It’s Easter Day! Today our Lord Jesus Christ has been raised gloriously from the dead. Alleluia! Today is a day for rejoicing. He is Risen: Alleluia!
But on Monday, just six days ago, I was not rejoicing. I was tearful. I was staring in shock and stunned silence – as you may have been too – watching those pictures of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris burning. I first went to Notre Dame when I was 14; I was staying with my pen friend’s family in Paris. I was struck dumb, even at that age, with the beauty, the colour and light, the sheer holinessof the place. I remember we lit candles, and sat gazing in rapt silence at a great rose window, shimmering like a jewel.
Throughout most of my life, as a parish priest in England, I tried to go back most years to Notre Dame, to light candles and pray for friends and parishioners who were sick or in need. Back to the place where for me, in Eliot’s words, “prayer had been valid.”
So it was heartbreaking to see this place of beauty and loveliness where I have for years felt so close to God, mauled and wounded and ravaged by fire.
But worse was to come, I thought. Some hours later, as the fire still raged, some cameramen, accompanied by firefighters, were going to enter the cathedral through the west door to show the world the state of the inside. You may have seen this. I hardly dared watch, as the cameras entered the murky darkness. At first it was a scene of destruction. Blackened walls and great mounds of rubble. But then it happened. The camera was lifted and took in the whole length of the cathedral. And there, standing high and triumphant above the broken scene, was the great golden altar cross – radiant and shimmering – lit up, I think, by a shaft of light which had penetrated one of the terrible wounds in the roof. There is stood, the cross of Christ, towering o’er the wrecks of time. And that was for me the first light of Easter, the first Alleluia.
And then I read the Gospel for today – the Easter Gospel according to Luke, and I heard it as if for the first time: “Very early in the morning, at early dawn,” Luke tells us, “on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women came, carrying spices, to anoint the dead body of Jesus.” How sad they must have felt, perhaps after days of weeping. This Jesus whom they loved, this Jesus who spoke and acted with such beauty, such goodness, such holiness. They had watched in horror as he was beaten and scourged and mocked. They had seen the nails driven into his precious hands and feet – the spear thrust cruelly into his side. They had seen him lovingly taken down from the cross and his broken body laid in the tomb. And now, these few days later, they were going to enter that tomb again, into that place of death and sadness. They must have been filled with dread and pain. To go into that dark tomb again. To see again the broken, bloodied body.
On they walked through the early morning, clutching their spices. And then they arrived at the entrance to the tomb. And the first shock. The stone had been rolled away from the entrance to the tomb. Then, full of dread, fear and foreboding, they went in. They were expecting to see a body, mauled and broken. But instead they were dazzled by light. The light of two men who dazzled and shocked them even more by their message: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here. He is risen! He is risen!”
A great cathedral, mortally wounded, will rise again from the ashes. Perhaps made more beautiful than ever before. The broken, crucified body of Jesus was raised gloriously from the dead, by the love and power of God.
This is what we are celebrating this Easter Day. The power of God to bring life out of death, hope out of despair. The paradigm of crucifixion and resurrection which lies at the very heart of our Christian faith. The good News which becomes ours at our baptism, when this pattern of dying and rising becomes, as it were, part of our DNA.
Today we celebrate what we know to be true from our own lives, our own experience. Life we know has a way of bashing us about – wounding us, mauling us, sometimes within an inch of our lives. This life is not for the faint hearted! Sitting here today, think back over your lives so far: the suffering we have known, the mistakes we have made, the wounds which have marked us. Our clumsy and uncertain attempts to love and be loved which so often hurt others and ourselves. We carry our wounds, we each bear our scars, even though we prefer to hide them from the gaze of others.
But today, this Easter Day, we celebrate with joy, that extraordinary power of God which redeems what is broken, mends what is torn and shattered, and gives life to that which has died. This is the good news of Easter: “For the one who raised Jesus from the dead will also raise us.” We rejoice because what happened to Jesus will happen to us.
However broken and bashed around we may be, God will bind up our wounds and heal us, and bring us home to heaven. But we may still bear the scars. Jesus’ wounds were still visible to his disciples after the resurrection. As Wesley put it, “Those dear tokens of his passion still his dazzling body bears.” And when we eventually get to heaven’s gate, not one of us will arrive unscathed. But I think in heaven we won’t mind showing our scars. Maybe it will be, by our struggles and wounds that we will be most easily recognized. We won’t mind showing our scars, for they will be testimonies to the patient, loving kindness of God, who throughout our life has been there for us, gently and patiently binding us up and healing what is broken, and setting us on our feet again.
I actually hope that when Notre Dame is repaired, some of the damage will in some way be kept visible. That which was burned and scarred will be part of its beauty and holiness – a testimony more powerful than ever before to the redeeming love of the Saviour.
And it is that redeeming love that we celebrate today. For this is the day on which the Lord has acted. This is the day that God with great power raised Jesus from bloody death to glorious life. As you come now to receive the body and blood of the Risen Lord in bread and wine, let your hearts rise with him – and give joyful thanks – that you and I have been raised with Christ.
For Christ is risen from the dead, never to die again. Christ is risen: Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
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