Video for April 6th, 2023
Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.
In 2016, I had the opportunity to go on sabbatical to the USA. I spent a little time in the spectacular national parks on the west coast. The huge sequoia trees in Sequoia National park are a sight to behold. It had been the policy of the US Forest Service to suppress any fires. This policy contributed to the devastating fires that swept through some of the west coast forests. Without the regular clearing of the forest litter with small fires, it built up and caused devastating large ones. The redwoods could cope with little fires but not the bigger ones. An unexpected benefit of regular burning was the regeneration of the redwood forest. Not only did it create clearings for new seedlings to grow, but for many species the seeds wouldn’t germinate unless they were burned. A policy that was designed to protect and preserve had completely the opposite effect. For new life to grow there had to be death.
I often have that story in my mind when I think about Easter. It is a story of extravagant new life, released at the resurrection, but there has to be pain and loss first. When Jesus explains to the disciples after Peter’s recognition that Jesus really is the long-promised messiah, that it will mean his death; Peter is devastated. “Never Lord!” he says, “that will never happen to you.” Far from seeing that as an example of Peter’s loyalty and devotion he sees the idea as coming from hell itself. Elsewhere in John’s gospel, he uses the example of a seed falling into the ground and dying. “Unless it dies”, he says, “it remains a single seed, but if it is buried it grows to produce a crop, many times what was sown.”
When I lead an act of worship, or gather with any group of people, I know that there will be those who feel they are in the midst of crucifixion, through devastating illness, loss of job or loved ones, or any of the tragedies human beings suffer. There will also be those full of joy, at unexpected windfalls, new grandchildren, forthcoming weddings and family celebrations. There will be those struggling with the darkness of doubt and those full of love and thanksgiving, having discovered the love of Christ for themselves and the new purpose, forgiveness and eternal hope it gives them. As we read the Easter Story all the way through, we will find it holds a mirror to our own experience. From the cross, Jesus uses the words of the ancient Psalm 22 to articulate his sense of abandonment. Peter deals with the crushing failure of his betrayal, and in the end is restored. Judas deals with the crushing failure of his and misses the forgiveness that could have been his too, if only he had looked for it. But finally, we come to the glory of Easter morning. The resurrection Jesus promised was coming, that no-one, not even the disciples believed, actually happened. A dead man came back to life, and not just a resuscitation, but an altogether different kind of life. This was life that was to go on forever. Not only that, but it was to be a life that could now be available to any who came to Jesus seeking it. The resurrection vindicated Christ’s claim that in some extraordinary way, his death on the cross would make real, deep forgiveness available and the restoration of our relationship with God. Jesus did go through death but unlike every other before him, came out the other side and returned to tell us what awaits us.
The Easter story is not a fairy tale happy ending. Jesus carries the scars of the crucifixion with him. But the scars are integrated into the bigger story God is telling. Like the US Forest service, we sometimes have to let things go, even precious things we think we can’t possibly live without. The truth of the resurrection invites us to let go even of control of our own life, to discover a life more expansive than we ever thought could be possible. That sort of letting go can feel like a sort of death, a leap into the dark. But Easter reassures us that, as Jesus said, “whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the Gospel will save it.” For truly, Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.