dead,” says St.
Paul, “and your life is hid with Christ in God.” “Unless a grain of wheat
fall to the ground and die,” says Jesus, “it abideth alone, but if it die,
it beareth much fruit.” It is out of death that God bring resurrection.
It is when we are freed from the bondage of false hopes
and empty optimisms, the captivity of vain ambitions, and narrow
complacencies, that we become heirs of God’s new kingdom.
It is when the bread is broken that it becomes the bread
It is when the vine is outpoured that it becomes for us
the cup of blessing.
God makes the world from nothing – He makes new life out
of death. And that is a painful and awesome transformation!
We do not come to God for a little help, a little support
for our own good intentions – We come to him for resurrection. God will not
be asked for a little – He will be asked for all; for it is He who makes all
And therefore rejoice in Him, and sing a new song. For
he is the first and the last, and the living one. To Jesus Christ, who dies,
and lives, together with the Almighty Father and the Holy and life-giving
Spirit – to God the Holy Trinity, be all honour, praise and dominion, now,
henceforth and for ever.