Will Easter Change Your Life?
1 Corinthians 15:1–11
This Gospel reading is not, as one writer has suggested, ‘a sanitized story about a trip to a garden and a lovely surprise’. If Easter is in any sense the happy ending after a sad story, that is the least important thing about it. It is not primarily an ending, but a beginning. It is the start of God’s new creation.
Line up John 20 alongside John’s prologue (1:1–18). The themes come full circle: light and darkness, new life ‘in’ the Word, the right of Jesus’ followers to become children of God (in v. 17, for the first time, Jesus calls God ‘your Father … and your God’). The later scene with Thomas echoes 1:18: the Son has unveiled the invisible God. John 1 echoes Genesis 1; in John 20, God’s new day has dawned. Twice John reminds us that it is the first day of the week.
Of all the passages which strike me as eyewitness testimony from the shadowy figure we call ‘the beloved disciple’, verse 8 is among the strongest. This ‘other disciple’, who had reached the tomb first but had paused and allowed Peter to go in ahead, went in, ‘and he saw—and believed’. Simple words with limitless depth.
This is a moment of great intimacy and power. As many find when they hear this story, the previously unthinkable dawns, not as the logical conclusion of an argument, nor as a scientific proof, but as a sudden but lasting warmth of heart and mind, an assurance in whose light the rest of the world makes a different and more powerful sort of sense. Don’t be fooled by the way people talk of ‘belief as a lesser kind of ‘knowledge’ (‘Is it raining?’ ‘I believe so’—in other words, I don’t know for sure); when John says ‘he saw and believed’ he is talking at the level of world-view, speaking of rock-bottom convictions that create the context within which knowledge itself can spring to new life.
This new sort of believing is hardly, then, the recognition that Jesus had simply ‘gone to heaven’—as one frequently hears people say, both outside the Church and inside. As Paul emphasized, quoting the earliest known confession of Christian faith, this was an event that happened at a specific time after the crucifixion (if Jesus had ‘gone to heaven when he died’, why would anyone suppose it had taken place ‘on the third day’?).
Jews like John and Paul believed firmly that the souls of God’s people were in God’s hand against the day when, in the future, God would raise them all to new life. If all Easter had done was to reaffirm that belief, there would have been no news, no new creation, no reason to break into a trot, let alone a breathless chase (people hardly ever run in the Gospels; on Easter morning they do little else). Isaiah spoke of death being abolished. Beware of speaking, instead, of its being merely redescribed.